Veterinary association lambastes province over ‘intrusion’ on fees

The organization is upset with consumer protection bill that would allow vets to advertise their fees

The provincial government says a provision in Bill 31 allowing vets to advertise fees isn’t aimed at the livestock sector but rather to “support pet owners in finding quality care.”
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For the second time in two months, the association representing Alberta’s veterinarians is crying foul and accusing the NDP government of taking short-sighted actions with no consultation.

Proposed changes “constitute alarming overreach and intrusion into the veterinary profession’s ability to self-regulate and were made without consultation,” the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association said in a press release.

The association uses blistering language to denounce one amendment in particular — a provision that would allow vets to advertise their fees. The association argues that could lead to “aggressive marketing and pricing that is not compatible with the acceptable professional standards.”

The move would shift the “focus from strong client-veterinarian relationships built on trust and knowledge of patient history, to an alarming commodification of a professional medical service,” the association states.

It is urging vets to write or call Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean — and their MLAs — to voice their disapproval.

The provision is contained in Bill 31, proposed legislation that is aimed at offering better protection for consumers. It includes measures such as requiring used car dealers to disclose vehicle histories and auto repair shops to put estimates in writing when requested, as well as banning the use of ticket scalping ‘bots.’ Moreover, the provision allowing vets to advertise fees isn’t aimed at the livestock sector but rather to “support pet owners in finding quality care by requiring fee disclosure,” said a government press release.

And while the move has upset the veterinarians’ association, the province’s main cattle group wasn’t even aware of it until contacted by a reporter.

“We place high value on veterinary-client-patient relationships and we encourage producers to build strong and effective relationships with their veterinarian,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers.

“We would not support legislative changes that could have an adverse impact on these relationships, but we don’t have enough knowledge now to assess the impact of Bill 31 or comment on the elements of the bill.”

It’s the second letter-writing campaign mounted by the veterinarians’ association in the last two months. In late October it asked its members to write Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt to protest his decision to pull funding from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in order to expand its Calgary counterpart. That move was also made without consultation, the association said, and will have a long-term negative impact. A form letter created by the association for its members to send to Schmidt argues that “in the past four years alone, Alberta’s investment in 80 available seats at WCVM resulted in 97 veterinarians coming to Alberta, 60 per cent of whom went into mixed and large-animal practices.”

‘Seats’ is the term for spots in the four-year veterinary medicine program. The province is taking part of the $8 million it will save by phasing out its funding for WCVM to expand University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine. That school will expand to 210 students (from 130 students currently) by 2023.

The veterinarians’ association supports the Calgary expansion but argues the province should also keep funding the WCVM program at the University of Saskatchewan because of a chronic shortage of vets in this province.

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