United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership candidate Danielle Smith is taking heat for saying a healthy lifestyle and preventative measures could reduce the risk of stage four cancer and the need for serious treatment.
Smith made the comments in a live video podcast with Naturopath Dr. Christine Perkins on Thursday, where she reiterated her campaign promise to give every Albertan a $300 health spending account to spend on different physicians, like physiotherapists, chiropractors, and naturopaths.
Below is a transcript of the exchange:
“A lot of mainstream medicine is just managing diseases. They’re not actually helping remove that underlying issue that’s preventing that body from carrying itself which is what naturopathic doctors do,” Perkins said.
“What if you get cancer and you have a tumour that needs to be removed? That’s a mainstream medical thing that needs to happen. And at the same time, why did you arrive in that state? What happened to that body? What happens to that person?” Perkins questioned.
“We need to look at the underlying reasons they got there and look at prevention and treat them for that. So it doesn’t occur again,” Perkins said. “So do we need both forms of medicine? We actually do. We need both forms of medicine.”
Smith responds: “That’s a perfect example. Because absolutely once you’ve arrived and got stage four cancer, and there’s radiation and surgery and chemotherapy, that’s an incredibly expensive intervention.”
“Not just for the system, but also expensive in the toll it takes on the body. But when you think about everything that built up before you got to stage four on that diagnosis, that’s completely within your control, and there’s something that you can do about that that is different. And I want to talk a little more about that.”
Smith received swift condemnation for her comments, both from across the aisle, but also from within the Conservative camp.
Rival leadership candidate Rebecca Shulz said Smith “has a history of poor judgement.”
“And telling Albertans it’s their fault for getting Stage 4 cancer is unacceptable and quite frankly, offensive, especially when it’s about kids,” Schulz captioned her post. “These types of comments are exactly how we hand the province to the NDP.”
Competitor Travis Toews wrote, “Cancer is a devastating reality for too many Albertans and these types of statements are irresponsible and insulting.”
“The fact that we’re even debating this is an embarrassment to our party and our movement!”
NDP leader Rachel Notley also joined the conversation. In a Sunday post to social media, Notely wrote, “Attacking cancer patients is cruel and wrong no matter your politics…no matter what kind of anti-science message you’re trying to get over with your base.”
Naturopathic medicine is a system that uses natural remedies to help the body heal itself. Critics say its methods are unproven.
In a video posted to Facebook, Smith only acknowledged Notely’s criticism. The former Opposition Wildrose leader said she didn’t expect the New Democrats to “politicize something as serious as cancer” and use it as a “wedge issue” to attack her.
She did not apologize for her comments, but further expanded on them, saying diet, exercise, and early detection are important, and the first three stages of cancer are more controllable in terms of what care is available to a patient.
Smith’s comments about serious treatment being required at stage four were perhaps misleading — doctors can use such treatment in any stage of cancer, depending on the specific patient’s case.
But in the broader context of the podcast, Smith argued that preventative measures used by naturopaths would reduce the burden on Canada’s public healthcare system. She prefaced the episode by saying a comprehensive healthcare system would cover everything, but healthcare currently only provides a family physician and hospital healthcare.
“There are a whole variety of healthcare practitioners that are outside those two categories,” she said.
In an interview with True North at a campaign event in Lethbridge on Tuesday, Smith said the intention of her comments was to ensure people know that once you get to late stage cancer, you must have conventional treatment like radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy. She said she didn’t want anyone to think preventive measures and early dedication are a replacement for treatment, adding “I looked at it as both.”
“I think if people look at the full interview, they’ll see that the intention was to make sure that people understood that there’s a full range of options, and that we’ve got to be be talking about early detection, as well as diet, nutrition exercise, just to make sure that the people have that the best chance of staying healthy,” she said.
A recent poll from the Canadian research company Leger surveying UCP members found that Smith was the favourite to lead the party, at 22%, followed by Brian Jean at 20%, and Toews with 15%.
UCP members will elect a new leader and Premier on October 6.