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Brian Jean and Jason Kenney in a May 18, 2017, file photo.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Two of the leadership candidates for Alberta's United Conservatives say they will pursue more private-care options to fix a broken health-care system.

Jason Kenney says his father died waiting for care and that access to a long waiting list is not access to care.

"My father, seven years ago, waited for 15 hours sitting in a chair in an emergency ward waiting for somebody to see him and died that day, effectively without care," Kenney told about 500 people at leadership debate Thursday.

"My dad, if he was picked up off a sidewalk as a heroin addict, would have been treated faster at a county hospital in Detroit than he was here in Calgary.

"We have brilliant and often heroic front-line workers but the system ... simply isn't working."

All four candidates said restructuring is vital for a system that is spending $21.5 billion a year but is not delivering the outcomes.

Kenney and candidate Doug Schweitzer said simpler surgical procedures, such as hip and knee replacements, can be effectively delivered for less money under the public-health umbrella.

"We need to get back to decentralized decision-making in Alberta, and we also have to get back to innovating," said Schweitzer. "So many (minor surgeries) can be provided better, faster, cheaper. If the private option is there, we need to take advantage of it and use it."

Candidate Brian Jean recounted how his adult son died amid confusion and problems in the health system.

He said a wholesale reorganization is needed to reduce the levels of management and improve service.

"There are too many layers of managers in the (health system). We have one manager for almost five employees," said Jean, adding the province needs to reorganize purchases and consulting fees and fix technology.

"There's over a thousand different software systems and none of them speak to each other. How can you expect the doctor in one area of the province to be able to talk to a hospital or a specialist when they can't even talk to each other through software?"

Jeff Callaway said a reorganization is critical for a system that has become politicized and doesn't always focus on outcomes.

"We've got a fragmented structure, we've got a lack of integration at the physician and the service level, and we've got a lack of sharing and use of clinical info," said Callaway.

He said the auditor general has suggested viable solutions in the past.

"We actually have the answers. The thing is we just need the political fortitude and strength to actually follow through," he said.

Asked later by reporters, both Callaway and Jean said they would look at expanded private care options if it's cost effective and improves the system.

The candidates also sparred over labour relations, including Alberta's minimum wage.

The wage rises to $13.60 on Oct. 1 from $12.20 an hour, then to $15 in the fall of 2018.

All candidates say business leaders are telling them $15 is not sustainable, and that it will harm the economy because fewer people will be hired.

Three of them would look to hold it at $15 or, in the case of Jean, seek to lower it for some industries or age groups to spur job growth.

Only Schweitzer promised to roll it back to the current $12.20 level to bring back thousands of jobs.

"The minimum wage has to be re-set. Has to be," he said.

Kenney disagreed, telling Schweitzer: "Promising hundreds of thousands of people that you are going to cut their wages is not the winning formula for an election."

This was the second of five debates among the leaders.

The party will pick a new leader on a preferential ballot on Oct. 28.

The United Conservatives were created in July, when Jean's Wildrose party and Kenney's Progressive Conservatives voted to merge.

Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties have reached an agreement in principle to form a consolidated party. PC Leader Jason Kenney says he and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean will 'park' their egos in the leadership race.

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