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Only 39 per cent of Albertans back Premier Ralph Klein's controversial health-care reforms -- the lowest level of support in Canada, an Angus Reid poll says.

The poll, taken before protest rallies on the weekend that attracted crowds of up to 8,000 and raucous demonstrations at the legislature all this week, shows a critical lack of support for the health-care bill that is viewed by many as a direct attack on medicare and the precursor to a two-tiered health system.

Bill 11 would see public money used to pay private, for-profit clinics to perform a range of procedures that are now performed only in hospitals.

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It would allow some patients to stay overnight. The private facilities would be allowed to charge patients for so-called enhanced services -- those considered above and beyond what the province considers necessary.

The poll showed a majority of Albertans, 59 per cent, are against the new health-care scheme. Nationally, support for the bill averaged 50 per cent.

In fact, said Darrell Bricker, Angus Reid's president of public affairs, the more people seem to know about the proposed legislation, the less they like it.

The poll of 1,500 Canadians, commissioned for The Globe and Mail and CTV, was conducted between March 23 and March 31.

Results are considered accurate to within 2.5 points, 19 in 20 times. The poll comes as Albertans massed for the fourth straight day at the legislature to show their disapproval of the proposed Health Care Protection Act. The protests have drawn thousands in Edmonton alone, largely people who arrived spontaneously at the building known here as the Dome.

On Monday, they stormed the legislature, crowding into the building's rotunda.

On Tuesday evening, the protests turned unpredictable when citizens arrived at the legislature only to find themselves locked out. Enraged, they began circling the building, banging thunderously on the doors, demanding to be let in. Many were grey-haired. Some wore suits. A handful were in wheelchairs.

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Finally, a throng of police officers arrived, some in riot gear, and kept people away from the legislature's main doors as their elected representatives debated the bill line by line inside.

The protesters were especially outraged because the government had threatened to impose closure and push the bill through into law by Easter. Mr. Klein later backed down, saying he would let the discussion take its course.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday evening, the protests drew even more crowds. Yesterday, citizens arrived early in the afternoon and again demanded the bill be killed. Opposition Liberal Leader Nancy MacBeth asked Mr. Klein during Question Period to go outside with her and speak with the protesters.

He refused. He said legislature security forces had told him that some members of the protest crowd were violent and he wouldn't expose himself to danger. As well, he said he is philosophically opposed to appearing before protesters.

"I don't any longer do protests," Mr. Klein said.

Angus Reid's Dr. Bricker -- his doctorate is in political science -- said it's clear from the poll results that Canadians, including Albertans, view the proposed health bill as a fundamental statement about the direction of health care throughout the country.

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Eighty-two per cent of Canadians said that "this proposed change in Alberta will have broad implications for health care right across the country." In Alberta, the figure was 90 per cent.

It's not that they're opposed to new ideas in health care: Only 37 per cent believe that, currently, health care in Canada works just fine; and 69 per cent believe anything that can be done to improve health-care services and reduce waiting time should be done, including paying private facilities to provide some services.

Mr. Klein has consistently said that his controversial bill is aimed at doing just that. People clearly don't believe him, Dr. Bricker said.

"What the results say is: 'I'm prepared to entertain all sorts of options. But what I've heard so far [about Bill 11] I don't like,' " he said.

He added that fighting this battle is unlikely to do Mr. Klein's popularity any good. "It can't be good for his level of support," he said.

Nevertheless, political observers reckon that the protests won't deter Mr. Klein's government from passing the bill. Mr. Klein is slated to call an election early next year.

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WHO SUPPORTS KLEIN'S HEALTH BILL

Quebec              55%
British Columbia    52%
Sask./Man           51%
Canada              50%
Ontario             49%
Atlantic            46%
Alberta             39%

Source: Angus Reid Group, Inc.

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