B.C. party leaders campaign on health care, jobs

Christy Clark, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver are entering their second week on the campaign trail

Liberal Leader Christy Clark speaks to candidates and supporters at the Elk Lake boathouse in Saanich, B.C., on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/CP)

Liberal Leader Christy Clark speaks to candidates and supporters at the Elk Lake boathouse in Saanich, B.C., on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/CP)

BURNABY, B.C. – New Democrat Leader John Horgan took aim on Monday at the Liberals’ failed pledge to match every British Columbian with a family doctor by promoting his party’s strategy to build team-based urgent care centres.

The centres would be open evenings and weekends and would allow patients to see the care provider that fits their needs, whether it’s a doctor, nurse practitioner or counsellor, Horgan said at a campaign stop ahead of the May 9 election.

Horgan said Christy Clark’s Liberals are letting down patients, who are waiting for hours at walk-in clinics or emergency rooms. The NDP said 700,000 people don’t have a family doctor, with 200,000 still looking for one.

“It’s a fundamental right in Canada to access our public health care system. I will defend that to my last breath,” Horgan said.

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The NDP leader made the promise in Burnaby, flanked by two local residents who can’t find a family doctor. Sky Belt said her friend visited walk-in clinics several times for pain and was told she had anxiety before she was finally diagnosed with cancer.

“Those months that she spent not having a family doctor have made her situation very critical,” Belt said.

The Liberals estimated in 2013 that 200,000 British Columbians didn’t have a family doctor. They campaigned in 2010 and 2013 on providing a family doctor to every resident who wanted one by 2015, but conceded two years ago they would not meet their target.

The website for the “GP For Me” program says 178,000 people who did not have a family doctor were able to get one by 2016. But B.C.’s population also grew by 162,600 between 2013 and 2016.

The Liberal platform includes $2.7 billion for new hospitals, 500 additional long-term care beds and 5,500 more hip and knee surgeries.

Campaigning in Campbell River, Clark highlighted her government’s record on helping business, such as phasing out the provincial sales tax on electricity that she said would save businesses $160 million a year, including pulp and paper companies on north Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Island has been a stronghold for the NDP but Clark said the island has a successful economic record because of Liberal policies. She said the unemployment rate on the north island is half what it was under the last NDP government.

“More people are working and our jobs plan has worked for British Columbia,” she said.

“We’ve supported the private sector in creating thousands of jobs here and I don’t think people, whether in the south island, the mid-island or the north island, want to give up that prosperity. We want to keep this going.”

Horgan’s promise was short on details, with no specific number of urgent-care centres an NDP government would build or a cost estimate. He said the party would shift priorities to make room in the existing health budget.

“We want to assemble those teams in a cost-effective way,” he said.

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Later, Horgan visited Coquitlam’s Riverview Hospital, a shuttered mental-health institution, where he has promised to reopen some residential care facilities. The NDP would also establish a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to help people get timely and effective treatment.

Green party Leader Andrew Weaver, who is campaigning on a promise to “do politics differently,” unveiled his party’s platform on democratic reform in Victoria.

He said his party would establish a public watchdog to oversee government advertising and communications, block cabinet ministers from engaging in partisan fundraising, ban corporate, union and out-of-province donations, and place limits on individual contributions that would be in line with current federal limits.

The Liberals, and to a lesser extent the NDP, have faced intense scrutiny over lavish fundraisers and unlimited donations. The NDP has promised to ban corporate and union donations if elected, while the Liberals would convene a panel to make recommendations. The Greens banned corporate and union donations in September.

Weaver also promised to introduce proportional representation.

“British Columbians have lost trust in their government — and rightfully so,” he said in a statement. “We have a duty to regain that trust and to demonstrate through action that the government is there to serve British Columbians — not politicians.”

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