BY BILL PHILLIPS
Health care in the North proved to be a lively debate topic for the three candidates seeking election in the Prince George-Valemount riding.
With just a week left in the provincial election campaign Liberal incumbent Shirley Bond, New Democrat Natalie Fletcher, and Green Party candidate Nan Kendy squared off at an all candidates forum Tuesday.
“We have to be able to retain medical professionals here, we have to keep them here,” said Fletcher, herself a health care professional. “We have to make it so people don’t have to travel long distances to get the health care they need.”
She said the NDP plan is to develop urgent care centres. NDP leader John Horgan, when he was in Prince George last week, pointed to the Blue Pine Primary Health Care Clinic in the city as an example.
She said that health care has to be funded “adequately.”
“All of us recognize that health care is a critical priority, wherever you live in British Columbia,” said Bond. “It’s even more important when you live outside the Lower Mainland.”
She said the Liberals have more than doubled the health care budget since taking power, adding that by 2020 the health care budget will be $20 billion. She added that the Liberals have just announced a $250 million addition to the University Hospital of British Columbia.
“If we’re going to talk about how we can afford to pay for things, Natalie, your party is actually talking about acute health care centres and you’ve said you will take that out of the existing health care budget,” said Bond. “What’s important today is to able to tell us if you’re going to fund those centres out of the existing budget, what will you stop doing in order to pay for that?”
Fletcher responded by saying the province should negotiate a better deal from Ottawa and threw the issue back to Bond.
“If we’ve put so much more money into health care, then why haven’t we seen improvements?” she asked Bond.
Bond said British Columbia has some of the best health care outcomes in the country.
“The fact of the matter, we have an increased health care budget,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot more work to be done.”
Kendy said the Green Party wants to change the focus of health care and look at prevention as much as acute care.
“While we want to plan and fund primary health care, we also want to provide a balanced budget for health care prevention,” said Kendy. “We want to look at the whole of health care so we can help mitigate the causes.”
Both the NDP and the Green Party would create a separate ministry for mental health and addictions.