Opinion

Critical Services Suffering in BC’s So-Called Great Economy

BC Liberal spin hides less-than-stellar performance on health, education, and more.

By Bill Tieleman 23 Aug 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

“No government in BC history has invested more in health care, education, and other front-line services than Today’s BC Liberals.” – BC Liberal Party website

If British Columbia’s economy is doing so well – as Premier Christy Clark constantly claims – then why are health care, education and other services suffering?

B.C. lags behind the Canadian national average and most provinces on wait times for several key surgical procedures.

For hip replacement, knee replacement, cataract surgery and radiation therapy, B.C. is behind the average across Canada.

And for the first three, B.C. does not meet the national benchmark established by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, an independent non-profit organization.

Emergency room wait times in the province are also significant – on Sunday afternoon 90 per cent of patients would wait three hours and 10 minutes to see a doctor at Vancouver General Hospital, the region’s biggest facility. Last Sunday evening, that wait was four hours.

Remarkably, B.C. is the only province forcing residents to pay Medical Services Plan premiums – an additional tax that disproportionately hits middle income earners.

With the province collecting $2.5 billion a year, the BC Liberals changed MSP premiums in this year’s budget to exempt children and reduce premiums for single parents and those making less than $42,000 a year.

But to cover that lost income, Finance Minister Mike de Jong actually increased MSP premiums for couples making over $45,000 a year and for senior couples earning over $51,000 a year – by a significant $240 annually.

And whether you make $45,000 or $4.5 million, you still pay the same MSP premiums.

While some employers – particularly in unionized workplaces – pay the MSP premiums as part of taxable worker benefits, most B.C. employees have to pay MSP themselves.

Clark herself recently said of MSP premiums: “It’s not progressive. It’s complicated. And it’s another burden that we put on families. Unfortunately, it’s turned out to be a very complicated thing to try and change, which I guess is why no government has ever done it or never really tried.”

The premier obviously is only referring to B.C., not the other nine provinces without MSP premiums. And it’s the BC Liberals who more than doubled MSP rates since 2001.

But that cash infusion hasn’t helped wait times. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that in 2015, B.C. lagged behind national averages considerably.

On hip replacement, BC was at 61 per cent of the benchmark 90 per cent level while the national average was 81 per cent; on knee replacement B.C. was at 47 per cent compared to 77 per cent across Canada; for cataracts B.C. was at 64 per cent versus 76 per cent, and even radiation therapy was at 93 per cent against 98 per cent countrywide.

Only on hip fracture repairs was B.C. ahead of the Canadian average, at 91 per cent over 87 per cent nationally.

On education, if B.C. is investing so much, why have 256 schools been closed throughout the province in the past 14 years and 98 of those since 2010, according to the BC Teachers’ Federation?

Vancouver’s school board decides this year if it will close 12 schools, all but one on the east side, because it is under pressure from BC Liberal Education Minister Mike Bernier to balance its budget by achieving an arbitrary 95 per cent occupancy level in all schools.

And why have the BC Liberals raised private school funding by 66 per cent since 2005 while public schools got only a 19 per cent increase?

That’s one reason why private school enrolment jumped by 15,000 students since 2005 while public schools dropped by 60,000.

And it’s the proverbial vicious cycle: as public school funding fails to meet needs, programs and resources are cut and class size rises – and more parents send their kids to private schools, even with tuitions of up to $21,000 a year.

As for the BC Liberals’ investment in “other front-line services” – just ask people with disabilities how much their benefits have increased in the past nine years. The answer is zero.

In September, a very modest $77 a month increase will finally take place – but for about 35,000 people with disabilities who were receiving a monthly transit pass, the B.C. government will claw back most of the increase by now charging for the pass.

That will leave them with just a $25 monthly benefit hike after nine years without one.

This month 16-year-old Gwynevere Staddon died of a suspected drug overdose in a Port Moody coffee shop washroom – another likely victim of fentanyl mixed with heroin.

Staddon’s grieving family said their daughter wanted to kick the drug, but B.C. has lengthy waiting lists for rehabilitation and they could not afford a private clinic with costs up to $50,000.

“Either you have to pay a lot of money, or wait. And the waiting list is at least four to six months, which, during that time, every day there’s two people being killed,” said her mother Veronica, referring to the number of people who’ve died in B.C. so far this year of illicit-drug overdoses: 371.

And Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s independent Representative for Children and Youth, called Staddon’s death “a heartbreaking nightmare” that could have been prevented.

“This is a tragic case of a family that reached out for support and saw their daughter slipping away from them — and unfortunately was not given the support they needed,” Turpel-Lafond said, noting that her office had tried to help the family find treatment.

“This was a death that should not have happened. This was a tragedy that could have been prevented,” she said.

Unacceptable surgery and medical treatment wait times while premiums rise, public schools closing, people with disabilities mistreated and those desperately fighting addiction left to fight alone – the BC Liberal government is clearly not investing enough of the economy’s benefits to help those who need it.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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