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Northern Health audit, addictions, economy take focus during first day back in legislature

Peace River MLAs Dan Davies and Mike Bernier repeated their calls Monday for John Horgan and his NDP government to audit the Northern Health system and produce a plan for the province’s economic recovery.
B.C. legislature in downtown Victoria. (via Bruce Stotesbury)

Peace River MLAs Dan Davies and Mike Bernier repeated their calls Monday for John Horgan and his NDP government to audit the Northern Health system and produce a plan for the province’s economic recovery.

Monday marked the beginning of the fall session of the legislature, with hospital staff shortages, mental health and addictions, and the economy the top three priorities addressed by the local MLAs.

Davies, the Opposition critic for social development and poverty reduction, said the COVID-19 pandemic has “worsened the overdose crisis” facing the health care system in B.C., which has seen 1,204 deaths from illicit drugs and the potent opioid fentanyl so far this year. There have been 77 overdose deaths in the north, which has some of the highest death rates per capita in the province.

“For months, the official opposition has called for the NDP government to activate the Select Standing Committee on Health so that we can take an all-party public approach to tackle the mental health and addictions issues faced by countless British Columbians,” said Davies.

“This committee is already there, but this government has not called it together. Why? Sadly, this continues to be ignored. Why? I encourage everyone to ask the government why and to demand more.”

Davies said health care workers across the province are "being pushed to the point of exhaustion" as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise. Across B.C. there are 326 people in hospital with COVID-19 including 142 in critical care. In Northern B.C., there are 79 patients hospitalized and 18 in critical care.

Locally, Davies said hospitals in the South Peace have been on continuous diversion due to staff shortages, while the ICU at the Fort St. John Hospital has been closed since June 2020, forcing patients to be transferred to Prince George and other areas of the province for care, he said.

In other areas of the province, such as Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, "the workload of more than a dozen nurses is sometimes being handled by three," Davies said. In Cranbrook, the local emergency room is closed until further notice, he said.

“When people in crisis can't find a hospital bed or an ICU unit ready to take them, it is a matter of life and death,” Davies said. 

“We must commit to a plan for a comprehensive mental health and addictions system and the complete review and overhaul of our health care system — one that will include a complete audit of Northern Health, to identify and address the staffing shortages that are plaguing our hospitals and entire health care centres. Only then can we bring the services and the supports that our communities need and must have to address this overdose crisis.”

Bernier, the Opposition critic for finance, said many businesses in B.C. have shown resilience during the pandemic, which he described as "some of the most troubling times economically or even personally that I think many of us have seen in our lifetime.”

But many still need more support and help, Bernier said, adding that businesses need confidence to take risk and make investments in the province.

“Over the last four years, we haven't really seen an economic plan from this government, to show that certainty, to show that optimism, to show the employers that this is the right place to be. We need to do that,” Bernier said.

“It's about showing the hope that we need for people to come to British Columbia, to be able to invest. We can't do that by having some of the highest taxes in Canada. We can't do that by padding a budget, mostly on property transfer tax, which seems to be helping us lower the deficit. We actually need to be giving confidence to the people and the employers in British Columbia.”

Most MLAs are at the legislature in person, filling the 87 seats and following a safe-return protocol after recent sessions were largely held virtually online with limited seating in the chamber due to the pandemic.

On Monday, the province said it was seeking seeking requests for proposals to provide 22 addictions assessment and recovery beds for various communities on Vancouver Island. 

Ravi Kahlon, the province's economic recovery minister, said the government would continue to offer relief programs and incentives to businesses, communities, and families hit by the pandemic, and that it would introduce an economic recovery strategy early next year.

Kahlon said he and other members of the government have been consulting widely with business, labour, indigenous, conservation, and non-profit groups about an  strategy that looks out over the next 10 to 15 years.

"We're looking to have something rolled out in possibly late January and I'm pretty excited about it," Kahlon said. "What is important is to position B.C., not only for recovery, but for the future."

— with files from The Canadian Press

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