B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan campaigned outside Royal Jubilee Hospital on Monday morning, touting his government’s quick resumption of surgeries after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and highlighting past purchases and promises of new hospitals.
Horgan said the NDP’s advances on the health care front — including the acceleration of hip and knee surgeries and new MRI machines for Maple Ridge, Langley and Vancouver — are all “at risk” if voters decide “to go back to the B.C. Liberals.”
“The B.C. Liberals are focused on the wealthy and the well connected,” Horgan said. “The B.C. Liberals that allowed MSP premiums to double [during] their time in government.”
B.C. was the only province that had medical services premiums, Horgan said. The NDP government eliminated the premiums, replacing them with the Employer Health Tax, a payroll tax paid by employers.
The B.C. Liberals said 348 times in the legislature that they would do away with the tax, Horgan said. “That’s $1.8 billion that could go toward surgeries, could go toward diagnostic treatments, go toward the equipment and the people we need to make our robust public health care system work.”
The Liberals argued in May for suspending both the Employer Health Tax and the Provincial Sales tax to stimulate the pandemic-ravaged economy. The province has forecast a deficit of almost $13 billion for 2020-2021, following $7.6 billion in pandemic spending.
On Monday, B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson pledged to remove the PST for one year and cut it to three per cent from seven per cent the following year. The sales tax would remain at that rate until the economy, expected to be in deficit for some time, recovers, Wilkinson said.
The cost is estimated at $6.9 billion. The sales tax brought in about $7.6 billion in the last fiscal year, according to the province.
Horgan said he had not yet seen the announcement to be able to assess the impact on provincial revenues for the province.
“But when Mr. Wilkinson makes promises about taxes, historically, they’ve been promises for those that are wealthy and well connected not for regular people, and if he’s going to take that money out of the budget I hope he’s going to tell British Columbians what services they won’t be providing,” Horgan said.
The B.C. NDP leader also campaigned on health care on Sunday in Duncan, where he promised to continue work on a new hospital in the Cowichan Valley that he said would open in the next few years if the NDP is elected.
Horgan said construction would begin next year on a hospital three times bigger than the current one, which was built in 1967 and has 134 beds.
Plans for the new hospital were first announced in 2018. A statement at the time by Island Health said the planning for a replacement hospital was a collaborative effort between the provincial government, Island Health, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District, the municipalities of Duncan and North Cowichan, local First Nations and local stakeholder groups.
Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau criticized what she called the “politicization” of work done by the Cowichan community to bring a new hospital to the region, saying it “exemplifies what is wrong with B.C. provincial politics.”
Furstenau said she was told by Health Minister Adrian Dix weeks weeks before the election was called that the plan had been approved and work was moving forward on the hospital.
“It is disappointing, although perhaps not surprising, to hear Mr. Horgan try to instil fear in people about a project that has been moving forward since the government announcement in 2018,” she said in a statement.
“This was a community-driven process that began several years ago. The hospital is a success of so many hardworking people in Cowichan who have come together to push this project forward.”
— With a file from Roxanne Egan-Elliott