Moderator Cheryl Halsted is flanked by NDP candidate Colleen Ross (left) and Liberal MLA Linda Larson at a forum Friday at the Osoyoos senior centre.
By ROY WOOD
Why has BC lagged behind the rest of the country in eliminating medical insurance premiums was the first question fired at MLA Linda Larson at an election forum in Osoyoos on Friday.
Incumbent Larson and NDP challenger Colleen Ross faced off in front of about 40 people at the senior centre. The event was sponsored by the BC Retired Teachers Association.
Larson pointed out that the Liberal government has promised to cut Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums by 50 per cent at the end of this year and to eliminate them eventually.
In fact, the recent provincial budget pledged to cut in half premiums for households with annual incomes under $120,000.
Larson argued that while the other nine provinces may not charge MSP premiums directly, they nonetheless collect money needed to fund medical services through “hidden taxes.”
Ross said the NDP platform promises elimination of MSP premiums as soon as it to elected to government.
In a related question, an audience member asked why seasonal flu vaccines aren’t free for everyone in the province rather than only for seniors, children and people with certain health problems.
Ross said that in other jurisdictions, such vaccinations are free to everyone who wants them ad they should be free in BC as well.
She got little argument from Larson, who told the questioner, “I agree with you,” but admitted she doesn’t know why the vaccines aren’t free.
In response to another health question, this one about why there s such a doctor shortage in the South Okanagan, Larson said the province has opened seats in medical schools and is “training doctors as fast as we can.”
She pointed out that in the recent past the need for doctors in the area was met by a large influx of physicians from South Africa, to the point where that country tried to stem the outward flow. “This area was very well served” by South African doctors, she said.
Ross used a question about why there isn’t a walk-in clinic in Osoyoos to tout her party’s emphasis on a “team approach to health care.” At the centre of it, she said, would be clinics where teams of nurse-practitioners, physiotherapists and others would work together to provide health care more efficiently and without the automatic involvement of a physician.
Larson agreed that walk-in clinics can be a benefit, but pointed out that such facilities are the creations of doctors, not the provincial health ministry.
Many young doctors, she said, like to work in walk-in clinics because the hours are shorter and more predictable than in regular practice. “We can encourage (such clinics),” she said, “but we can’t mandate them.”
Key to the Liberal government’s campaign leading to the May 9 general election is the notion that it is the party that creates jobs. Larson mentioned at least twice that “200,000 more people are working in BC” than were four years ago.
She said “there are lots of good jobs” in the Boundary-Similkameen riding, pointing to 450 miners in Princeton, 250 corrections officers at the new provincial jail near Oliver and large numbers employed at lumber mills in Grand Forks and Midway.
As well, she said, agriculture has grown and “tourism is number one and always will be.”
Larson accused the New Democrats in the legislature of being against “every single” job-creating initiative put forward by her government.
Ross countered that her party supports jobs, “just not the sort of jobs the Liberals want.”
She pointed specifically to the Site-C dam proposal for the Peace River in northeastern BC. She said the dam is not needed for electricity and will put farmers out of work when it floods their farmland.
She said an NDP government would redirect the emphasis on resource-based jobs and concentrate on retraining for value-added jobs and providing incentives for young people to start small businesses.
Ross used the jobs discussion to plug her party’s position in favour of a national park in the South Okanagan, which Larson has opposed.
Ross said a national park would provide between 500 and 700 jobs for the region.
Friday’s was a civil if someone icy affair. The candidates didn’t once address each other directly and avoided contact coming into and leaving the meeting room.
Larson is a former councillor and mayor in Oliver. She has a long list of volunteer and community involvements and has been a small business owner. She was first elected to the legislature in the 2013 general election.
Ross is an organic farmer and a town councillor in Grand Forks. She has a long history of involvement in national and international agriculture organizations, including a stint as the “women’s president” of the National Farmers Union.