Shirley and Paul Brown share how the CRH pathologist shortage impacted their lives

Shirley and Paul Brown share how the CRH pathologist shortage impacted their lives

Shirley and Dr. Paul Brown  |  Submitted photo

Shirley and Paul Brown share how the CRH pathologist shortage impacted their lives

By George Le Masurier

Ever since the Vancouver Island Health Authority started reducing pathologist services at Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals in 2013, North Island citizens have endured longer wait times for their biopsy and other lab results.

Many have complained. And health care professionals and some local government officials have added their voices to the need to restore full laboratory services to the North Island hospitals.

But VIHA, sometimes called Island Health, has denied that reduced pathologist services have created delays in test results.

Now, a well-known Campbell River physician and his wife have come forward with their personal story about how Island Health’s policies have impacted their lives.

MORE: Patients suffer from reduced pathologist services

Dr. Paul Brown, a Campbell River family doctor for 40 years, has launched a series of complaints to Island Health, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the BC Health Ministry and local officials regarding a significant delay in a cancer diagnosis that caused his wife anxiety and altered her cancer treatment plan.

Brown told Decafnation this week that his wife, Shirley, had a routine surgical procedure on Dec. 9 at CRH to remove an ovarian cyst.

Five weeks later, the pathology report was still unavailable. Shirley was anxious to learn the outcome of her surgery.

Because Brown knew the system, he called the pathology department at Campbell River Hospital and discovered the problem. There was only one pathologist working during the time that Shirley’s samples were being processed.

The pathologist had not yet reviewed the slides and had not made a diagnosis. He was prompted to review her slides and consult with his colleague who had just returned from holiday.

Two days later, Shirley learned that she had cancer.

It took another 10 days for a specialist pathologist in Victoria to confirm the diagnosis. Shirley saw an oncologist at the Victoria Cancer Clinic two months after her surgery.

 

PATHOLOGIST SHORTAGE

The hospital has two full-time pathologists, but when Island Health unilaterally transferred all clinical pathologist services to a private corporation in Victoria, called the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation, CRH lost funding to hire a needed third pathologist.

Currently, CRH’s two pathologists must cover each other’s shifts, vacation time, sick time and other required absences. That means that for a third of the year, up to 18 weeks, CRH may have only one pathologist on duty.

The delay in receiving the confirmed diagnosis moved the oncologists to start chemotherapy before the recommended surgery to stage the cancer and remove any visible tumour. Shirley completed chemotherapy in June.

At the end of July, she had surgery to complete staging and to remove visible cancer. A small deposit of cancer was found at her second surgery and more chemotherapy has been prescribed.

If the pathology report had been delivered in the recommended time frame, she would likely have had surgery first, followed by chemotherapy a couple of weeks later.

It is impossible to predict the outcome of that scenario but the treatment plan would have been completed much sooner, and Shirley would have experienced much less anxiety by knowing the stage of her cancer.

 

DISINGENUOUS REPLY FROM ISLAND HEALTH

Seven months ago, Brown initially complained to Island Health’s Patient Care Quality Office and he’s still waiting for a response. Every 20 days or so, he receives an email saying they are still working on the file.

He has also contacted North Island MLA Claire Trevena, Health Minister Adrian Dix and his deputy minister. He has not received a reply from any of them.

It’s an understatement to say the Browns are “frustrated by the lack of engagement by elected officials.”

Brown did get a reply to a letter he sent to Dr. Robertson, Island Health’s executive director of lab and pathology, on March 16 of this year. In this letter, Brown described what he considered were the troubling aspects of his wife’s case, including the delay in getting a diagnosis.

“I cannot express the anguish that this delay in diagnosis has caused us … (and it has) left me with concerns regarding the safety of the current delivery of lab and pathology services at CRG,” Brown wrote to Robertson.

In a reply dated May 20, Robertson denied any knowledge that having one pathologist on duty presented a problem.

Brown replied to Robertson on May 25 to refute this claim.

“The fact that you, as you have asserted in your letter, were unaware of concern regarding delays in surgical turnaround times when one of the pathologists was on holiday is incorrect,” Brown wrote.

Brown’s reply refers to several meetings that Roberston attended where the concerns were openly discussed, including the July 22, 2019 Campbell River City Council meeting and the April 11, 2019 meeting of the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board.

Brown told Robertson that to profess no knowledge of the concerns was “disingenuous to say the least.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INFO TO KNOW ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER

 

Symptoms
Early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few and nonspecific symptoms that are often mistaken for more common benign conditions.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
Abdominal bloating or swelling
Quickly feeling full when eating
Weight loss
Discomfort in the pelvis area
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
A frequent need to urinate

When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a genetic counsellor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

— www.mayoclinic.org

 

 

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More Health Care | Latest Feature

Petition put to BC Legislature: restore North Island pathology

North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented a petition signed by over 2,500 people to the BC Legislature Nov. 20 that calls for the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital and to investigate possible conflicts of interest within Island Health

The Week: Do BC Liberals retake the Courtenay-Comox riding from Greens and NDP?

The Week: Do BC Liberals retake the Courtenay-Comox riding from Greens and NDP?

It was a tough growing season for tomatoes this year, but they look great anyway  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Do BC Liberals retake the Courtenay-Comox riding from Greens and NDP?

By George Le Masurier

Polling stations for the Oct. 24 BC provincial election in fewer than 100 hours. Election Day is officially this Saturday, but nearly half of the 2017 vote total have already been cast.

Some 800,000 people have voted early — when they were less likely to have social distancing problems — or by mail, which is by far the easiest and most convenient method to vote.

So it’s late, but never too late for a few observations.

 

The BC Liberals lost the Courtenay-Comox riding in 2017 because a Conservative candidate siphoned off more than 2,000 votes. Assuming that most of those votes would have gone to the Liberals, they would have won the riding without a whiff of a recount.

The news gets worse for the NDP.

Many loyal NDP voters have grumbled about Premier John Horgan because A) he didn’t kill Site C; B) has embraced LNG; and, C) continues to allow timber companies to mow through old-growth timber.

Based on that, do you really believe the left will split their vote this year more generously between the NDP and the BC Green Party? If so, then the Courtenay-Comox Liberals are probably already chilling their champagne.

 

Would a BC Liberal victory in the Courtenay-Comox riding be a good thing or a bad thing?

That feels like a funny question to ponder because the BC Liberal Party has a terrible and genuinely unlikable leader in Andrew Wilkinson, who wants to turn the clock back on social progress in this province. Remember Social Credit?

Plus, who can forget how the BC Liberals destroyed education and social programs when voters last gave them the keys to the provincial budget? Not many educators voting Liberal lately.

And creating a $10 billion-plus hole in the provincial budget by eliminating the PST for a year would give Awful Andrew the perfect excuse to start chopping again.

On the other hand, if your interest is narrow enough to warrant only a comeuppance for Island Health’s shameful handling of several Comox Valley Hospital and health care issues, then BC Liberal candidate Brennan Day might suit your purposes.

When Decafnation asked the Courtenay-Comox candidates how they would address the many issues surrounding Island Health’s reduction of pathologist services on the North Island, Day was the only one who promised to press for an external, independent review. His response was researched and thoughtful.

Our incumbent MLA, Ronna-Rae Leonard, rightly blamed the previous BC Liberal government for fostering an environment of privatization in health care, a sentiment we whole-heartedly endorse.

But that doesn’t excuse Leonard’s deliberate avoidance of her responsibility to represent her constituents on this issue. For the last three years, she’s done nothing, zippo, to rectify the situation. Doctors have met with her. No action. Citizen groups have lobbied and written to her. Nada.

Leonard professes support for returning full pathology services, but the lack of action during her first term in office undermines her credibility.

In her response to Decafnation, Leonard said, “That’s why we’re hiring more people now.” This is untrue, if she’s referring to general pathologists.

Island Health is trying (unsuccessfully) to hire new anatomical pathologists, but only because the two respected and well-liked pathologists serving this area for decades resigned in protest two months ago. There are no pathologists at the Comox Valley Hospital today. The jobs are open.

And then there’s the Green Party. Sadly, by her own admission, the slow decline of health care services on the North Island hasn’t made it onto the radar of Green candidate Gillian Anderson.

So where does that leave us? Voting is complicated this time. The numbers point to a BC Liberal victory in Courtenay-Comox. But, hey, don’t listen to us, we predicted Trump would lose in 2016.
Were we wrong to raise our eyebrows over this comment?

While discussing how the Comox Valley Regional District might reinvent the Comox Valley Economic Development Society, A Person Who Shall Go Unnamed lamented the time and effort being spent on the topic, and then added, “You know, this is only about a million or so dollars and that’s really just a drop in the bucket of our whole regional budget.”

It’s true, the CVRD annual budget goes north of $130 million, so this person has a point.

But, wait, the regional directors are still discussing $1 million-plus of taxpayer dollars. Imagine what a local non-profit could do with that much money? What could Lush Valley do, or the John Howard Society or a Joint Child Care Committee for the Comox Valley?

Not pocket change for these folks.

Isn’t the enduring question really about what value the whole community enjoys from any public expenditure, no matter how small, and whether our collective social values suggest the money could be put to better use somewhere else?

 

 

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Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

Dr. Chris Bellamy, a well-known pathologist who practiced in the Comox Valley for 31 years  |  submitted photo

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

By George Le Masurier

For the past 31 years, Dr. Chris Bellamy has been a stabilizing figure in the Comox Valley hospitals’ medical laboratories. The mild-mannered pathologist earned the respect of his colleagues by working days and often nights to provide timely and accurate diagnoses for physicians and patients.

His stellar reputation extended beyond the Comox Valley. His peers around the province recruited him to serve on professional boards and committees, including one that revisited pathologist workload models and studied how they should be used in pathologists contracts provincially.

He mentored a wide array of medical technicians and laboratory assistants and provided them with the real-life education that can only be learned on the job.

When Bellamy first came to St. Joseph’s General Hospital in 1989, he was the Comox Valley’s only pathologist. As a general pathologist he did both the clinical and anatomical streams of the medical specialty. 

As the community’s population grew and the hospital’s workload increased, Bellamy was joined by Dr. Wayne Donn in 1999 and Dr. Stefania Giobbe in 2015, also general pathologists. The three doctors covered for each other’s vacation time and shared the after-hours calls and weekend work.

But this rosy scenario took a dark turn about seven years ago when the Vancouver Island Health Authority (sometimes called Island Health) unilaterally started to implement a plan to eliminate general pathologists on the North Island.

MORE: The issue in a nutshell

In the future, VIHA planned to provide only anatomical pathology services on-site and turn all clinical pathology over to a private corporation of doctors in Victoria, called the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation.

Island Health started this change in 2013, but only at the Campbell River Hospital, where complaints of long wait times for results — some as long as six weeks for a cancer diagnosis — began almost immediately. 

The Comox Valley pathologists who worked at St. Joseph’s General Hospital, which was not under Island Health’s control, had different contracts that allowed them to practice general pathology and that remained in place through the opening of the new Comox Valley Hospital.

Island Health couldn’t take clinical pathology away from Bellamy, Donn and Giobbe, but it could encourage and pressure them to leave.

And it could refuse, after Dr. Giobbe went on extended medical leave in 2018, to provide any support to ease the workload. In response to requests from Bellamy and Donn for help, Island Health’s answer was to send the work to Victoria.

So it all came to an acrimonious end on June 21 when Bellamy and Donn jointly resigned. They gave two months notice.

“I was just exasperated and angry,” Bellamy told Decafnation. “I really felt forced out. VIHA was relentless in their pressure.”

“Politicians need to have their feet held to the fire”

According to sources within the Comox Valley Hospital, the Island Health announcement of Bellamy’s and Donn’s resignations did not thank the doctors for their years of service.

“And it was sent to the smallest audience possible,” the source said.

Bellamy said he feels sad for patients and staff, “who are bearing the brunt of what’s happening here.”

Their absence for the past two months has caused chaos at the CVH laboratory where most laboratory work is now shipped to Victoria. This has created longer wait times and has provoked some emotional patients to turn up at the lab, desperate for their biopsy results.

Since the pathologists resigned in August, Island Health has been unable to recruit any doctors willing to practice only anatomical pathology at the Comox Valley Hospital. The jobs remain vacant.

 

VICTORIA WAVES OFF CONCERNS

Dr. Chris Bellamy has been warning Island Health executives and North Island politicians about the dangers of shipping biopsy samples to Victoria to no avail. Now, he’s joining the call for a full external review of the situation.

Bellamy, Giobbe and Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a Campbell River general pathologist, met with Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard on Aug. 11, 2017, just prior to the opening of the new Comox Valley Hospital. North Island MLA Claire Trevena was also invited but did not attend.

MORE: 2020 candidates address the issue

The doctors’ goal was to save microbiology and other lab services from being moved from CVH to Victoria. They explained how even minutes counted in making a diagnosis. For example, they said in serious infections, such as meningitis, mortality rates nearly double if the diagnosis takes longer than an hour.

But Leonard said she would not interfere in what she perceived as an Island Health operational issue.

“If politicians don’t want to interfere in the daily operations of VIHA that can impact patient care and safety, then who is accountable?” Bellamy told Decafnation.

Bellamy now believes that an independent review is necessary because there is no accountability within Island Health for the delivery of lab services.

“You can’t point to any one person and say they are responsible,” he said. “It’s a matrix organizational structure, a latticework of managers who all point the finger of responsibility in another direction.”

Bellamy made further attempts to retain lab services on the North Island at meetings with Island Health and VICPCC doctors in 2019 and as late as March of this year. None were successful.

By summer, “it was game over,” for Bellamy and Donn. “From then on, it was just a matter of how to extricate ourselves from the situation,” he said.

 

BEYOND PATIENT CONCERNS

With Bellamy and Donn gone, the North Island now has no on-site clinical pathologist services. All of that work is now shipped to Victoria, mostly by courier.

That change has raised more concerns than long wait times and impacts on patient treatment plans. There are allegations of conflict of interest within Island Health.

Island Health signed it’s first multi-million dollar two-year contract with VICPCC in 2014. It signed a second two-year contract in 2017 under a non-disclosure agreement.

In the meeting with MLA Leonard in 2017, Bellamy, Tabarsi and Giobbe questioned the priority of these contracts.

“It is scandalous that a public body like Island Health would use taxpayer money to sign a multi-million contract with a private, for-profit corporation under a non-disclosure agreement,” the doctors wrote in their presentation to Leonard.

MORE: Medical centralization risks to public

And they alleged conflict of interest in how the contracts were awarded.

“Island Health allows some of the senior VICPCC shareholders to hold key administrative positions … including department and division heads who then dictate changes in service delivery to the detriment of the patients of the North Island and to their own financial benefit,” according to the presentation.

Island Health maintains there was no conflict of interest and has relied on a ruling by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, whose function is to protect the public.

Bellamy says Island Health has wrongly interpreted the College’s ruling.

“The College didn’t say there wasn’t any conflict, only that there was no conflict that had conclusively resulted in patient harm,” he said. “There was no absolute proof that patient care had been compromised because at the time no citizen had formally complained to the college.”

Since then, however, a citizen has made a formal complaint to the College, and there have been complaints to Island Health’s Patient Quality Care Office.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Dr. Donn has already taken another job in the Fraser Valley. Dr. Giobbe remains on medical leave.

Dr. Bellamy is taking time to decide whether to go back to work in another capacity or to retire. Regardless of what his future holds, Bellamy says he wants to see this issue finally resolved.

“Politicians need to have their feet held to the fire,” he said. “The Comox Valley Hospital laboratory service is no longer good value for money and Island Health won’t change without public pressure.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDICAL TERMS USED IN THIS ARTICLE

Anatomical pathology deals with tissue biopsies, such as biopsies from breast, colon, skin and liver.

Clinical pathology deals with body fluids such as blood, urine and spinal fluid, and includes three areas of specialization:

Microbiology deals with the identification of infectious organisms.

General pathologists are medical specialists who study an additional five years in all areas of pathology.

Clinical pathologists are medical specialists who study the same additional five years but in only one of the areas of specialization.

 

 

 

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More Health Care | Top Feature

Petition put to BC Legislature: restore North Island pathology

North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented a petition signed by over 2,500 people to the BC Legislature Nov. 20 that calls for the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital and to investigate possible conflicts of interest within Island Health

Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond

Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond

The Comox Valley Hospital  |  Decafnation file photo

Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Hospital no longer has any on-site pathologists. Dr. Chris Bellamy and Dr. Wayne Donn both resigned on June 21, exasperated by Island Health’s refusal to adequately staff its North Island medical laboratories. Their last day was Aug. 21.

Their absence for the past two months has caused chaos at the CVH laboratory and lengthened the time that patients wait to receive test results. This has provoked some emotional patients to turn up at the lab, desperate for their biopsy results.

While this is a new reality at the Comox Valley Hospital, the reduction in on-site pathology services at the Campbell River Hospital has impacted the North Island for several years. It’s part of Island Health’s plan to centralize some medical services in Victoria.

But despite pleas for help from family doctors and other health care workers, individuals and groups such as the Citizens for Quality Health Care and the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board and other North Island municipal governments, neither Island Health or the NDP provincial government have responded with any relief.

And while the North Island’s concerns have focused on patient care, there are also allegations of conflict of interest within Island Health and the claim that taxpayers are no longer receiving the services they were promised and continue to pay for.

Decafnation asked each of the provincial candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding to address this issue (with no limit on length). Here are their unedited responses (in the order they were received):

 

GILLIAN ANDERSON — BC Green Party

While I am unaware of all of the factors involved with this decision, in principle, I am in favour of health care being delivered in patients’ home communities as much as possible. This strengthens our local healthcare system and creates jobs. When patients and families are waiting longer for test results, there is added worry and stress. What is the price of additional sleepless nights waiting for a result?

As the MLA for Courtenay-Comox, I would listen to the concerns of individuals across the riding and I would work towards a solution that addresses all of the issues involved.

 

 

 

BRENNAN DAY — BC Liberal Party

I took the time to consult with Dr. Bellamy on this issue, and what I heard was extremely concerning.

When St. Josephs was running, our community had a full-service laboratory, providing both anatomical and clinical pathology services; they had the autonomy to hire staff and general pathology was the priority with a focus on patient care here in the Comox Valley

During the planning phase of the new hospital, the pathology department was designed to be full service, in keeping with the St Josephs model, which was working well. The costing and design of the new hospital had this budgeted. At some point in the consultation process, Island Health pushed for microbiology to be removed from the hospital and centralized in Victoria, an experiment that had been tried in Campbell River previously with a resulting marked increase in turnaround times of results.

During the hospital planning process, the head of microbiology for Island Health lobbied the VIHA hospital planning committee for removal of microbiology services to Victoria while being a shareholder in a private company providing these services and therefore having a financial interest in the decision; the fact that this scandalous move was not more broadly reported is shameful as it has directly impacted the quality of healthcare here in the North Island.

Once the plan to centralize services in Victoria had been rammed through by VIHA, the taxpayers in the Comox Valley were stuck with the same tax bill, but considerably less local services and longer wait times. VIHA is currently in the process of transferring more clinical lab services from Comox Valley hospital to the private company in Victoria with further erosion of local services.

This is unacceptable.

Our current MLA was contacted multiple times by concerned physicians, nurses, and techs, but their concerns fell on deaf ears and no action was taken to advocate on behalf of the Comox Valley.

An independent external review must immediately be undertaken to analyze the decisions made by VIHA, as the costs have not been reduced by this decision, only the service we are receiving.

We need to build compassion back into the healthcare we are paying for in the Comox Valley, which was so well done by St Josephs for decades, and look hard at whether the VIHA regional governance model is really working, or if it is simply an organization with a bloated middle and little to no accountability to the taxpayers of the Island.

Our community and those affected by long wait times for serious diagnosis through this system are being ignored. I will make sure I advocate loudly to put compassion back into local healthcare, and ensure we are getting the services we deserve.

 

RONNA-RAE LEONARD — BC New Democrat Party

The challenge of privatized services is ensuring profit does not override the protection of the public interest. The previous BC Liberal government facilitated the privatization of many services that people rely on, from hospitals to hospital services, from long term care to home care, and so much more. There have been many negative consequences that the John Horgan government turned its attention toward, to bring the public interest back into the forefront.

We repealed the BC Liberal’s Bill 29 and Bill 94 and then introduced Bill 47 to remove the major financial incentives of contract flipping for companies which created an underpaid and unstable healthcare workforce and deprived seniors of a proper standard of care. We brought back community homecare to direct government services when homecare services became compromised. We brought the contracts for laundry and food services at the Comox and Campbell River Hospital back into the public system.

The quality of care and timeliness of service is also at the root of the concerns over pathology service. The BCNDP is committed to providing the care people need where and when they need it. A commitment to a 10-year cancer care plan demonstrates the closer to home commitment for the North Island, with a new Cancer Centre in Nanaimo.

The pathology services contract was awarded under the BC Liberals and was extended for one more year. It will be reviewed after that. We absolutely agree that lab services should be maintained in Courtenay and Campbell River, that’s why we’re hiring more people now. We’ve accomplished much, but there is still so much more to do. We can’t afford to go back to the BC Liberals.

 

 

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OCT. 24 PROVINCIAL ELECTION INFORMATION

The 2020 provincial election takes place on Oct. 24.

Advance voting is underway at various locations today in Comox, Courtenay and Merville and tomorrow in Black Creek, Comox and Courtenay.

Candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding are incumbent Ronna-Rae Leonard (NDP), Gillian Anderson (BC Greens) and Brennan Day (BC Liberals).

In the last election (2017), 66.89 percent of the riding’s 43,671 registered voters cast a ballot. The results were:

NDP Ronna-Rae Leonard received 10,886 votes or 37.36%

BC Liberal Jim Benninger — 10,697 votes or 36.72%

Green Ernie Sellentin — 5,351 votes or 18.37%

Leah McCulloch — 2,201 votes or 7.55%

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More Health Care | Latest Feature

Petition put to BC Legislature: restore North Island pathology

North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented a petition signed by over 2,500 people to the BC Legislature Nov. 20 that calls for the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital and to investigate possible conflicts of interest within Island Health

NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard: voters given chance to choose long-term stability

NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard: voters given chance to choose long-term stability

Ronna-Rae Leonard  |  2017 Decafnation file photo

NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard: voters given chance to choose long-term stability

By George Le Masurier

Seeking her second term as the NDP MLA for the Courtenay-Comox riding, Ronna-Rae Leonard does not apologize for her party calling an Oct. 24 snap election.

Leonard says the call was necessary to solidify the NDP government’s successful record on dealing with the pandemic and creating economic stability.

“Our collaboration with the Green Party has resulted in the most ambitious climate action plan in North America,” she told Decafnation via a telephone interview. “But the fragility of a minority government is always at risk and that puts three years of forward progress at risk.”

This election, Leonard said, gives the people of British Columbia the chance to set a stable course for the province’s long-term recovery.

And she does not agree with the accusations that her party has broken its 2017 campaign promises on old growth forest logging, liquid natural gas (LNG) or to shelve the controversial Site C dam project.

The NDP sent the Site C project to an independent commission for analysis and so the public could see the facts of its status.

“That was the promise, and it was kept,” she said. “But the Liberals had pushed the project beyond the point of no return and without any transparent analysis.”

On old-growth logging, Leonard notes that public support has swung back and forth, pro and con, over many generations. But she and NDP leadership have committed to adopting the 14 recommendations contained in the report from the BC Old-Growth Strategic Review Panel, which was based on public and stakeholder consultations between November 2019 to January 2020, and released last month.

Among the key recommendations, she said are a promise to give indigenous peoples a place at the table, and the introduction of specific criteria by which to analyze old-growth logging proposals.

Likewise, on LNG, she said her party never promised to ban LNG projects in BC.

“We criticized the Liberals for their wide open, sell off BC policies, from which no prosperity was ever delivered,” she said. “We didn’t go chasing LNG, it came to us and we’ve developed five criteria that hold LNG to the highest standards in the world and that will meet our climate goals.”

 

LONG-TERM CARE BEDS

The NDP has no plan to push private long-term care homeowners out of the market. Instead, Leonard says her party will focus on stricter oversight of private operators and on more training and improved working conditions for care home workers.

“What we inherited were facilities privatized to profit on the backs of employees and seniors,” she said. “We’re committed to improving the standard of care and we’re working toward that.”

Leonard noted that in the history of BC, only one care home had ever been taken over by public control. But in the last three years, the NDP government has taken over three.

And while the Liberals had promised only 70 new long-term care beds for the Comox Valley, the NDP has more than doubled that number to 150.

“Under the Liberals, long-term care was privatized, worker rights were taken away as were jobs, and wages were lowered so workers had to hold multiple part-time jobs to live,” she said. “Our promise is for more oversight, $1.4 billion to make sure every senior has a single room and more training and higher wages for workers.”

The NDP platform includes the hiring of 7,000 new health care workers, and 2,000 of those will be trained specifically for long-term care.

Leonard pointed out that since 2018, the NDP has partnered with North Island College to fund a state-of-the-art long-term care training facility in a real hospital setting at the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital building in Comox.

 

NO COMMITMENT ON PATHOLOGY SERVICES

But Leonard would make no commitment on returning onsite clinical pathology services to Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority has eliminated clinical pathologist positions on the North Island and moved them to a private corporation of Victora doctors. Physicians and health care workers in both communities have warned of the dangers, including long wait times for biopsy results, and the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board has written to VIHA, the Premier and the Minister of Health demanding that the services be reinstated.

But Leonard called the issue “not clear cut,” and that it was a “challenge to work with different levels of authority,” referring to VIHA leadership.

“I’ve heard both sides of that issue and I don’t know the best path,” she said. “I’ll leave that to those in a position to know.”

 

RESPONSE TO CRITICS

Leonard’s election opponents have alluded to public criticisms that she has not been responsive to her constituents or to local governments on issues like clinical pathology services.

“I think this is politically motivated criticism,” she said. “I always take action whenever an issue is brought to me. I do the best I can do. I realize there are a lot of different views out there I’m here to make life better for everyone, not just the top one percent.”

 

ADDRESSING YOUNG VOTERS

Leonard hopes young voters will recognize the beneficial changes her party has brought made for post-secondary students.

Under the Liberal tuitions tripled, she said, but the NDP has brought back and expanded the student access grant program in February of 2019. Now, once again, 40,000 students per year are eligible for a $4,000 interest-free student loan.
The NDP also expanded the access grants to include students enrolled in diploma and certificate programs, while before they applied only to four-year baccalaureate degrees programs.

Leonard said the NDP also improved the grant program by raising the allowable maximum family household income, which increased the number of eligible students.

 

BIO FACTS

Born into a military family, Ronna-Rae Leonard grew up in the Comox Valley. She served three terms on the Courtenay City Council. She won the 2017 provincial elections, her first try at provincial office, by a slim margin over the BC Liberal Party candidate, Jim Benninger. BC Premier John Horgan appointed Leonard as the NDP Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors this year.

 

 

 

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR COMMENTS

Decafnation encourages comments and a free exchange of ideas about our articles. Please limit your comments to fewer than 200 words. Longer comments will be removed. If you wish to submit an article for our commentary section, please send it to george@decafnation.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OCT. 24 PROVINCIAL ELECTION INFORMATION

The 2020 provincial election takes place on Oct. 24.

Advance voting begins at various locations on Thursday, Oct. 15 and continues every day through Wednesday, Oct. 21. A schedule and list of polling stations are posted on the Elections BC website.

Candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding are incumbent Ronna-Rae Leonard (NDP), Gillian Anderson (BC Greens) and Brennan Day (BC Liberals).

In the last election (2017), 66.89 percent of the riding’s 43,671 registered voters cast a ballot. The results were:

NDP Ronna-Rae Leonard received 10,886 votes or 37.36%

BC Liberal Jim Benninger — 10,697 votes or 36.72%

Green Ernie Sellentin — 5,351 votes or 18.37%

Leah McCulloch — 2,201 votes or 7.55%

 

 

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