Health care in the era of COVID-19 took centre stage at campaign stops Saturday by the leaders of British Columbia’s New Democratic and Liberal parties.
NDP Leader John Horgan promised to build a long-awaited new hospital in northwest British Columbia if re-elected, while suggesting the Liberals were considering tax cuts for the wealthy and reinstating medical services plan premiums to cover costs.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson vowed not to bring back medical services plan premiums, while accusing Horgan of plunging the province into an unnecessary election during a pandemic.
Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week, saying he needs the stability of a majority government. B.C.’s fixed election date was set for October 2021.
“It’s hard to find anybody to say it’s time to go to the polls,” Wilkinson said at a Vancouver campaign event. “It’s just irresponsible. It’s just plain wrong.”
Horgan said the people of British Columbia need a government that improves health care across the province and strives to make life more affordable.
He stood at the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, promising to spend $441 million to expand and replace the aging, decades-old facility by 2024, if re-elected.
“We heard the stories of years and years of promises from the B.C. Liberals to take action to replace this decrepit building,” Horgan said at a news conference.
“There’s been a lot of industrial activity in this region over the decades and having state-of-the-art, acute-care facilities are absolutely central to the people in the region.”
Horgan said the Liberals could be considering bringing back MSP premiums, which were eliminated by the NDP in January 2020.
“The Liberals want to go back to the days when they would take money out of your pocket to pay for their tax cuts for the wealthy and the well connected,” he said.
Horgan said the NDP’s elimination of the premiums was the largest middle class tax cut in B.C. history, amounting to annual savings of about $1,800 for an average family.
Wilkinson flatly rejected Horgan’s suggestion that the Liberals are considering bringing back medical services plan premiums.
“It seems that John Horgan is intent on destroying his credibility every single day,” said Wilkinson. “What he said today is not true. We’re in a crisis. It’s time for John Horgan to start telling the truth. There will be no return to medical services plan premiums under a B.C. Liberal government, period.”
Wilkinson said the Liberals were united in following the advice of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to fight the pandemic, but Horgan decided to call an election and “betray the trust of the people of B.C.”
He said the Liberals will introduce a campaign platform in coming days that focuses on child care, addiction, housing and employment.
“It’s time to rebuild B.C.,” Wilkinson said. “It’s time to restore confidence.”
Horgan also met with local Indigenous leaders and visited nearby Kitimat.
The Terrace-Kitimat area is part of the Skeena riding, currently held by Liberal Ellis Ross.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau was campaigning in her Cowichan Valley riding on Vancouver Island.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2020.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press