Liberals’ mismanagement of Hydro has hammered industrial employers, New Democrats say

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SURREY – A new subsidy for B.C.’s pulp mills is an admission that the B.C. Liberals’ mismanagement of BC Hydro is risking jobs and hammering the province’s resource-based industrial employers, say the New Democrats.

New Democrat spokesperson responsible for BC Hydro, Adrian Dix, says the $100 million the Liberals have earmarked for this program does nothing to help small business or residential customers who are also being hurt by the 28-per-cent hikes on their Hydro rates.

“Inept Liberal policies put the entire pulp sector in jeopardy, so some action on Hydro rates is welcome news,” said Dix. “But the Liberals have been to blame from the beginning.

“After promising voters that they would keep Hydro rates low, the Liberals surprised ratepayers with a massive 28 per cent hike over five years as soon as the election was over,” said Dix. “Now, they’re claiming to ride to the rescue, hoping no one will notice it was their own incompetence that put these companies at risk in the first place.

“The Liberals’ mismanagement of Hydro – from their privatizing of power generation with high price long-term contracts to their use of deferral accounts which racked up enormous debt – has led to consumers facing enormous rate hikes over the next five years, and likely more to come.”

Dix said the industrial users need the relief offered in today’s announcement, but the problems caused by this government to the pulp sector go well beyond the rate hikes.

“New Democrats have been engaged with Catalyst, with Harmac, with Canfor and others on the problems facing their industry for years,” said Dix. “Stable access to fiber remains a long-term problem, and that’s something the government can take action on, but won’t.”

Meanwhile, Dix said, a lot of businesses and residential customers can’t afford to pay for Liberal incompetence, and they have no relief in sight for Hydro rates that will stretch out over the next decade.

“The government’s 10-year plan for rate hikes only includes five years of detail,” said Dix. “We know that rates are going to jump by 28 per cent in the next five years. With five more years of Liberal mismanagement, who knows how much higher those rates will go?”

B.C. Liberals dismantling Vancouver community health clinics as doctors issued lay-off notices

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VANCOUVER – Vancouver Coastal Health is issuing termination notices to staff and physicians as the B.C. Liberals condone the dismantling of multi-disciplinary clinics that thousands of Vancouver residents rely on, say New Democrats.

“Notice is being sent today to physicians at South Vancouver, Evergreen, Pacific Spirit, and Pine community care centres, after Vancouver Coastal told other clinic staff that they are at risk of losing their positions yesterday,” said New Democrat leader Adrian Dix. “These cuts are the next step in dismantling clinics that thousands of patients across Vancouver count on for high quality, primary care, and they’re proceeding thanks to a lack of leadership and vision by the B.C. Liberal government.

“Not only are these cuts coming at a time when some 100,000 Vancouver residents don’t have access to a family doctor, despite the Liberals’ promise that all British Columbians will have one within 12 months, they are also taking place at a time when other jurisdictions are embracing multi-disciplinary clinics to increase access to primary care.”

According to correspondence attained by the New Democrat Official Opposition, Vancouver Coastal Health is issuing notice under Section 54 of the Labour Code – a displacement notice – to 16 primary care staff, including nurse practitioners and 14 physicians who are currently part of teams serving patients at Pine, South Vancouver, Pacific Spirit and Evergreen primary care clinics.

New Democrat health critic Judy Darcy stated that Liberal health minister Terry Lake refuses to listen to the patients, staff and physicians from these clinics, and is ignoring the evidence that this model of primary care should be expanded, not undone.

“Had Liberal health minister Terry Lake attended the emergency summit he was invited to last week regarding these clinic closures, he would have heard local family doctors and patients endorse this successful approach to primary care and discuss its benefits to patients and the overall health care system.

“He also would have heard health care researchers encouraging B.C. to replicate Ontario’s work in championing and expanding community health care clinics. Ontario community health clinics are outperforming all other models of primary care by preventing 20 per cent more hospital room admissions than other modes of primary care among their patients. This saves governments billions of dollars.”

Darcy also noted that the Minister has stated repeatedly that there would be no cuts and closures in Vancouver’s community based primary care clinics. “Today’s news again shows that is not the case.”

Liberals trying to play catch-up on skills training with cashless plan

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VICTORIA— A decade after dismantling the skills training and apprenticeship system the B.C. Liberals have admitted their changes were a failure, and are now trying to rework the system without properly funding it, say the New Democrats.

“It’s been a decade since the B.C. Liberals dismantled our apprenticeship and trades system, and we need real investments in skills training to make up for years of lost opportunities. Instead, the B.C. Liberals are turning the ministry of Advanced Education into the ministry of reallocation,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix.

“For the past several years, New Democrats have emphasized that skills training must be a priority, a key focus of government- and that requires a commitment that is matched by resources. Rather than doing the right thing by presenting a serious plan that re-invests in every level of education, the B.C. Liberals are continuing with disatrous cuts, and a 25 per cent reallocation of funding for higher education that will only take opportunities away from young British Columbians.”

Dix noted that the B.C. Liberals refusal to upgrade shops in high schools and bring back safer class size limits for classes utilizing power tools and other dangerous equipment is a perfect example of how they aren’t being serious about trades training.

“We have instructors who have left our school system because of the unsafe conditions and outdated equipment in B.C. shop classes,” said Dix. “Yet instead of making real investments in our education system that would make a real difference, the B.C. Liberals are increasing demands on a school system that is stretched to the limit.”

Skills training critic Doug Routley noted that a decade after firing apprenticeship advisors, the B.C. Liberals are finally hiring them back.

“We have been calling for improvements like bringing back apprenticeship advisors and ensuring public infrastructure projects are used as opportunities to train up apprentices for years,” said Routley. “While the government has made a vague commitment towards some of those measures, they have no details on how they will accomplish them without putting an additional nickel towards our skills training system.”

B.C. Liberals must withdraw Bill 24 after new agriculture minister admits lack of support

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KELOWNA – The B.C. Liberals need to withdraw Bill 24 immediately after the new agriculture minister admitted it does not have the support of the agriculture community or British Columbians, say the New Democrats.

“Norm Letnick has been agriculture minister for just two weeks, and he has clearly already heard enough public reaction to know that Bill 24 is a bad piece of legislation that will destroy B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix.

“The B.C. Liberals never received a mandate to bring in such extensive changes. The Liberals need to do the right thing, listen to the public and stand up to protect B.C. farmers by withdrawing this legislation that Core Review Minister Bill Bennett is still championing.”
The B.C. Liberals introduced Bill 24 in March. Passage of the bill would remove protections from most of B.C.’s farmland and open the door for more industrial development.

“Under pressure from B.C. farmers, the B.C. Agriculture Council, the Official Opposition, more than a hundred professional ecologists, and thousands of British Columbians across the province, it appears Minister Letnick is starting to take the concerns about food security and sustainability seriously,” said New Democrat agriculture critic Nicholas Simons.

“Whether he can stand up to Bill Bennett – the driving force in the Liberal cabinet behind the push to destroy the ALR – remains to be seen.”

Bennett is still insisting Bill 24 will proceed despite Letnick’s acknowledgement that the legislation lacks support from farmers and British Columbians.
B.C.’s New Democrats have been fighting against Bill 24 to protect the ALR and B.C.’s farmers, and have launched a campaign at www.savethealr.ca to give the public an opportunity to express their opposition to the bill by writing to the premier and Minister of Agriculture.

They have also proposed legislative measures that actually promote farming, productivity in the ALR and B.C.’s food security. Dix recently tabled the BC Local Food Act, which is being endorsed by farmers and agriculture groups including B.C. Local Food Systems and Farm to Cafeteria Canada. The main elements of the legislation include implementing a comprehensive strategy on government purchasing locally grown food; reintroducing the successful Buy BC program; mandating a legislative committee on food and agriculture to prepare, in consort with the agriculture minister, a plan to increase local food production, marketing, and processing. The plan would set targets and implement policies to meet those targets which would be reported on annually in the legislature.

“Unlike Bill 24, the Local Food Act promotes the ALR, and helps it achieve its intended purpose of increasing British Columbians food security, health outcomes, and improve our local economy,” said Dix.

Community health centre cuts will lead to higher costs, worse care, patients without GPs

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VANCOUVER – Thousands of patients will lose their family doctor and receive lower quality care, while the health system will incur increased costs if primary care programs are cut at community health centres in Vancouver, say the B.C. New Democrats.

“It makes no sense to cut successful programs that provide primary, preventive care to thousands of Vancouver residents, many of whom are high risk” said Dix. “Thousands of patients will lose their family doctor, adding to the 100,000 Vancouver residents already searching for one.”

“Our health system will spend more money to deliver worse care, as emergency room and walk in clinic visits and hospitalizations replace a preventive approach to care,” said New Democrat health critic Judy Darcy. “Increased costs are simply being shifted from one part of the system to another; it’s bad for patients and it’s bad for taxpayers.

At least three and maybe more community health centres are slated to lose their primary, preventive care programs, as those services are consolidated into the Raven Song centre. Only five per cent of patients, who will have to travel much greater distances, will be eligible for the services provided by Raven Song. The affected health centres include South, Pacific Spirit and Evergreen.

“In addition, major cuts at the Mid-Main community health centre could result in the loss of diabetes prevention and chronic disease management programs there,” said Darcy. These programs are cost-effective and save money for the health system by reducing the number of patients who are forced to make hospital visits.

“These are short-sighted decisions that go against the volumes of evidence that shifting patients to stable, preventive primary care results in lower costs and better health outcomes.”

Darcy added that the Mid-Main Community Health Centre is having its budget slashed and will be forced to lay off one nurse practitioner and multiple medical office assistants. The cuts to the Mid-Main Community Health Centre will place programs for patients with chronic conditions and frail seniors in serious jeopardy.