Opinion » Editorial


If there has been one consistent mantra for Glen Clark’s NDP government from the day it was sworn into office it is "we won’t cut funding for health care or education." And yet, while the NDP may not have reduced the amount of money it allocates for health care and education, in a very real way it has cut funding. Health care in the Sea to Sky Corridor is an example. A study of health care facilities in Squamish in 1994-95 indicated a one-time infusion of $300,000 was needed to bring service up to the level demanded by that town’s population. Only $150,000 was provided. Not long afterwards the province announced that health care would be regionalized. Locally, that meant that Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton would, for purposes of funding, be treated as one area. And with Squamish having only received half of what it needed prior to regionalization, the whole corridor was 17.5 per cent underfunded from the start. Since then the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has officially become the fastest growing regional district in the province. Whistler and Pemberton have been the fastest growing towns (of their size category) in the B.C. for several years. Combined, the populations of the three principal towns in the Sea to Sky Corridor have grown 25 per cent since health care was regionalized. But when it comes to funding health care for this corridor all the province has provided is a .5 per cent increase annually. In terms of absolute dollars the province may have slightly increased its health care funding in the Sea to Sky Corridor, but in real terms it has delivered a huge blow to health care funding. According to the Sea to Sky Community Health Council, the average per capita funding for diagnostic and treatment centres across B.C. is between $200 and $250. The Pemberton diagnostic and treatment centre receives $152 per capita. The Whistler centre receives $96 per capita. The health care bureaucracy has recognized that health care in the Sea to Sky Corridor is underfunded but there has never been additional funds available — until now. In his budget last month, federal Finance Minister Paul Martin announced each province will receive additional money for health care on a per capita basis. British Columbia will receive $268 million this year. If a per capita formula is the way funds are distributed, then the Sea to Sky Corridor would seem to be in line for $1.9 million in new funding. But all the health council is asking for to bring service up to an acceptable level is $500,000. It has yet to hear back from Health Minister Penny Priddy. The track record of the health council suggests it has managed its budget well while attempting to meet the health care needs of a corridor which has seen dynamic growth since regionalization. Among the council’s achievements are opening up two operating theatres in the Squamish hospital which weren’t previously used and adding a pediatric dental surgery (funded by the Squamish Hospital Foundation), on the recommendation of Children’s Hospital in Vancouver because there was a six-month waiting list for such surgery. For a provincial government that has promised not to cut health care funding, but in effect has, while throwing gobs of money at fast ferries, it’s time to start practising what it preaches.