Getting down and dirty to block passage of bill whose aim is to improve health care for all British Columbians

Roslyn KuninSomething different is happening in the usually staid, stable and predictable politics of British Columbia. It is happening in the tony Vancouver neighbourhood of West Point Grey. It is a loud, colourful and somewhat chaotic demonstration with the goal of collecting enough signatures on a petition to remove NDP premier David Eby from office.

In a democracy like Canada’s, we have the right and the ability to remove any politicians we want.

We just have to wait until the next election to do so. However, the assemblage of people supporting Eby’s recall does not want to wait that long. They have set themselves up to collect over 16,000 signatures from registered voters in the riding so that a referendum on Eby’s removal can occur.

Since financial support, interest, and even knowledge of this unusual activity is limited, the chances of getting a referendum, let alone having it succeed in ousting Eby, are slim. Who are the people doing this, and why are they putting their time and effort into such a long shot?

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The demonstrators are a motley crew, as Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has pointed out. The anti-vaxxers are out in force, as are those who oppose just about any government or politicians on principle. They are joined by wild extremists who believe in things like putting to death journalists who lie. This could have some interesting consequences given the ideas of ‘truth’ many of these folk espouse.

More recently, the recallers have been joined by large groups more likely to be considered the pillars of society than those who are trying to knock those pillars down. These are members of the various health professions and their associations.

The reason doctors, nurses and others who work in health care are getting down and dirty in this grassroots demonstration is the Health Professions and Occupations Act (HOPA), often referred to as Bill 36, which the BC’s NDP government has introduced.

HOPA will replace existing independent professional health-care associations with bodies controlled by the new act. Until now, professional associations were independent member-controlled bodies operating, among other things, in the interests of the members. The new organizations will be government-controlled regulatory bodies and have as their primary mandate to ensure that they are acting in the best interests of the public – not an unreasonable government function.

BC’s NDP government has followed this pattern before. Since 2018 several non-health-related professional bodies, such as those for engineers, agrologists and technicians, have been brought under the Professional Governance Act (PGA), turning them from member supporting organizations into regulatory bodies whose main function is ensuring that the public is well served.

Most people have felt that the public interest has not been badly served by the professionals now under the PGA. The same cannot be said about health care. As is widely recognized and as I have noted before, the health care situation in BC is not meeting the needs of the public. One (and only one) reason for the shortfall is the lack of sufficient medical personnel, including physicians and nurses.

Contributing to the shortages are the very high standards that health professional associations have set for entrants into the profession, especially those trained outside BC. This is presumably to ensure that only well-qualified people are treating the citizens of British Columba. However, the net is now set so wide that it excludes well-trained people with experience in some of the best medical centres and hospitals in the world.

One might be forgiven for wondering whether the current practices also have as a goal to limit the supply of doctors, nurses, etc., to ensure that their scarcity results in higher incomes. Fewer medical staff offering less health care is definitely not in the best interests of British Columbians. Nor, other things being equal, is higher wages.

HOPA could well be a step to increasing the supply of available health care so desperately needed by many British Columbians. We should be supporting the government in its efforts to provide us, the public, with more and better health care, not trying to remove the premier who is shepherding this bill through. Of course, if we do not like the premier, we are blessed with the right to give him the boot at the next election.

Dr. Roslyn Kunin is president of the Vancouver Institute and has been chair of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, WorkSafe BC, and Haida Enterprise Corporation. She has also been on the boards of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and the National Statistics Council.

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