Martyn Brown: Horgan’s Johnny-come-lately health blame game rings hollow

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      So, you’re sitting there in one of B.C.’s ever-fewer remaining open hospital emergency rooms, just killing time, if it doesn’t kill you first, waiting hours upon hours just to see a doctor.

      Could be worse, you console yourself.

      At least you didn’t wait for additional endless hours on the phone trying to get someone to answer at 911—and maybe also risk getting cutting off after that person hangs up on your call while you’re waiting for an ambulance that might not come for ages in any event.

      On top of that, you’re a Rogers customer, so phoning might have been problematic.

      Also beats waiting additional hours upon hours for the doors to open at one of the last remaining walk-in clinics in town. B.C. having the longest wait times by far in Canada.

      Or hoping against false hope that you’ll be one of the “lucky” ones who will eventually get to even see a doctor at one of those cruelly oxymoronic (emphasis on “moronic”) “urgent and primary care” centres that are anything but.

      All of them, woefully understaffed and typically closed for new patients within a few hours or less on any given day.

      Yep, one of the lucky ones, you.

      Despite being among the nearly one million British Columbians who don’t have a family doctor.

      And also not being quite rich enough to afford shelling out thousands of dollars a year to Telus Health for preventative care, which lured away your former G.P.

      I mean, at least your town still has a hospital with an emergency room. Even if you did have to first fight to find a paid parking space.

      Although you did feel a bit bad about beating that nurse to the punch who nearly started crying when you took that last parking spot.

      She probably goes through that ordeal every day and maybe doesn’t always have some spare loonies, if her Rogers service goes down and she can’t use her payment app.

      Oh, well.

      Perhaps there will be more of those parking spaces and maybe even more new hospitals in the future. Especially now that Premier John Horgan has been forced to back down on his $1-billion Royal B.C. Museum rebuild vanity project.

      Thank God you saved your proof-of-vaccination, which Dr. Bonnie Henry one day decided is no longer required almost anywhere in B.C., no matter how crowded that space may be.

      Except, as you just discovered, that aging artifact she formerly insisted everyone must have as a right of entry everywhere during those “truly dangerous” COVID times is still sometimes required and sporadically enforced for visitors in some hospitals.

      In the meantime, you’re relatively safer in this E.R. hellhole, waiting to be “served” like all those lined up trying to get a passport.

      Government. You gotta love it, you whisper in disgust.

      Especially when so many COVID-compounded problems that should have been so readily anticipated are now staring Premier Horgan’s government in the face.

      Who knew we would suddenly have a life-threatening crisis in health human resources after all our health providers have endured from years of coping with that killer virus?

      Who knew that things would ever get so bad by the government then throwing caution to the wind, with reckless measures that abandoned all pretence of public safety?

      You did. That’s who.

      But at least you’re now in this emergency land that time never forgets.

      And it’s still blessed with so many valiant health care professionals who actually really do give a damn about your health.

      After all, they have all been hung out on-hold for years, crying out for help, to no avail. Our elected 911 operators have all been asleep at the switch, provincially and federally.

      Which reminds you, Rogers is back up and running.

      You start browsing the news on your iPhone because, you know, you got nothing but time on your hands.

      That is, apart from maybe your own blood, or your sick child’s falling tears, or your frail mother’s only half-filled vomit bag.

      Tough to concentrate with so much COVID all around you. But hey, at least everyone here is obliged to wear a face mask.

      Although it occurs to you, those masks might even be overkill, what with Dr. Henry telling us that masks are no longer required almost anywhere else that COVID lives to linger, lurk, and murder.

      In any case, you’ve already had Omicron once or twice, because of that policy, though you can’t be sure because the government had basically stopped testing and it wasn’t handing out its unused stockpiles of rapid tests when you needed them.

      Oh, well. Those bouts with COVID didn’t kill you. Unlike your poor, old, recently departed father.

      He literally couldn’t get his second COVID shot in time to save his life, after being infected by one of his grandchildren. Who, in turn, got COVID in class because Dr. Henry decided her sick classmates need not wear face masks at all at their desks.

      And because the school’s prehistoric ventilation system also sucked and offered no protection.

      Yup, lucky you, still alive and kicking.

      Although you are suffering from undiagnosed Long COVID, and lost your job as a result.

      Anyway, nothing you can do about that now, with B.C.’s Good Doctor telling you not to even think about getting your second booster shot until maybe sometime this fall.

      Surely Bonnie knows best, even if she does seem to be missing in action of late.

      No point in questioning why she is making almost everyone under age 70 wait several months more for that added protection.

      Never mind that 225,000 doses of Moderna vaccine are set to expire on July 21 or 24. Or that 430,000 more Pfizer doses are set to expire by the end of November. 

      Right. Back to surfing the Internet.

      Tough to concentrate on your iPhone browsing, what with all the crying, moaning, and angry yelling from all those so desperate for medical attention.

      To say nothing, of the occasional flutter in response to someone dying in the waiting room from an overdose.

      Those poor nurses, care aides, paramedics, and doctors, you think to yourself.

      They all look so harried, exhausted, and desperate for sleep.

      Tired enough, maybe, to even curl up and crash on one of those gurneys running endlessly down the hallway, were they not already occupied by patients needing care.

      Are those acute-care workers all working back-to-back shifts, you wonder?

      Maybe caused by staff shortages from former colleagues who had to quit for their own health?

      Or from coworkers who are off sick themselves, perhaps with COVID, because they weren’t even allowed to wear an N95 mask to protect themselves at work?

      Concentrate, you tell yourself. Help’s on its way.

      And if it’s not before things get too serious, you probably won’t know that until after the fact anyway.

      So best try to distract yourself.

      The NEWS: that’s the ticket.

      Take solace in the fact that someone else’s suffering or predicament is always worse than yours. Until it isn’t.

      Let’s read about our health system’s death spiral, maybe.

      And up pops this long diatribe by yours truly.

      Too depressing and insufferably verbose, you decide, in clicking away.

      Next up, this piece, under the headline, “Foreign-trained doctors in B.C. stuck 'sitting on a shelf’ instead of closing shortage of family physicians.”

      The story is a familiar one you’ve read, heard, and seen many times before.

      There are 5,000 foreign-trained doctors in B.C. who stand ready to help and can’t because of bureaucratic barriers imposed by dim-witted politicians and self-interested professional associations who are afraid to lead as need be in the broader public interest.

      Five years on and the Horgan government has done absolutely nothing about that problem. Although the numbers speak to its own implicit hopeful potential.

      He’s done zip to tap into that enormous pool of ready-made skill potential.

      Just like his predecessors, and like Justin Trudeau and all who preceded him as prime minister.

      A pox on them all. Click away, you decide.

      Which leads you to this story that really puts our health system crisis in perspective. Told by Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart and by Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses union.

      Much as you hurt, it’s a must watch.

      It’s enough to make you want to scream in frustration, coming as it does on so many other countless stories just like it that have all long warned of the catastrophic collapse of our health-care system that you are now enduring firsthand in the E.R. 

      Hope for something better. That’s the ticket.

      John Horgan has a habit of showing up for hospital expansions, like this one in Burnaby, but operating funding for health has been falling as a percentage of GDP in B.C.

      Maybe in a story about this week’s meeting of Canada’s premiers in Victoria, which that last story reported is underway as you sit, this Monday (July 11).

      Up pops this analysis featuring outgoing B.C. Premier John Hogan, chair of that gathering.

      What’s this?

      With only weeks to go before he leaves his job—and after doing diddly-squat over his past five years as premier—Johnny-come-lately is now slamming Justin Trudeau for failing to honour his repeated prior commitments increase federal funding for health care.

      “I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for some significant response from the federal government and it, quite frankly, has been absent,” Horgan told Global.

      Hmm. He’s sick of waiting, too.

      Only in his case, he’s doing that with other premiers in the Fairmont Empress Victoria.

      Perhaps all the while nibbling on some tasty hors d’oeuvres and occasionally sipping some fine B.C. wines, courtesy of taxpayers and any private corporate hosts.

      Year after year, it’s the same story.

      I know. I participated in a dozen or so of those first ministers’ forums in another movie, as then-premier Gordon Campbell’s chief of staff.

      Mostly, a pointless waste of everyone’s time, in my experience, that always resulted in yet another watered-down communique targeting increased federal health funding as one of its highest ambitions.

      At that time, now decades ago, all premiers were pushing Ottawa to fund at least 25 percent of provincial health expenditures.

      That’s half of the 50 percent the federal government originally pledged to fund in creating Canada’s current national health system.

      Now, the premiers want the feds to fund 35 percent of every health dollar spent.

      As if they’ve always begged for that share. Which is simply not true, however urgently needed that extra money is to save our health system from further disaster.

      In the full interview aired on Global’s July 10 six o’clock news hour, Horgan said in uncharacteristically firm fashion that Trudeau is essentially a liar.

      Like he only just figured that out.

      Not that Horgan’s any stranger himself to making hollow promises he failed to keep, in health care especially.

      He said that Trudeau promised to address the premiers’ appeals for higher federal health transfers whenever we are “past” the pandemic.

      Which Horgan apparently thinks is now.

      Justin Trudeau and John Horgan were on friendly terms last year regarding childcare funding, but they're not on the same page when it comes to federal money for health.

      In the full interview, he suggested that COVID has now been basically reduced to an epidemic, in his expert opinion, as B.C. enters its deadly seventh wave.

      Wrong as he is about that fact, he and his fellow premiers are of course absolutely right to be calling out Trudeau for failing to fix Stephen Harper’s federal health funding formula.

      Too bad B.C.’s premier didn’t have the guts and good sense to publicly say that more forcefully to the prime minister over the last five years.

      Or even to Horgan’s federal NDP counterpart and supposed ideological soulmate, Jagmeet Singh.

      Sure, Horgan has tried to distance his government from Singh’s demands that Trudeau further compound Canada’s health-funding challenges by immediately layering on a national free dental program and pharmacare program, as part of the NDP’s price for keeping the federal Liberals in power.

      But he has weekly dismissed that idea with kid gloves, as he has also failed to show any real leadership in holding his federal kissing cousin to account for essentially empowering Trudeau to kiss off the provinces’ unanimous urgent appeals for higher federal health transfers.

      If Trudeau’s a schmuck who has basically lied to all premiers by his refusal to honour his own health funding and reform commitments, Singh is his chief enabler.

      And Horgan could have and should have used some of his abundant political capital to cry foul on both of them: publicly and unequivocally, long before this week’s first ministers’ conflab.

      Moreover, as bad as Trudeau has been for Canada’s health system, Horgan has been no better

      Both have failed miserably to act on the myriad recommendations for improvements that so many experts have identified as critical cornerstones for needed systemic reform,.

      Both have ignored the recommendations and expert advice offered by family doctors and other physicians, nurses, health scientists, academics, and opposition parties to fix all that ails our health system.

      Instead, Horgan’s government has treated so many of those problems and health human resource challenges as so many facets of a singular, royally messed-up public relations game.

      Even in respect of health funding, he is the compromised pot calling the kettle black.

      “We need to go beyond inflation plus three percent, or some sterile fiscal arrangement. We need to understand the needs going forward,” Horgan said, in pushing Trudeau for more dough.

      Oh, really?

      Then why, pray tell, has Horgan’s government actually cut B.C.’s own health spending in terms of those same metrics?

      Consider these facts that I have previously highlighted.

      Yes, B.C. is investing more each year on health care in absolute dollars, as the federal government is.

      But the NDP’s 2022 budget also projects a 0.5 percent annualized cut in health expenditures (pg. 175) as a percent of nominal GDP—from 7.7 percent of GDP in 2015, to 7.6 percent last year, to 7.3 percent by 2024.

      With B.C.’s inflation rate now running at 8.1 percent, Horgan’s latest budget projected to cut the growth rate of B.C.’s total health budget from 5.4 percent this year to 2.8 percent in the next two years.

      In fact, B.C.’s total health spending has dropped almost every year in B.C. as proportion of total government operating expenses since 2013.

      From 42.5 percent of all operating spending in 2013, to 40.5 percent in 2017 when the NDP formed government, to 37.7 percent last year—in the midst of the pandemic.

      Keep that in mind when Horgan slams Ottawa’s health transfer funding formula of inflation plus three percent.

      By comparison, B.C.’s own health funding doesn’t even come close to that. In fact, it’s gone backward.

      If anything, the Horgan government has effectively poured rubbing alcohol into B.C.’s open health wounds with its misguided policies that have made the pain even worse.

      Its failed approach to the urgent and primary care centres being only one example, which has had the effect of driving more family doctors out of their practice, for all sorts of reasons they have articulated.

      To say nothing of the NDP’s safety-last stupidity in response to COVID, as I outlined in bullet form in that long diatribe I referenced above.

      The one that made you click away to a different story, from your imaginary seat in the emergency room.

      Speaking of which, you can’t help but eavesdrop on those nurses and E.R. doctors now hovering over one of the fallen forgotten within spitting distance of you.

      It reminds you of this excellent video you saw on Twitter, illustrating the airborne nature of COVID.

      A fact that B.C.’s top health professionals in government have consistently sneezed at.

      Now that’s how to communicate, you think.

      Why in God’s name can’t the Horgan government do something similar in trying to educate the public with compelling visual safety guidance?

      Good question. But you know the answer. And it makes you sicker still.

      Those doctors and nurses nearby are trying to save yet another life.

      Perhaps also silently swearing to themselves at the insanity surrounding them, courtesy of successive governments’ penchant for empty talk over sensible substance. 

      You have some inkling of what they must be saying to each other in private.

      None of it reflects well on the powers that be who have, politically at least, gotten away with murder.

      Check that, involuntary manslaughter might be more like it, you muse to yourself.

      The product of decades of political negligence, boneheaded half-measures, and chronic underfunding.

      Which is, in turn, the by-product of governments refusing to listen and act on the real-life advice and experiences of those who really know better: the frontline workers and patients.

      Enough. Any minute now they will surely be calling your number, and you will be in good hands.

      If not from anything the premiers say or do this week in repeating the mistakes of the past and paying lip service to problems of all governments’ own making.

      If any of them really got the emergency they have collectively created for Canada’s health system, they would all first at least commit to start funding it as need be with their provincial dollars and own up to their personal responsibility for the crisis we’re now all facing.

      Then, by all means, they should stop pussyfooting around with the ones holding our needed health funding and system reform to ransom in Ottawa.

      If the only thing that Trudeau understands is political pressure, it’s time to take one of the few winning lessons from the past to heart.

      They might do as the premiers did in 2002/03 and launch a much better, hard-hitting national advertising campaign to illuminate the federal health funding problem and to bring Trudeau to the negotiating table.

      Just as prime ministers Chrétien and Martin were politically pressured to do.

      They might not get another “health care fix for a generation” like the half-measure they got going on two decades ago, which didn’t even come close to living up to that hype.

      Indeed, let’s hope they don’t.

      That 25 percent federal funding “fix” falls well short of the 35 percent share the premiers are now seeking. And it only helped fund a little more of the same for our broken health system.

      If nothing else comes from this week’s first ministers’ meeting, we should all pray those men and sole woman are resolved to play political hardball to make Trudeau stop playing silly bugger with Canadians’ health and welfare.

      Because if you think the pain you’re feeling now stranded in emergency is as bad as it can get, think again.

      And start screaming bloody murder.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at