Vaughn Palmer: New Democrats and Liberals achieve common front in troubled time in B.C. – Vancouver Sun

Posted: September 24, 2021 at 11:33 am

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Opinion: There is a lot of commitment and a lot to be proud of, said Adrian Dix. But we simply need to raise those vaccination levels.

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VICTORIA Health Minister Adrian Dix is praising the Opposition B.C. Liberals for supporting the drive to promote vaccination in Northern Health, where a soaring COVID-19 case count is overwhelming hospitals and health-care workers alike.

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The north is being overstretched by COVID-19 and overstretched by the fact that we are not meeting our vaccination goals, Dix told reporters at a media briefing where he pointed out that Northern Health has the highest per capita case count and lowest vaccination rate of any region in the province.

The health minister hastened to acknowledge Opposition leader and Prince George MLA Shirley Bond for her leadership in a cross-party effort to reverse the trends. He also cited the efforts of Liberal MLAs Dan Davies and Mike Bernier, whose ridings are in the northeast, and of New Democrats Nathan Cullen and Jennifer Rice, representing the northwest.

There is a lot of commitment and a lot to be proud of, said Dix. But we simply need to raise those vaccination levels.

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The next day, Cullen and Davies made a joint appearance on CBCs Daybreak North to discuss the extent of the problem.

Our hospitals are being absolutely stretched to the limits, Davies, the Liberal MLA for Peace River North, told host Carolina de Ryk. I commend our health professionals, our nurses that are working some of them 40 consecutive shifts working. They cant sustain that. Our system cant sustain that. And its 90 per cent folks that are not vaccinated that are filling up our intensive-care units right now.

Cullen, the NDP MLA for Stikine, voiced a very similar take to that of Davies.

Were shipping people out of Smithers right now because were full of COVID, said Cullen. People who have very serious injuries and need support. Were shipping them out of the north.

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He echoed Davies on the need to boost the vaccination rates across the north, which lags 12-to-15 percentage points behind the provincial average on first and second doses.

Cullen put his faith in the recent announcement of $6.5 million in provincial funding to recruit and retain more health-care workers, especially nurses. Davies welcomed the money but the Liberals have also called for an independent audit of health-care resources in the northeast.

Asked about the challenge of converting vaccine holdouts, Cullen said they werent a monolithic group.

There are some that are just absolutely ideologically opposed to vaccines. Very hard to reach, he said. There are other people that are hesitant. Theyve read things on the internet that have given them worries. There are some that just think its not their responsibility and thats some of the saddest conversations Ive had where they think its for somebody else to do.

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Davies and his Liberal colleague Bernier have both cited mistrust of government as a factor in a part of the province that is distant ideologically as well as geographically from mainstream B.C.

Dix, for his part, convened an electronic briefing with northern MLAs on Wednesday to acknowledge the challenges and discuss solutions. Presiding for the Liberals was Opposition leader Bond, who, as of this week, is also her partys health critic. Bond appointed herself to the role after a showdown with the previous critic, Renee Merrifield, rookie MLA for Kelowna-Mission and also a candidate for the party leadership.

The inexperienced Merrifield was an odd choice for such a senior role mid-pandemic. She proved to be a controversial one as well, witness comments suggesting that the Liberals were wavering on masks, mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers and other aspects of pandemic management.

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The controversy came to a head last week with a posting on social media from Jas Johal, the ex-B.C. Liberal MLA turned CKNW radio host, who called for Merrifields removal as health critic.

She has failed in that role, wrote Johal on his Twitter account. We need an effective Opposition and her performance fails to meet the publics expectations and that of her colleagues.

Johal must have known whereof he spoke about the attitude of Merrifields Liberal colleagues because the next day she was out as health-care critic. MLAs Michael Lee and Ellis Ross, also candidates for the leadership, lost their policy critic roles as well.

All three leadership candidates have agreed to step aside from their critic portfolio roles to focus on the leadership race, declared the Liberals via a media release crafted to provide face-saving cover for Merrifield.

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Bond, having taken the health-critic role for herself, lost no time clarifying where the party stood on vaccination. When word came last Thursday that anti-vaxxing protesters had swarmed three schools in Salmon Arm, Bond was out with a comment well before NDP Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside.

I read this with disbelief and some anger, she wrote on her Twitter account. First there were protests that blocked hospitals, and now people entering schools. There are ways to expressing your views, but not this Stop it! Students and staff deserve better!

Bonds anger was topped by that of Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth, the NDPs bad cop to Dixs good cop.

Covidiot doesnt even begin to describe how inappropriate the action of those whack jobs is, declared Farnworth, adding a new insult to the B.C. political vernacular.

More importantly, Bond and Farnworth confirmed that, on vaccinations at least, the New Democrats and the Liberals had achieved a common front in a troubled time.

vpalmer@postmedia.com

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Vaughn Palmer: New Democrats and Liberals achieve common front in troubled time in B.C. - Vancouver Sun

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