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For independent candidate Dr. Peter Entwistle, all politics is about health
For independent candidate Dr. Peter Entwistle, the May 9 provincial election is all about healthcare.
Not only is healthcare the most important issue – accounting for more than half the provincial budget – but every other issue is tied to health and well-being, he says.
“Virtually everything in life comes back to health,” said the 53-year-old Oliver physician in an interview at the South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) emergency room. “It works both ways. You can’t have happiness and well-being without your health. And when you have poor health, that affects your finances and your ability to work, so virtually wherever the provincial government has an interest, then there’s a health aspect.”
Even issues such as the proposed national park reserve, housing or the taxation system involve health in some way, he said.
“When I talk about health, I don’t mean pills, tablets and operations,” said Entwistle. “I look at the broader sense of holistic well-being.”
Independent candidates are very seldom elected and the few that are typically get relegated to a back corner Legislature seat, rarely given a chance to speak.
But Enwistle is both confident of victory and believes he can best represent Boundary-Similkameen as an independent voice, unconstrained by party whips.
“There’s no point in doing it if you’re not running to win,” says the soft-spoken doctor after a brief interruption to view a Penticton Vees player’s X-ray. “I could have just stood and shouted from the sidelines. That would have been easy for me. But I really believe that I have the ability to make a difference.”
Entwistle says he’s confident because of the feedback he’s received from all ends of the riding.
“Virtually everyone I’m speaking to says they’re going to vote for me,” he says. “Obviously it’s skewed, but it’s not just within the communities where I think I’ll do well. When I go out to Princeton, even in Grand Forks, people have heard of what I’m doing and I’m getting positive messages.”
Even people who normally vote for one of the two main parties are totally disillusioned, Entwistle said.
“Both parties are offering stale policies and this is something different,” he said.
Entwistle believes he’ll do well against B.C. Liberal incumbent Linda Larson in the centre of the riding and against NDP challenger Colleen Ross in places like Grand Forks and Princeton.
“I think in a way both of them are splitting my vote rather than me splitting their votes,” he said, dismissing the concerns of some that by pulling votes away from Ross, he’ll help to re-elect Larson.
Entwistle said his decision to run came when he attended candidates’ forums in Oliver and Okanagan Falls and heard Larson and Ross speaking on healthcare issues.
“I was really appalled by what I heard,” said Entwistle. “That made me feel that I had to do something … I don’t think either of them had a great understanding of what was going on. The solutions they were offering were basically they were reading what their party manifesto was. It blew me away how superficial their answers were.”
Entwistle says all patients should have a regular physician.
“It wouldn’t be that hard to jog the system to make that happen,” he said. “It’s just that people don’t think differently. They just want to carry on doing the same things they’ve been doing before, but the system can be changed relatively easily to put the incentives in for physicians to take on extra patients.”
Having worked in healthcare administration both in the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as setting up a walk-in clinic in New Zealand, Entwistle said he has knowledge of different systems and has ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
Asked about what kind of voice an independent MLA could have in a legislature dominated by a government setting the agenda and an official opposition responding to it, Entwistle gives the example of independent MLA Vicki Huntington.
In 2009, she was the first MLA elected as an independent in B.C. since 1949 and she was re-elected in 2013.
“An independent MLA has way more opportunity than a backbench MLA,” he said. “Backbenchers are tied by party politics and have no voice.”
Government MLAs are tied to the government’s position, he said, pointing to MLA Larson, who he says is supporting bed closures at the Oliver hospital. (Larson insists that there’s no change in the number of funded beds and that they’re just being “reconfigured.”)
“That can’t be good for our community, but that’s what she’s doing,” Entwistle said. “So I think an independent MLA is probably the only way and every riding should have one.”
Entwistle reiterated his previous statement that he would continue to run his medical practice while serving as an MLA and said there are other doctors in the Legislature.
He pointed out that he has already resigned as chief of staff at SOGH, so only has his family practice, and he takes issue with the idea that being MLA is a full-time job.
“I suppose it depends on your definition of a full-time job,” said Entwistle. “My work in the last few years has been on average between 80 and 100 hours a week. MLAs, I’ve seen the hours they work and it’s difficult to see that I couldn’t fit in that while giving up my chief of staff role.”
Entwistle grew up in Southport, England, between Liverpool and Preston, and he did medical schooling in Dundee Scotland. He practiced in New Zealand before returning as a general practitioner to Southport for 30 years.
He came directly to Oliver when he first immigrated to Canada in 2007, but he’s worked as a doctor in Princeton and Keremeos as well.
He says he loves the Okanagan Valley and also knows other parts of Boundary-Similkameen.
“Other candidates would say you don’t understand a place unless you’re three generations in,” he said. “I guess I would beg to differ on that one.”