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Larson floats Osoyoos-Oliver amalgamation at seniors’ candidate forum dominated by health issues
MLA Linda Larson says she would like to see amalgamation of Osoyoos and Oliver, but local elected officials should make that decision.
Larson, who is seeking re-election as the B.C. Liberal candidate in the May 9 provincial election, made the comment Friday at a candidates’ forum at the Osoyoos Seniors’ Centre.
The forum, attended by about 50 people, was overwhelmingly dominated by healthcare concerns, but it did take some surprising detours into other issues.
“I’ve always thought that Oliver and Osoyoos were one,” said Larson, pointing to the historic co-operation between councils of the two communities.
“I’ve always thought of it as one entity,” she said. “I’ve always thought that the South Okanagan should have its own police force, from OK (Okanagan) Falls to the border. I think it should be one kind of region. I think it’s a great area.”
Larson’s comments came in response to a question by Osoyoos resident Elaine Taylor as to whether Larson, from Oliver, and her NDP opponent Colleen Ross, from Grand Forks, would pay attention to the needs of Osoyoos.
“I’d really like to see the area kind of amalgamate a little bit somehow, sharing services a little bit better,” said Larson. “But that is something that has to be decided by those that are elected to represent those particular areas.”
Ross responded to the question by saying she is seeking election because she cares about people regardless of where they live.
“I cared about the young boy who died on the beach, the young Syrian boy, and I’m not from Syria,” she said in apparent reference to Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old refugee who drowned off Turkey in September 2015.
“We care about people no matter where they live, people living in pain,” she said, citing the case of Osoyoos man Lee Horn, who has been living with chronic hip pain for nearly three years as he awaits surgery.
Larson found herself on the defensive at times as audience members challenged her on healthcare, last year’s threatened closure of Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) and comments she made in a recent Osoyoos Times interview alleging that the NDP never supports job creation.
Forum organizer, Stefan Cieslik, of the Wine Country Retired Teachers’ Association, often stepped into the debate, challenging the government.
Once when Cieslik called the government’s plan to phase out MSP (Medical Services Plan) premiums “smoke and mirrors,” Ashley Spilak, B.C. Liberal interior organizer, jumped in to argue that replacing premiums with taxes is “a shell game.”
Osoyoos resident Gladys Brown asked Larson, how she felt the Liberal government “wanting to close OSS” would be good for the economy and jobs.
“The Liberal government did not want to close the school in Osoyoos,” Larson responded. “That decision was made by the school board who you elected. They are elected people who have a budget to manage.”
Larson said the school had value to the Osoyoos community and the government gave it extra money to keep it open “against the wishes of the school board itself, who were not happy with that decision, but the money is there, it will continue to be there.”
She said there is a budget item coming up in 2018 to do repairs on the school.
“So it’s certainly not something that is going to all of a sudden close down,” she said, pointing to her current role studying the funding of rural schools.
Ross, who came to Osoyoos for the “public consultation” meetings a year ago that Larson missed, credited the community with saving the school.
“I was a little dismayed that there was no political representation there,” she said, without referring to Larson by name.
Ross charged that Premier Christy Clark has made it difficult for teachers to operate classrooms in a way that gives the best education to children.
B.C. spends on average $1,000 less than other provinces per student on public education, Ross said.
Brown read a quote from Larson in the March 1 Osoyoos Times in which Larson said: “Certainly just in the four years I’ve been in Victoria, there has not been one time that the NDP has supported job creation.”
“Did you actually say that?” Brown asked.
“Yes I did,” said Larson, reiterating “every single item that’s come through the Legislature in the last for years that was related to the creation of jobs in industry has been voted against by the NDP.”
“That’s rubbish,” responded Ross, pointing to NDP support of small businesses that create jobs.
“We really support job creation,” she said. “It may not be the jobs that the Liberals want. We don’t believe in building a dam that you don’t need,” she added referring to the Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
Ross then pivoted the question to the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan that Larson and the B.C. Liberals have opposed.
“You want to talk about jobs,” said Ross. “A national park in this community would bring between 500 and 700 green jobs. The B.C. Liberals said ‘no, we don’t want it,’ and they left the table. We want green jobs and those are jobs that young people want.”
The majority of questions dealt with healthcare as members of the audience asked about MSP premiums, the need for walk-in clinics in Osoyoos and Oliver, the difficulty people have getting a family doctor, the lack of universal free flu vaccination in B.C. and the fact that ambulances aren’t considered an essential service.
Larson said MSP premiums bring in $2.5 billion a year and the reason the B.C. Liberals now plan to phase them out is because the strong economy gives the government the money to do this.
B.C. is the only province in Canada that charges premiums. Other provinces fund healthcare from taxes based on income rather than a flat rate, but Larson calls this “a hidden tax.”
Ross said an NDP government would get rid of MSP premiums “completely” and “immediately.”
An NDP government would reduce health costs by using a multidisciplinary team approach used in other provinces where nurse practitioners take the pressure off doctors, freeing them for more serious cases, and where different medical services are housed under one roof, she said.
Larson cited a recent government report on rural healthcare, saying the government is already implementing its recommendations, “including walk-in clinics, primary care clinics, nurse practitioners, etc.”
But she said walk-in clinics aren’t under the mandate of the Minister of Health, but rather are created by doctors themselves.
“They aren’t the purview of government,” she said. “While it might be we can encourage doctors to do those kinds of things, we cannot mandate a doctor as to how he chooses to do his business.”
Currently B.C. is one of only three provinces and territories that don’t provide universal flu vaccination.
Ross said she was surprised when she first learned B.C. doesn’t provide this and she questioned what the government is doing with the MSP premiums it collects.
Larson pointed out that seniors, those with chronic illnesses and others can get free shots.
She said the government is adding to the number of immunizations for different diseases and it can only do this because of the strong economy.
On the question about why ambulances aren’t considered essential, Ross responded: “Of course it’s an essential service.”
“It’s on the table,” said Larson. “There is a huge cost attached to that and like I say, money is everything. Where is it going to keep coming from? You are the only people that supply the money for all these things. It comes out of your taxes.”