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'A lot of tragic stories': B.C. mayors forming alliance to advocate for health care


Frustrated by emergency room closures and ambulance wait times, small-town mayors in B.C. have joined forces to push for more resources – and are considering holding back tax dollars to force the province's hand.

The mayors of Clearwater, Port McNeil, and Ashcroft have already voiced support for the alliance and expect leaders in other communities to join.

While they’ve been warning of a dire shortage for more than a decade, the situation has gone from bad to worse during the pandemic as the exodus of health-care workers has hit rural and remote communities the hardest.

"Local governments are really tired of trying to manage the cracks and failures in the health-care system and we have a lot of tragic stories in our communities as a result of these issues that have not been addressed,” said Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman.

While talks of the alliance are in early stages, Ackerman said she’s already considering whether they should consider the only move they can against the health authorities: withholding millions in funding they contribute to health-care infrastructure, totalling 40 per cent of the cost of new facilities like hospitals.

“That's the decision we have to make,” she said. “Do we walk out? Do we withhold the funds and just put our foot down?”

Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden said she hopes banding together will help drive their message home and increase the likelihood of the issues being addressed.

“We're stronger if we work together rather than just isolated voices," Barbara Roden said. “Presenting a united front and a united message and hammering home the message this is happening all over B.C., we’re much more likely to see results.”

In Ashcroft alone, two people died in the last month while waiting for ambulances that were too far away, and over the weekend an infant died in Barriere while waiting for an ambulance. Last fall, a Kamloops grandmother died in an emergency waiting room after waiting six hours without seeing a doctor.


In announcing the coalition on Twitter, Clearwater’s mayor described the coalition as a necessary diversion from the typical civic bailiwick.

“This is not my job as mayor,” wrote Merlin Blackwell. “I want to go back to talking roads, parks and rec, local governance, infrastructure, but I can't until we fix this: we lose our hospital, we lose our community.” 

On Wednesday, the Union of BC Municipalities announced Blackwell would be one of the panelists at a forum with the health minister next month during the association’s annual convention.

Roden pointed out that at a time many Lower Mainland residents are considering leaving big-city life with the ability to work remotely and enjoy the lifestyle and price point of a small-town, the lack of medical services has them dismissing the idea, with aging residents increasingly moving back to cities that have more reliable hospital supports.

“It took us a long time to get here,” she said. “It’s going to take us a long time to fix everything that needs to be fixed."


For years, rural and remote municipalities have tried to lure doctors and other health-care workers with free vehicles, subsidized housing and other incentives, but that essentially created a competition between them. They said they aren’t interested in continuing down that path. 

The leader of the BC Green Party spent months travelling throughout the province hearing from municipal leaders and health-care workers expressing “distress and agitation” about challenges they’re facing in the healthcare realm.

Leader Sonia Furstenau says she is frustrated the NDP government isn’t doing more to reign in what she describes as unnecessary expenses that should be going to better support and compensate front-line medical personnel.

“We have the highest per capita administrative health costs in Canada,” she said, also pointing to the increasing reliance on for-profit private companies to deliver services in the public health-care system. “B.C. needs to get its public health-care house in order before it says to the federal government 'give us more money.'” 

The premier reiterated that talking point on Tuesday when CTV News asked him about use of private clinics under his government’s watch. John Horgan denied there’s been an increase, despite numbers provided by the health ministry

“We need the federal government to join us,” said Horgan as he went on to discuss larger health-care issues.

“We need to have a revisiting of our public healthcare system and we can’t do it in component parts, we have to do it together, and that will affected ambulance services, that will affect human resources development in our acute care systems.” Top Stories

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