The state of health care is shaping up to be a big provincial election issue, as always, as Surrey continues to experience rapid growth.
It’s no surprise the two traditional major contestants for your vote, the NDP and Liberals, are claiming to champion the need to provide better health care while accusing one another of sitting on their hands.
Since taking power in 2017, albeit it with a minority government stitched together with conditional help from the BC Green Party, the NDP’s record in Surrey compared to the Liberals has been “like night and day.”
That’s according to NDP incumbent Jinny Sims, who is again running for election in Surrey-Panorama, this time against Gulzar Cheema, a medical doctor who was a Surrey Liberal MLA from 2001-2004.
“Surrey has been neglected for a long time,” Sims says.
Since 2017, she notes, the NDP has opened up two primary care units, in Whalley and Newton, a nurse practitioner centre in Cloverdale which Sims says is a “hopping place,” and a practitioner centre in South Surrey.
Jinny Sims, NDP MLA candidate for Surrey-Panorama
It has added more staffing at seniors homes, a new MRI unit at Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre that “works around the clock,” achieved a “huge uptake” in elective surgeries, and is planning to build a new hospital in Cloverdale that will house a “state of the art” cancer treatment centre.
Sims says “one of the worst things” the Liberals did in government was to “attack the hospital workers, and they tore up their contracts and allowed contract flipping and for wages to be rolled back a lot.” She also accuses the Liberals of “abject failure to invest in infrastructure and in health care itself.”
Not so fast, says Stephanie Cadieux, a Liberal incumbent who is again running for office in Surrey South.
“Let’s set the record straight. Under the BC Liberals, Surrey Memorial Hospital received a $512-million expansion and the $237-million Jim Pattison Outpatient Clinic was built,” Cadieux notes.
“We saw a great amount of investment in health care and hospitals in Surrey under our time in government. Both of those were desperately needed, and we built them. We didn’t promise them, and continue to promise them, and continue to announce them and not open.”
BC NDP Leader John Horgan wasted no time launching an attack when on Sept. 23 – just two days after calling a general election for Saturday, Oct. 24 – he ventured into Surrey to riff on BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s role in selling a potential hospital site here at a discount.
Horgan says the Liberals “sold the silverware” to balance their budget, selling what was a proposed Panorama hospital site at 5750 Panorama Drive for $3 million below its assessed value, to a former Liberal party donor. He held his presser not far from where the hospital had been proposed to be built.
Horgan also noted the Liberals doubled MSP premiums, then the NDP eliminated them.
“They raised them year after year after year,” he said.
The NDP charges that Wilkinson delayed the construction of a Surrey hospital by selling off a site acquired by an NDP government in the 1990s as a potential location for a new hospital.
Prior to the 2005 provincial election, then-Liberal premier Gordon Campbell staged a presser there, vowing to fast-track a new hospital. But it wasn’t built. In 2014, the NDP said, Wilkinson as citizens’ services minister “abandoned the promise permanently” by selling the land to developer Fairborne Lands at a $3 million discount, selling for $20.5 million despite being appraised at $23.5 million.
Last December, Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix staged a presser at the museum in Cloverdale to announce that a “brand new hospital” will be built near the Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
“I think we’ll be through the business plan about this time next year in 2020 and then we’ll be going to tender,” Horgan said at the time, adding that the first shovels could break ground by the end of 2021.
Last week he told the Now-Leader its construction is “a commitment that’s carved in stone” and the business plan will be finalized this fall.
“The money is in the budget, the land has been assembled,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about it. Fraser Health has been working very, very hard to finalize the details.”
But Cadieux insists there are “zero” dollars in the NDP budget for a new hospital in Cloverdale.
“They keep saying money is in the budget. It isn’t. There’s a three-year capital plan in the budget and in that capital plan any project over $50 million has to be listed. There is no money in there for a Surrey hospital. They may want to build one, but it isn’t underway. They have to be honest about that.”
Cadieux says the Liberals have a record of delivering on promises they make, “delivering on large capital projects, and we’ll continue to do that.”
She says the NDP are good at making announcements, “but the reality is they may not be working for the people of Surrey.”
As for the Liberals?
“We need services in Surrey for the people of Surrey,” Cadieux says. “And I’ll fight for that every day of the week.”
NEXT WEEK: Plenty of politics over policing transition in Surrey