VICTORIA - It felt like the days of Glen Clark were back this week as the Liberals thrashed around, trying to sort out the problems - health care and political - in the Fraser Health Authority.
On Monday afternoon Health Minister Shirley Bond was still sounding pretty positive about the health region, and specifically about the problems at the over-crowded Surrey Memorial Hospital. She'd asked for a report on measures being taken to improve things at the hospital's emergency room, Bond told NDP MLA Jagrup Brar, but there was no panic.
But by Tuesday morning, the region's CEO, Bob Smith, had got the axe. The health authority board made the decision, said Bond, but her deputy minister had spent a lot of time over there asking questions. And Bond said she had become worried about the authority's inability to react quickly to emerging problems, and supported the firing.
A few hours later, during Question Period, Bond said she was concerned about problems at the Surrey hospital, but mostly she defended the government's overall health record and slagged the former NDP government.
But then the communications people said Premier Gordon Campbell would be available for a secret scrum. (That's the official Press Gallery term. Past premiers have taken questions from reporters each day on their way into caucus and Question Period. Campbell refuses. Occasionally - twice this session, I think - he takes questions in a formal press conference in his office.)
And while we waited in an anteroom, press releases arrived, hot off the copier. Bond was "calling on" the health region to use its $28-million surplus toward expanding the Surrey hospital emergency room.
It's a flip worthy of one of those 13-year-old Romanian gymnasts.
The Liberals promised independence for the five regional health authorities. The government would expect good plans, and measure performance. But the health region boards would decide how to address the needs of their communities.
Until the political heat got to be too great.
There's nothing really wrong with the politicians leaping into the fray. They're ultimately responsible. They answer to us, and they have the sleepless nights when something has gone wrong.
But we'd like them to be involved because they're worried about us. The problems facing Surrey Memorial, which has the second busiest emergency room in Canada, have been evident for years, Bond acknowledged in the legislature. It wasn't until a New Democrat started raising them, three months before the election, that things got urgent.
And note that the government didn't actually come up with any new money, or offer any estimate of what it would actually cost to solve the problems.
The health authority has a small surplus, about 1.5 per cent of total expenses. Use that, says the government, and do what you can.
It would have been more convincing if the government had been able to cost the needed improvements, and fund them out of the $2.8-billion surplus coming for the current fiscal year.
And the intervention would have been better received if it was clear the health region could afford the improvements, but had messed up. The region has had some big bumps in funding, but is looking at less than two per cent annually for the next two years.
Paradoxically, the actions might not help the Liberals politically. When Surrey was represented by Liberals, nothing happened. After just two weeks of Brar raising questions in the legislature, the hospital gets a big improvement. Not bad work for a rookie.
What will voters make of all this? They'll welcome the action, likely.
But they should wonder whether the failure to deliver 5,000 promised long-term care beds has played a role in hospital over-crowding. The Fraser region has fewer beds available for seniors now than it did four years ago.
And they'll also wonder why the government is only now discovering a problem that everyone else had been worried about for years.
Footnote: Forget about worrying about Smith's severance, likely worth more than his salary for a year - $323,000. He changed his life to take the job, and has been fired without cause - the payout is reasonable. (Although it's the second time he's got severance payments of more than $300,000; the NDP came through with a similar amount when his position was eliminated in 1997.)