Saturday, July 11, 2009

IHA chair backs two-tier care, less support for frail seniors

Interior Health Authority chair Norm Embree told the Kelowna Daily Courier this week that he sees nothing wrong with two-tier heath care. Why shouldn't a person with money be able to buy faster, better treatment if they're sick or injured, he said? (Aside from the provincial and federal laws that say health care should be available based on medical need - that one sick six-year-old shouldn't be treated while a neighbour suffers just because of an accident of birth.)
Embree also said he doesn't see why the health system should provide residential care for sick or frail seniors who can't live on their own.
I wondered if he would retreat. But Embree repeated the positions in an interview with the Kamloops Daily News here.
And columnist Susan Duncan outlines why pushing old people onto the streets is a bad idea here.
Embree also confirmed cuts to services are coming because of underfunding by the province. Expect to hear more on that in the next few days as Health Minister Kevin Falcon gives the health authorities their marching orders.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Budget bad news and big cuts ahead

I resent being treated like I'm stupid. Sure, I'm capable of dumb moments and bad decisions, but, mostly, I'm a responsible, competent person.
That's why the release of the province's public accounts - the final version of the financial statements of the last fiscal year - was irksome.
There are four things to take away from the event.
First, the province avoided a deficit in the fiscal year that ended March 31. The surplus was small - $58 million by the government's reckoning, $8 million, according to the auditor general.
But a surplus, even if tiny, is important for the government's legitimacy.
Second, the government is finally inching toward honesty about the budget projection of a $495-million deficit for this fiscal year.
It's bogus. The revenue assumptions are hopelessly, blatantly optimistic. The expenses were based on million in cuts that had not been identified.
Within a few days of the February budget, it was being questioned. Before long, economists were suggesting the real deficit would be more than $1.5 billion.
No way, said Premier Gordon Campbell, throughout the election campaign and after. The deficit will be $495 million.
No, said Finance Minister Colin Hansen, even weeks ago. We'll meet the budget.
Finally, the government is acknowledging that's just not going to happen.
Hansen said everything changed on June 24, when the federal government sent new tax revenue estimates. Corporate taxes, especially, will be much lower than expected.
I'm a fan of Hansen. He's smart and sensible, and as health minister his command of issues was impressive.
But his claim that up until June 24 he thought the budget was still realistic is just baffling.
Housing starts were way below the budget assumptions. GDP growth was lower. Natural gas prices a fraction of the budget projections. Welfare rolls were climbing. Within two weeks of the budget day, a reasonable person would acknowledge it was wrong.
Third, the bad forecasting is going to be used to justify deep cuts in services and programs.
After the 2001 election, the Liberals brought in a 25-per-cent income tax cut on their first day in office, a $12-billion hit to the budget. That created a revenue crisis and set the stage for a budget focusing on cuts to programs and services.
Now the botched budgeting and determination to keep the deficits small is creating another crisis.
The budget already included cuts to eight of the 19 government ministries this year. Programs and jobs would have to be shed. And the budget was introduced without an actual plan for achieving all the savings.
Even health authorities were being pushed to find $320 million in spending cuts to keep within their funding.
Hansen confirmed the government has also targeted grants to organizations and is prepared to cut deeply.
That's bad news for communities. Grant support economic development efforts and social service delivery and seniors' support and organizations that educate children about drug risks. The services are close to the community and generally delivered in a cost-effective way.
Now, more than three months into the fiscal year, those organizations face surprise cuts, or even the elimination of provincial funding, Hansen said.
Government should always ensure money is being used effectively.
But the Liberals have had eight years to winnow weak or duplicate efforts. These cuts will do real harm.
And fourth, the public was cheated in the election campaign. Campbell's claim that the deficit would not exceed $495 million and that the budget was credible were not true.
But they prevented a real debate on how the province should respond to the recession. (The New Democrats were complicit; they chose to accept the budget numbers and use them as the basis for their own plans.)
British Columbians were sold a pig in a poke. When the real budget is finally released in September, expect a pretty ugly beast to emerge from the sack.
Footnote: How deep will the cuts be? The government has already cut help for people on income assistance who need literacy upgrading or other support to get off welfare and into a job. Job cuts are already planned in some ministries. It's an odd strategy when other governments have accepted the need for simulus spending.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What's wrong with two-tier care?

Interesting and worrying story in the Kelowna Daily Courier.
Norm Embree, chair of the Interior Health Authority, speaks candidly about cuts to care because of inadequate funding. He should get full marks for accountability.
But read on. What's wrong with two-tier health care, he asks?
He also questions whether residential care for seniors unable to live on their own should really be a health care responsibility, which raises a lot of questions, which, hopefully, he will answer.
Read the story here.

OK, Hansen finally admits, cuts are coming

All those community groups, social service agencies and service providers who have been getting the runaround about their provincial funding for this year should now know why.
As Sean Holman reports here, the government is looking to cut those grants to save money. Everything is on the block, from drug prevention to programs to women's shelters to literacy efforts to support for seniors. Provincial grants make up their core budget; cuts - or elimination - would be devastating.
The government's plan has been to stall the groups. Some are more likely to make their concerns public now that they know what's going on.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Child poverty meeting rejected by premier

It seemed a reasonable request.
The Representative for Children and Youth asked Premier Gordon Campbell and NDP leader Carole James to meet with her on the growing problem of child poverty.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative, is worried. For six years in a row, Statistics Canada reported, B.C. has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada.
And the recession has greatly increased the number of children at risk.
Children's lives today, and their futures, should be above partisan considerations. Turpel-Lafond invited the two leaders to sit down and talk about what is being done, and could be done, to help children.
James said yes.
Campbell said no. He refused even a meeting, brushing off the Children and Youth Representative and the issue of child poverty.
There are reasons for the premier to worry. The representative might point out problems - that is part of the job, created in as a result of the damning Hughes' report on the government's failures on children's issues. James might look for political advantage.
But the plight of some 126,000 B.C. children - with that number growing each week - seems more important than those political considerations.
The problems are serious. For six years, Statistics Canada has reported that B.C. has the highest proportion of children in poverty. You can quarrel about the definition of poverty, but StatsCan is comparing provinces on the same basis. And year after year, B.C. ranks at the bottom.
Across Canada in 2007, 9.5 per cent of children live in poverty. In B.C., 13 per cent of children fell below the poverty line. That is an improvement.
But not enough to move B.C. out of last place on child poverty. And it still meant 126,000 children in B.C. were living on the margins.
That number is much higher now. The recession has sent families on a downward spiral. Jobs are lost - there were 103,000 fewer people with full-time jobs in May than a year earlier.
Some people find work at lower wages. Others go on unemployment insurance. When that runs out - and any savings are gone - they end up on welfare, now known as income assistance. The government has kept life on income assistance pretty miserable. The focus should be on helping those who can work to find a job, the Liberals maintained.
It's a defensible position when the economy is growing and employers are hiring.
But it not when families with no options are forced to live in grinding poverty.
In four months, the number of children living on welfare has jumped almost nine per cent. A single parent with two children who is considered employable receives up to $660 a month on income assistance for rent. It's tough to find a decent one-bedroom - for three people - for that amount.
In addition, the family on assistance gets $650 a month for everything else. Try it. Put $650 in a jar and see if you and two children can make it through the month.
Bus passes, food, insurance, clothes, school trips, a movie with friends for your daughter, swimming lessons. Which will you drop?
If you get reckless, and spend $7 a day on food for each of the three people, all the income assistance is gone.
That's a long digression, but with a point. Times are grim for a lot of children in B.C. - for a higher percentage here than anywhere else in Canada). We benefit when children make the most of their potential.
But Campbell refused a meeting to talk about how we could give more children a chance to build great lives here.
Other provinces have already set out plans for reducing child poverty, with timelines and actions and targets to measure progress. B.C. has not taken that basic step.
The children's representative offered a simple opportunity to look at a critical problem. And the premier said no.
Footnote: Campbell said the representative should discuss child poverty with the legislative committee on children and youth. The committee has not met in almost eight months, and in any case has no power to direct the government or bring about improvements.

Some portions of reconciliation act discussion paper rejected, says chiefs

The "seismic change" for relations between First Nations and the province, which I wrote about here seems to be hitting some bumps in consultations with First Nations. It's too early for consultations with non-native British Columbians, says aboriginal affairs minister George Abbott.

NDP’S Proposal is Premature
PRESS RELEASE - July 6, 2009

The UBCIC Executive has reviewed and discussed the BC New Democratic Party’s June 30th letter to Premier Campbell proposing that the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs be mandated to consult with British Columbians on the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated “Without the availability of the draft legislation to substantially discuss, it is premature for a legislative committee to trek through the province asking for input to a Discussion Paper. Our fear is that an ill-defined, ill-instructed committee will only serve to polarize the issue of reconciliation and act as an open-invitation for those who oppose the recognition of our Title and Rights.”

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit and the BC Assembly of First Nations have hosted several regional sessions and have presented at community meetings on the Discussion Paper that contemplates a proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act.

“It is clear from the community sessions that elements of the Discussion Paper have been rejected and other elements require further reconsideration and refinement. We have heard that a more collaborative and inclusive process is needed for First Nations” said Grand Chief Phillip. “If through that process, there is agreement to proceed to a legislative proposal, the UBCIC anticipates it will require a significant departure from the proposed model in the Discussion Paper.”

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Government paralysis

First, the reports were that subsidies to allow the poorest B.C. kids to camp were at risk. Then aid for leaky condo owners. Now even the Vancouver Island marmot is on the government chopping block. Funding for the marmot recovery program is uncertain, more than three months into the fiscal year.
Those are only the examples that have drawn public notice. Cuts are being planned across government, in secrecy, as this editorial notes.
One result of this process is paralysis, in government and the agencies that do its work. Three months into the fiscal year, funding for most projects is uncertain. Action is on hold. The public won't find out what is going on until September, when a new budget is presented.
The Liberals claim they need until then to rework the numbers. But in 2001, facing the task of replacing the NDP budget with one of their own, the Liberals were able to table a plan by July 30.