B.C. Liberals and NDP go tit for tat over health care on the campaign trail
Wilkinson says there's no basis for Horgan's claim that MSP premiums would return under a Liberal government
The leaders of B.C.'s three largest parties visited different regions around the province Saturday as health care emerged as the hot topic of the day — at least for the NDP and B.C. Liberals.
New Democrat Leader John Horgan promised to complete a long-awaited hospital expansion and replacement project during a campaign stop in northwest British Columbia on Saturday.
Horgan said a New Democrat win on Oct. 24 would ensure the completion of a new and expanded Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.
The New Democrat leader said the budget for the $441 million project has been approved and the hospital will be complete in 2024.
Horgan said the previous B.C. Liberal government promised to replace the decades-old Mills Memorial Hospital but never did.
"We heard the stories of years and years of promises from the B.C. Liberals to take action to replace this decrepit building,'' he said at a news conference.
"There's been a lot of industrial activity in this region over the decades and having state-of-the-art, acute-care facilities are absolutely central to the people in the region.''
Horgan said he will also meet with local Indigenous leaders and visit nearby Kitimat to tour the Haisla Health Centre.
The Terrace-Kitimat area is part of the Skeena riding, currently held by Liberal Ellis Ross.
Moments after his announcement, the NDP sent out a news release to journalists warning that a Liberal government would reinstate monthly premiums for B.C.'s medical services plan (MSP).
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson quickly denied the accusation on Twitter in an admonishing tweet punctuated by using Horgan's first name.
We've been clear, MSP fees won't be returning under a BC Liberal government either, John. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BCpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BCpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BCelxn2020?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BCelxn2020</a> <a href="https://t.co/bvVJQkiBiE">https://t.co/bvVJQkiBiE</a>—@Wilkinson4BC
Two hours later and more than 1,300 kilometres to the south, former minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and NDP Vancouver-Fairview candidate George Heyman also held a conference where he repeated — in almost the same words — what the NDP stated in its release.
He emphasized that Wilkison's government would give large companies in B.C. a gift by cutting the employer health tax — the tax that allowed the NDP to get rid of MSP premiums.
"Make no mistake, if Andrew Wilkinson becomes premier and if Andrew Wilkinson gives this gift to British Columbians largest employers, he will have to bring the MSPs, cut healthcare, or both. Either way, you will have to pay," said Heyman.
Wilkinson, however, was adamant at his own press conference that MSP premiums are long gone and would not see the light of day were his party to win the election.
"What [Horgan] said today is not true… There will be no return to medical services plan premiums under a B.C. Liberal government. Period," he said. "It's time for John Horgan to start telling the truth."
But he wasn't as direct when it came to making a commitment about the future of the employer health tax despite being pressed by CBC News.
But back in May of 2018, during an interview on CKNW's The Lynda Steele Show, Wilkinson said he would like to get rid of a number of NDP taxes including the employer health tax, which he said " is going to drive up the costs of doing business in B.C. and drive employment out of B.C."
Wilkinson also made a commitment to provide free flu shot vaccines for all British Columbians if his party is elected, adding the health care system risks becoming further burdened by the upcoming flu season. Right now in B.C., the flu shot is only free for certain groups of people.
Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau was campaigning in her Cowichan Valley riding on Vancouver Island.
With files from The Canadian Press