Politics

Harper has ignored health-care problems: Layton

NDP Leader Jack Layton says Canadians should be "very worried" about the state of the health-care system under Stephen Harper as a federal-provincial accord is set to expire in 2014.

B.C. should keep HST transition funds, NDP Leader says

NDP Leader Jack Layton plays with 11-month-old Lily Clark during a rally Wednesday, April 6, 2011 in Prince George, B.C. Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

NDP Leader Jack Layton says Canadians should be "very worried" about the state of the health-care system under Stephen Harper as a federal-provincial accord is set to expire in 2014.

The NDP leader has made a point of discussing health-care issues at several campaign events, telling voters that the shape of Canada's health-care system will be determined in large part by the next prime minister.

"For five years, Stephen Harper has ignored the health-care challenges facing older Canadians," Layton told a crowd at a rally in Prince George, where he proposed a program worth $250 million a year to help keep the elderly in their own homes when they face chronic health issues.

"If Mr. Harper is in charge of the future of health care in our country, then Canadians should be very worried."

As with other spending initiatives, Layton said an NDP-led government would pay for the home-care program by cancelling the Conservative government's corporate tax cuts.

He said too many families are spending their life savings on caring for their elderly parents.

"It's time for us to make sure all seniors live with the care they deserve. They raised us, they built this country, this community. It's their turn now," Layton said.

The home-care funding would ramp up to $1 billion after four years as recommended by the Romanow commission on health care. The NDP has introduced the same plan, which would affect an estimated 100,000 families, in every election since 2005.

The proposal also includes an additional $250 million a year to help the provinces create more long-term care beds for the most critically-ill seniors.

"I can tell you, when it comes to improving health care, I won't stop until the job is done," Layton said.

He also said that the Conservative government's inaction on health care has left rural communities like Prince George with a shortage of doctors, nurses and health professionals — something he says an NDP government would try to change.

HST pledge

Layton also said Ottawa should let British Columbia keep $1.6 billion in federal payments, even if voters reject the harmonized sales tax in an upcoming referendum.

Layton criticized Harper and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell for the way they introduced the HST, saying the tax was undemocratically "rammed" down the throats of British Columbians.

The HST combines the five-per-cent federal GST with the former seven-per-cent B.C. provincial sales tax into a single 12-per-cent tax.

The blended tax was announced in July 2009. It came into effect  one year later, prompting protests from many B.C. residents, including former premier Bill Vander Zalm, who started an anti-HST petition drive.

Layton said if voters reject the HST in a June referendum, he would ensure that penalties in the HST agreement were cancelled.

Party pushing for gains in B.C.

CBC's Karina Roman said the party was optimistic about seat gains in B.C., in part because they came in second in more than a dozen ridings in the last election.

"The next two days are going to be a huge push for the NDP in British Columbia," she said.

Layton also pushed the NDP as a strong option for B.C. voters.

"The only way British Columbians can defeat Stephen Harper and ensure fairness for B.C. is to vote New Democrat," Layton said.

The NDP leader's campaign is hop-scotching across the Interior, hitting the ridings of Prince George-Peace River, where former government House leader Jay Hill retired, and Kootenay-Columbia, the constituency held for years by Conservative stalwart Jim Abbott.

With files from The Canadian Press