A few empty rows of seats didn’t mean the three Kootenay West candidates were let off easy by the 50-or-so who did attend the Thursday night forum in Trail. In fact, all three were in the hot seat throughout the two-hour event.
Right out of the gate, inquiries at the open mic revolved around B.C.’s medical system. Whether it be senior services, support for unionized healthcare workers or the crises surrounding mental health and addictions – the overriding theme of the evening was health care.
The first question was aimed at Liberal candidate Jim Postnikoff, though all three took the opportunity to respond. It centred on home support for seniors in the region, as well as the loss of local seniors’ facilities over the years, such as Rossland’s Mater Misericordiae and the former Kiro Manor in East Trail.
“When it comes to inequities, we have a lot in senior care, if you live in Kelowna you can get home support at night,” the guest said. “If you live over here, you have to privately pay for it. Is this your idea of equity?”
Postnikoff didn’t give platform specifics, instead replied, “It is my duty (as your MLA) to ask those questions and I am surprised that we don’t have some of those answers already from people that do represent us.”
As the NDP’s former seniors’ critic, MLA incumbent Katrine Conroy was quick to counter.
“As a seniors critic, I continually fought hard … we brought in the bill that brought in the seniors advocate,” she said. “We brought in the bill four times and the government finally said they realized that yes, we do need it.”
The NDP will increase home support and ensure resident care facilities have adequate staffing, Conroy added.
“We will make sure every facility in the province has adequate staffing so seniors get the care and dignity they deserve … and we are going to be looking at affordable housing, seniors are going to be one of the target groups … we have a whole poverty reduction strategy that will help us with that as well.”
Troy was up next, answering a query about the Green Party’s position regarding local healthcare employment.
“It really comes down to a lot more direct communication and regular meetings between the union body and the executive union leaders within your organizations,” she said. “So our scheduling is not being done in Cranbrook (for example) and our food is not being prepared in Vernon or Kelowna and being shipped back here … more dialogue (is needed) concerning why we are sending out those services and taking away jobs from our union workers.”
Then came a heartfelt question about the lack of resources for locals who are afflicted with mental illness.
“We were told it could take 10 years to arrive at the proper medication, it took about 15 years,” the person said. “After this (our) family member who is struggling with severe mental illness was discharged and expected to function with virtually no living skills and very little effective community support. Do you have any plans that can help these folks put together some kind of structured life for themselves, under these devastating circumstances?”
Perhaps one of the most unexpected responses was Conroy stating the NDP would re-open Riverview Hospital, a provincial mental health facility located in Coquitlam, that was closed in July 2012.
Additionally, she said the NDP would create a ministry dedicated to mental health and addictions.
“To ensure that we can focus what is going on with mental health and ensure we have the supports for people that need those services,” Conroy continued. “And to work with those communities to make sure those supports and facilities are in place … we are going to work with the regions to make sure this isn’t a made-in-Vancouver issue, this is going to be a made-in Castlegar, Trail, the West Kootenay – it’s going to me made where the issue is.”
Postnikoff countered with the Liberal party’s commitment to build a new 270-unit facility dedicated to mental health care.
“Rather than go into old buildings that exist, they were found to be full of asbestos and mould, the wrong way is to throw all that money against infrastructure like that,” he noted. “What we’ve done is gone in there to build a brand new building, and we will continue to do that across the province as the economy continues to improve.”
The Green Party is first going to “un-umbrella” the overall healthcare ministry by having a separate ministry for health promotion, disease prevention and active lifestyles, Troy responded.
“We will invest $80-million to fund early intervention, youth mental health initiatives, supervised injection sites and community-based centres for health and rehab,” she said. “By investing in those initiatives we can reduce the incidents of harm that fall upon people as they get farther behind then find themselves in a crisis.”
The audience was largely comprised of adults, however there were a number of youthful guests on hand – their questions revolved around jobs and engaging the younger generation in politics.
Postnikoff said he is actively lobbying for youth to step forward and “voice your opinion on a ballot.”
Conroy replied to a question about environmental conservation and respective employment in the West Kootenay.
“We don’t believe it’s either jobs or the environment,” she said. “I think it has to be both, you can have a good family- supporting job that is environmentally sustainable… that is critically important, I think we need to look in our region and make sure we have regulations in place for logging, mining, and any industry.”
The evening closed with each Kootenay West candidate giving a one-minute closing remark.
Troy focused on change.
“The world is changing between automation, exponential advances in technology, climate change, the local political instability, and resource depletion,” she said. “B.C. needs a strong vision and an actionable strategy. However the status quo approaches of the big parties does not provide the agility or the integrity required to succeed in these changing times.”
Postnikoff was firm about raising the Kootenay West profile in Victoria.
”We need to get Kootenay West riding back on track,” he said. “There are health upgrades, highway safety upgrades, infrastructure upgrades and housing for seniors. We need government participation for all these endeavours.”
Conroy has served as the riding’s MLA since 2005, and said she wants the opportunity to be part of an NDP government that ensures rural B.C. is not left behind.
“I can advocate for you in Victoria, and be a strong voice with experience” she said. “And be a strong voice for the region that needs to be there as negotiations for the Columbia River Treaty unfold, as decisions are made for how health care is going to be improved in this region, and a voice for our children’s education.”
Voting will take place at the Royal Canadian Legions in Trail, Castlegar, and Nakusp. Advance polling dates are slated for April 29 and April 30 from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and Wednesday May 3 to Saturday May 6 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. General Voting Day is Tuesday, May 9, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.