The Opposition blazed through the opening days of the fall legislative session, beginning and ending the week with demands for Health Minister Adrian Dix to resign.
BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon kicked off the first Question Period with a litany of the province’s “crumbling” health care system deficiencies: one million British Columbians wait-listed to see a specialist, the worst walk-in clinic wait times in the country, hundreds of thousands unable to get medical imaging, emergency room closures across B.C., and people dying while awaiting an ambulance.
“In the real world, anybody overseeing such a compilation of failure would have been fired a long time ago,” Falcon said. “Will this health minister do there right thing today, accept responsibility for his government’s appalling record of failure, and resign?”
Resign, resign, resign
Opposition MLAs then proceeded to yoke Dix with sole responsibility for the current under-staffed, over-burdened state of our pandemic-ravaged health care system. One after the other, they ended their questions with a demand for the minister’s resignation.
Falcon and his caucus have effectively characterized many alarming health care system gaps. Demanding his resignation makes sense in a way. Things aren’t working, fire the guy in charge. Politically, it puts the matter to rest – you’re the problem, you have to go. But clearly, there are other factors at play beyond one man’s competency.
Dix says his government has added paramedics, ambulance workers, increased diagnostics (from 174,000 in 2016-17 to almost 300,000 in the North during the pandemic), made changes to recruit internationally educated health care workers, and opened up new training positions for nurses, among other measures.
Yet, there’s no denying the service quality breakdowns, many of which seem rooted in – or exposed by – a mammoth burnout in the health care ranks. Not surprising, given we’re two and-a-half years into a pandemic (and counting), which landed on the back of an unrelenting and calamitous drug overdose emergency.
Still, it’s hard to reconcile how sidelining the most knowledgeable elected person, from arguably the most complicated government ministry (even in non-pandemic times), is the right move. Particularly as we navigate two simultaneously crushing public health emergencies. It also downplays that B.C.’s health care “collapse” is part of a global phenomenon.
And who would replace him?
Early pandemic days
Some may forget, but Dix has done some pretty remarkable work as health minister in the past couple of years.
His early pandemic response with Dr. Bonnie Henry was exemplary. When the pandemic first reared its head, the duo gained the confidence of British Columbians, the envy of Canadians from other jurisdictions, and their competence helped win the NDP a majority government in 2020.
Despite assertions otherwise, Dix has added health care professionals – during a pandemic – to the system. That many more are needed is obvious. But under his leadership, the ministry recruited nurses and doctors early on, hired more contact tracers, staffed surgeries, and created new seats for nurses and care aides – all clutch plays to keep up with rampaging pandemic demands at the time.
Also on Dix’s watch, the government managed a first for Canada when it restricted long-term care workers to just one facility – reducing the risk of infections between facilities – through an intense and complicated series of negotiations with numerous employee groups across B.C.
This ensured care aides, licence practical nurses and other long-term care staff had better working conditions and were paid a proper wage – best practices in the long-term care sector. All of which saved untold lives of seniors in care in B.C., particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, when long-term care residents in places like Quebec and Ontario were decimated by the virus.
But… that was then; this is now.
It’s lonely at the top
The buck stops at the top, and the minister is responsible for the ministry he runs.
The Opposition is right to demand accountability from Dix for the burgeoning flaws and downright chasms in the system. And they have every right to expect that government acknowledge reality and concede there is a crisis – which Dix eventually did, eloquently, by week’s end, in a riveting exchange with Opposition health critic Shirley Bond. Cynicism aside, for a few moments, two dedicated, seasoned politicians with opposing views, spoke civilly and from the heart.
“This is not about nurses or doctors. They are overwhelmed. They are demoralized. They are overloaded,” Bond said after describing how a woman miscarried in a Penticton emergency room bathroom. “We have a health care system that has collapsed.”
“We have been in crisis for two and-a-half years. When you delay tens of thousands of surgeries, that is a crisis,” conceded Dix. And we’re not out yet – aspects of health care are undeniably failing. As Dix said earlier, the system “can and will do better.”
The Opposition must hold his feet to the fire week-after-week to make sure he follows through on that promise.
But force him to resign?