Eby squanders years of work by Dix on getting consensus on health law

Opinion: The NDP has torpedoed any chance of further co-operation on the health professions legislation

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VICTORIA — Health Minister Adrian Dix achieved a remarkable degree of support from the other parties in the legislature last year to reform the health-care professions.

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But the process was derailed late in the fall session by Premier David Eby’s rushed political agenda.

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The Health Professions and Occupations Act was the product of several years of consultation with the B.C. Liberal and Green parties as well as with outside experts, the public and the professions themselves.

An all-party steering committee achieved “unanimous” consensus on the goals of the legislation, as Dix noted in calling the bill for debate in October.

No kidding. Then known as Bill 36, it passed second reading — approval in principle — with only one dissenting vote, that of B.C. Liberal MLA Teresa Wat.

Opposition support came with a caveat.

“It is our intent to allow this bill to pass through second reading and then we’ll have the opportunity look in much much more detail at the sections in the bill,” Liberal health critic Shirley Bond advised the house. “Our ultimate support will depend on the discussion we have as we ask those very hard questions.”

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Clause-by-clause debate got off to a promising start the following week.

The Liberals probed the government’s intentions, politely but firmly. Dix, meticulous as ever, responded in detail.

Both sides respectful, both mindful of the co-operation that had got them to that point.

All that unravelled when incoming Premier Eby’s political agenda encroached on the process.

The government scrubbed one of two remaining weeks on the schedule of the fall session to give Eby more time to complete the transition from outgoing Premier John Horgan. Never mind that Eby had known he would be premier ever since the party disallowed challenger Anjali Appadurai in mid-October.

The New Democrats refused to tack an extra week onto the session, which would have allowed more time to scrutinize the remaining legislation.

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Yes, the Liberals did that when they were in government. But in this case, the payback torpedoed any chance of further co-operation on the health professions legislation.

When the New Democrats cut off debate and mobilized their legislative majority to ramrod approval of the bill on Nov. 24, there had been no scrutiny whatsoever for about two-thirds of the 650 clauses in the mammoth, complex legislation.

“I will simply say how utterly disappointed I am that the bill will not receive the support it may deserve because we simply do not have time to deal with this in the way that should be permitted for members of the legislature,” said Bond before the legislative guillotine came down.

The heavy-handed action raised suspicions in some quarters that the government had something to hide.

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Doctors, in particular, began questioning the intentions of the legislation, including some of the passages that went unexamined during clause-by-clause debate.

“This is not the time to implement and make these kinds of sweeping changes without deep consultation,” Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh of Doctors of B.C. told Penny Daflos of CTV earlier this month.

Kevin Mcleod, an internal medicine specialist at Lion’s Gate hospital, wondered if the bill’s provisions could be used to silence criticisms of the government.

The outspoken Mcleod said he’s already been warned on that score — “that it risked my employment at the hospital and other things,” he told Mike Smyth on CKNW radio last week.

If that sounds paranoid, consider one of the key findings of the recent operations review of how the New Democrats managed the pandemic: “There was strict central control of the messaging, including actively discouraging any questioning or challenging of the provincial health officer.”

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Dix responded to some of the lingering concerns about the new law during a media briefing Friday, arguing in effect that people should trust the government’s good intentions.

He said the main purpose of the modernization legislation was to consolidate the professions, increase transparency for the public, and “professionalize” oversight under a new superintendent.

He rejected complaints that the new overseers will lack expertise in the professions they are governing. They will be chosen for their expertise by the superintendent.

He denied that government officials will be able to seize or copy patient records. Records will be subject to review by an independent investigator only in cases of serious misconduct and then on a limited basis.

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Nor is this about regulating free speech or quashing legitimate criticism of the government, Dix maintained. As a professional, you cannot spread “false information” about medical treatments, but that was also the case before Bill 36 became law, Dix said.

“This was overwhelmingly supported by the three political parties,” added the health minister making his first line of defence for the legislation also his last.

But after the government’s gesture of bad faith last November, the Opposition has left Dix on his own to defend the health professions legislation.

Thanks to Thom Armstrong of the co-operative housing federation for pointing out an error in Saturday’s column. The province provided $132 million in financing to the Burnaby co-op that I wrote about, not a grant.


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