From the Sidelines

Dec. 31, 2020

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Nov. 27, 2020

Sheila Malcolmson got her marching orders from Premier John Horgan on her appointment as Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. The premier laid out an extensive and detailed list of hoped-for achievements in her letter of appointment. 

Some tasks stand out because of the impact they can have. The first is transferring recovery homes and private treatment providers to her department from the Health department to ensure quality care, accountability and value for money. And there’s a call for expanding the number treatment beds by building new treatment, recovery, detox and after-care facilities across the province with some beds specifically for British Columbians under age 24. 

The opioid crisis will also be on the front burner, including tackling the effects of the toxic illegal drug supply and working with other departments to push Ottawa to decriminalize simple drug possession for personal use. Another task is accelerating a full continuum of care: prevention, harm reduction, safe prescription medications, treatment and recovery. 

These have been the major challenges for a number of years with governments tied up in bureaucratic red tape. If Malcolmon can achieve a significant portion of the mandate we should finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

She shared the premier’s mandate letter – it makes worthwhile reading. It's a four-page document, and this is only one page of it.

●  Given the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, continue building a comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care, including by implementing A Pathway to Hope, B.C.’s roadmap for making mental health and addictions care better for people, and by expanding access to counselling, using new e-health and other technologies to bring care to more people in all regions of B.C. 

●  Accelerate B.C.’s response to the opioid crisis across the full continuum of care: prevention, harm reduction, safe prescription medications, treatment and recovery. 

●  Explore new ways to help prescribers separate more people from the toxic drug supply through safe prescription alternatives. 

●  Work with the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General and the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing to fast track the move toward decriminalization by working with police chiefs to push Ottawa to decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. In the absence of prompt federal action, develop a made-in-B.C. solution that will help save lives. 

●  With support from the Minister of Children and Family Development, lead work to continue our government's commitment to addressing mental health problems early by rolling out new mental health and addictions care initiatives for children and youth. 

●  Expand the availability of treatment beds for people by building new treatment, recovery, detox and after-care facilities across the province with some beds specifically for British Columbians under age 24. 

●  With support from the Minister of Health, transfer oversight of recovery homes and other private treatment providers to Mental Health and Addictions to ensure quality care, accountability and value for money. 

●  With support from the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing and the Minister of Health, lead work to provide an increased level of support – including more access to nurses and psychiatrists – for B.C.’s most vulnerable who need more intensive care than supportive housing provides by developing Complex Care housing. 

●  With support from the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, lead work to invest more in community-based mental health and social services so there are more trained front-line workers to help people in crisis, and free up police to focus on more serious crimes. 

●  Support communities in addressing street disorder and public safety concerns by expanding mental health intervention teams like the six new Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams recently announced for communities experiencing increased challenges with vulnerable residents. 

●  Support the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General and interested municipalities to expand the successful 'situation table' model that connects front-line workers from different health, safety, and social service sectors to identify and help vulnerable people. 

●  Support the work of the Minister of Labour to develop better options for chronic work- related pain, including improving pain management practices for injured workers and providing treatment on demand to those with chronic pain as a result of workplace injuries. 

●  Support the work of the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness, including those living in encampments.

People sometimes question the duties and performance of elected officials, especially cabinet ministers. This looks like Malcolmson will be burning the midnight oil on many occasions.


Nov. 13, 2020

As the Coronavirus pandemic stretches on and more and more people test positive, more and more people are quietly expressing skepticism.

We are given daily reports by the provincial health officer and others but are we really being informed?

We are told that modelling projections point to as many as 1,000 people a day could test positive in the near future. But what is that informing us about? Is it just that that tests are being done and many are positive? Hundreds of people are placed in self- quarantine, and a small number are hospitalized each week. Sometimes we have large positive testing numbers but no increase in hospitalizations. Then also, the daily figures include people who have not actually tested but have been in contact with people who tested positive and are added to the daily totals.

A lot of people are not buying into the gravity of the situation. What they see day to day does not appear as threatening as it’s made out to be.

There is confusion, or some would say, misdirection about the fatality numbers. It’s largely older people, and many of them with underlying health issues topping the fatality lists. Did they die from the virus or did it exacerbate existing conditions? Is there a real number?

That brings up a really large question – the thousands self-quarantining – are they really sick or are they just taken out of circulation to stop the spread of the virus?

We’ve had serious pandemics in the past without total shutdowns. And with some of those, the death rate has been higher. It begs the question, are we going overboard? Would it be a simple matter for the public to suffer the virus for few days and get over it, all-the-while developing antibodies? In the near future, a vaccine should prevent further spread among the masses.

In the meantime, many British Columbians are not getting the health care they have become accustomed to. No longer can they visit their doctors’ offices and get personal interaction. It’s become health care by telephone, and if more is required patients are advised to check into the emergency department at the hospital.It takes a couple of weeks to get a phone-back appointment. Many issues requiring hospital care, including surgeries, are on hold.

Mental health practitioners are concerned about the impact of regulations on people. And the forecast of even greater spread, accompanied by more restrictions, will make things worse. Seniors, especially, feel the result of the shutdowns, not being able to get visits from family and friends.

The economic shutdowns and special regulations are having a major impact on our lives. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that 160,000 to 225,000 small businesses may permanently close due to declining revenue caused by the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdowns, only adding to the personal impact.

As there is no magic cure for the virus, there is also no magic solution for business. The CFIB is calling for improved federal monetary support, but keep in mind it’s not magic money, it has to be repaid in some fashion or other.

That makes you even more grateful for the fine line that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry walks.

Oct. 25, 2020

What happened? The votes are not all counted yet, but it’s inevitable, we’re going to have a majority government for the next four years.

Now we’re going to go through endless analyses about what happened to bring down the BC Liberals so drastically. But the end result will be the comparison of leadership.

In a short synopsis, John Horgan came across as trustworthy, good-hearted “Uncle John” Horgan while Andrew Wilkinson could never get out of the starting gate.

He had lots of steak, but no sizzle. There will be a lot of other assessments, but that pretty well spells it out. He offered a one-year PST holiday, not a winner. He offered competition for ICBC, ho hum. And that’s the way it went for the entire campaign.

A classis comparison was when Wilkinson had candidate problems, he acted but it didn’t do it authoritatively. The one candidate who got bounced nearly won his seat as an independent. When Horgan had a candidate with a runaway mouth he called it “stupid.” End of topic, we didn’t talk about it anymore – and that candidate won his seat.

The Liberals and Greens spent a lot of time hammering Horgan over calling an “unnecessary” early election during a pandemic. There was no outcry from the voters, however. The election rallies were missing, replaced by Zoom meetings. It was different and the voters appeared to embrace it. The concept of mail-in voting and advance voting gained a lot of favour as more than a million chose that option.

It’s difficult to do an accurate assessment when all the number are still not in, but the trends are established and will not likely change the final outcomes.

A shocker for many was the likely defeat of Liberal Michelle Stilwell who got submarined by her own party. When a local businessman announced he was running for the Conservatives, he was reportedly pressured not to run, so he ran as an independent instead. That brought out an old Conservative party executive member who tossed his name into the race just to have a presence. With incomplete results, Stilwell lost by almost 1,000. Guess what, the Independent and the Conservative had about 1,000.

Depite the great optimism, the biggest loser of the night has to be the Green party. They went from sharing power to becoming an echo from the backbench. It remains to be seen whether Horgan will have the time of day for them now.

The biggest question facing British Columbia’s free enterprisers is whether to simply throw a new coat of paint on a crumbling building or whether to tear it down and start with a new foundation.

The Conservative vote made an impression in a number of areas where the NDP picked up seats, particularly in the Langley ridings and the Fraser Valley.

One thing that has been kicked around for a number of years is the Liberal party name, and this time it may have been enough of a distraction to actually step forward and do something about it. Yes, the Conservatives chewed up some of their traditional vote due not only the party name but some of the policy. Splitting the politically-right vote will leave the NDP in power for a long, long time.

And the odor emanating from eastern Canada certainly did not help the Liberal cause here in British Columbia.

Pundits were scrambling Saturday night about Wilkinson’s future with the party. Stepping down now would only mire the party deeper in muck. He needs to stick around until the Liberal/Conservatives can get their new foundation built. This is not a renovation, it's a tear-down.

Oct. 18, 2020

UPDATED – Finger pointing has always been a big part of election campaigns, and this one is no different. For three years the BC Liberals kept hammering at John Horgan. Virtually every utterance from the party found a way to include a negative jab at Horgan.

The NDP were quiet on that tactic, until the election was called. Now it’s a merciless attack on Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson to the point they were telling him which candidates were acceptable to remain in the race for the Liberals.

There were three instances where the NDP disagreed with the political stance of Liberal candidates. One of those espoused what many would consider far-out views on birth control while the others had in the past opposed rainbow sidewalks. It was more of a morality lecture.

There was high indignation from the NDP – Wilkinson must remove those candidates, as they were unacceptable according to NDP standards. Why should the NDP demand their removal? One would think it would be advantageous to have them remain on the ballot so the voters could make that determination.

As was the case on the TV show “Laugh-in”, the fickle finger of fate has a habit of biting back. When you point fingers, you should keep in mind that three of your own fingers are pointing right back at you. Therefore it was rather rich that Horgan would be in the crosshairs over one of his own candidates, veteran Nathan Cullen, who derided and belittled a First Nations candidate in a northern riding. 

The NDP rejected the nomination bid of an Indigenous woman in favor of Cullen, contrary to party policy which required that a woman or other minority representative be the next candidate. 

With only a few days left in the campaign, would it be too much to expect both parties to focus on what they can do for the people of this province rather than throwing darts at each other? Recent polls show the NDP has the backing of about half of decided voters, the Liberals have around one-third support and the Greens just over 10 per cent. 

Going out on a limb, it looks very much like an NDP majority – somewhere around NDP 54, Liberal 31, Green 2 with a little wiggle room between the two leading parties. And when the dust settles – we’ve been told that could be more than two weeks until we know the final result – we are likely to have the same three MLAs in the mid-Island.

Also, see Vaughn Palmer's comments.

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