A group of Coasters took to the street in front of the expanding St. Mary’s Hospital in Sechelt July 18 to lament a federal health care policy they saw as a move toward privatization.
Donning fake injuries and red umbrellas, a group that included Sechelt Coun. Alice Lutes and Coun. Dan Bouman of Gibsons sought to draw attention to discussions related to a new federal funding plan for health care.
“Our health care is important to all of us. We can’t afford to have it privatized,” Lutes said.
She said that the $43-million St. Mary’s Hospital expansion and renovation did not alleviate her concern about the way health care is funded in Canada.
“There’s a lot of communities that don’t have the ability to raise those kinds of dollars, so those hospitals won’t have what we have,” she said in reference to the efforts of community groups to raise money for the hospital. “That’s not right.”
Bouman said he considered the health care professionals working in Canada to be “the best in the world,” but his thoughts on federal funding: “things are deteriorating.”
A passing ambulance gave a quick blast of its siren, joining a chorus of car horns that rang out in support of the group members.
Together they appeared in various stages of disarray, with bloody head wounds and broken arms. The masquerade saw protestors distributing pamphlets to pedestrians and passing drivers alike.
One such demonstrator was Jef Keighley, chair of the Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens’ Organization.
Keighley had set up shop on the median before the first set of lights descending into downtown Sechelt. Looking like “an escaped mental patient,” as one protestor put it, he accosted passing motorists with flyers stating the group’s concern.
“Harper’s already signalled he’s going to start cutting back the transfer payments and basically allow the provinces to spend it however they wish, including private health care,” Keighley said.
According to mainstream media reports, Canada’s 13 premiers were set to meet in Halifax this week, with health care funding expected to take centre stage.
On Tuesday, the province announced that it had ratified a four-year agreement with its doctors and the BC Medical Association, a deal valued at approximately $100 million over two years.
Meanwhile, anticipation has been building toward the expected fall move-in date for the new St. Mary’s Hospital. The expansion and renovation project that’s expected to cost around $43 million formed the backdrop to the group’s protest.
“What’s happening here at the Sechelt hospital’s a good thing, that’s not the issue,” Keighley said, predicting the demise of public health care “if we don’t now put pressure on the federal government to get back to the table ahead of the accord.”
The group called upon residents to voice their concerns to Premier Christy Clark and Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
“It needs to be pushed at both the federal and provincial level in order to get the federal government off their duff,” Keighley said. “The provincial government’s already there; we need the federal government as well.”
The protest was organized in conjunction with leadnow.ca, an advocacy organization with national reach. The group recently supported a wave of C-38 protests across the country, including Sechelt.