Platform promise progress: Finance, Health, and Mental Health and Addictions

By Shannon Waters January 24, 2022

No issue featured more prominently in the BC NDP’s 2020 platform than health care. Of the 154 planks in the party’s 2020 platform, 22 directly pertain to health care — not entirely surprising for a snap election during a pandemic.

While most of the health-related promises made by the NDP in 2020 continued or expanded on commitments first made in 2017 — including improving home care and seniors care services, opening more urgent and primary care centres, and “a new focus on rural communities” — several were shiny and new that first pandemic September.

The NDP’s 10-year cancer plan aims to “make British Columbia a leader in cancer care,” but more than 15 months later, not much progress appears to have been made. The NDP government has yet to send out a single news release detailing its actions on the cancer care strategy. Asked for an update, the Ministry of Health told BC Today that it “continues to work diligently on several cancer-related items to ensure that every British Columbian gets the heath care they need and deserve.”

Those items include $10.5 million for a new PET and CT scanner suite at BC Cancer’s Kelowna clinic and new cancer centres in Kamloops and Nanaimo, both of which are in the concept planning stage. An early lung cancer screening program, announced days before the election was called, is also part of the 10-year strategy and is “still on target,” per the ministry.

The new Hospital at Home program, aimed at increasing virtual and telehealth options, launched in a limited fashion shortly after the election results were tallied. Victoria General Hospital was home to the first program prototype by November 2020, and a second prototype launched at the city’s Royal Jubilee Hospital in March 2021. The University Hospital of Northern BC, in Prince George also supported a limited-run prototype from mid-March 2021 to mid-May 2021, and the hospital is now running a second program focused on post-op patients.

The ministry is most of the way to hiring the 7,000 new front-line health-care workers in long-term care and assisted living facilities pledged in the 2020 platform. Nearly 6,300 have been hired to date. Of those, 2,804 people were hired as part of the Health Career Access Program, which gives people without prior health-care education on-the-job experience while completing the health-care assistant education and training program with funding and support from the province.

Also in progress is an overhaul of health-care-related credential recognition and licensing, which “has been a significant focus of the ministry” of late. Work with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC and the BC College of Nurses and Midwives is ongoing, per the ministry.

Health’s junior ministry, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, accounts for three new promises in the 2020 platform: launching complex care housing programs, applying to Ottawa for provincial decriminalization of illicit drugs and “new ways of improving pain management practices for injured workers.”

B.C.’s foray into complex care began last week with the announcement of 100 spaces across four sites in the Lower Mainland aimed at helping people with complex mental health and substance use needs.

The ministry’s decriminalization submission to the federal government is still under review. “We urge them to make it a top priority,” the ministry told BC Today of the application, which it described as “the first step in what will be a collaborative process with Health Canada.”

The ministry is also working to “develop better options for chronic work-related pain” alongside WorkSafeBC. The effort involves health authorities, prescribers and pharmacists in a bid to improve and diversify pain management practices for people injured on the job. These include “safe prescribing guidelines, substitution therapies and tapering strategies,” as well as  WorkSafeBC’s Not Just a Prescription Pad program, which trains physicians, nurse practitioners and other health-care providers on a variety of prescription-related issues.

B.C. Premier John Horgan. (Supplied/Province of British Columbia)

Finance ministry: controlling strata insurance costs and ending gender-based violence

The Ministry of Finance is responsible for a wide-ranging assortment of the 2020 platform promises, many of which overlap with the housing ministry overseen by Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby. The finance ministry deferred to the housing ministry on all items related to housing in the 2020 platform.

The broadest platform plank within the finance ministry’s mandate involves investing an additional one per cent of the province’s GDP “in people and communities.”

“Government is meeting this commitment,” the ministry told BC Today, citing Budget 2021’s three-year, $26.4-billion capital investment plan — $3.5 billion more than Budget 2020’s — including “infrastructure recovery investments in the areas of health, education and transportation.” The infrastructure spending is “expected to create over 85,000 jobs and help people and communities recover from the pandemic,” per the ministry.

After sky-rocketing strata insurance costs became a frequent question period topic in 2019, the NDP pledged to address the issue in its 2020 platform by “closing loopholes” and “beefing up regulatory powers” of the BC Financial Services Authority (BCFSA), which was tasked with nailing down “new ways to help bring insurance costs down.”

The BCFSA has been “gathering in-depth information from insurers for the past year” and expects to complete that work this spring, per the ministry, following a delay of “a few months to allow insurers more time to deal with the impact of the recent floods.” The ministry expects to receive a report on possibilities to keep strata insurance affordable by June.

Per the 2020 platform, if strata insurance costs “have not corrected by the end of 2021,” the B.C. government would look at developing “a public strata insurance option, similar to Saskatchewan.” But the ministry told BC Today it has “heard anecdotally that strata insurance prices are beginning to moderate,” although some properties “continue to face challenges.”

“We continue to monitor the market and are committed to exploring a public insurance model for strata insurance, but caution that a public model may not lead to a decrease in costs – as many of the same issues affecting private insurers could apply to a public insurer,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Best terms pricing” — a practice that resulted in the rate for a given strata insurance policy being set by the highest bid in a package from multiple insurers — was phased out at the end of 2020. Insurance brokers are now required to disclose their commission and referral fees between brokers, and strata property managers are banned.

“It has made a difference in the marketplace,” per the finance ministry.

The ministry also oversees gender equity policies, including the NDP’s commitment to “launch a plan to end gender-based violence” in B.C.

Consultations on the strategy “will take place early this year in order to deliver a multi-year action plan to address gender-based violence by the end of 2022.”

Several ministries outstanding

Following initial reporting on January 6, BC Today contacted all ministries requesting updates on relevant platform promises with the intent of providing comprehensive coverage of the government’s progress so far.

On January 13, a spokesperson for the premier’s office contacted BC Today and suggested it could co-ordinate the ministry responses. On January 18, the spokesperson confirmed to BC Today that “close to 17 pages” of responses had been collected from various ministries and stated they would be available the following day.

BC Today has not yet received further information on the status of any additional 2020 platform planks.

All followup requests sent to government ministries on January 20 were redirected to the premier’s office by ministry communications staff.