The leaders of the provincial Green and Liberal parties visited Sackville today to defend the local hospital, but David Coon and Kevin Vickers had very different political messages.
Both made it clear they would not cut overnight emergency room services, close acute-care beds or cancel day surgeries as Premier Blaine Higgs proposed before changing his mind in February.
But, while Coon outlined the details of a Green plan to decentralize health care, giving local hospital managers and staff more power, Vickers used his visit to warn that a vote for local Green candidate Megan Mitton would threaten Sackville’s hospital.
“Megan is an extraordinary person (and) she’s wonderful,” Vickers told a small crowd of supporters standing on a lawn near the hospital, “but I’m telling you, if you vote Green, you are indirectly voting for the Conservative government and you’re voting to lose your hospital.”
Coon, who had addressed a small group of his supporters near the hospital a few hours earlier, seemed to have anticipated Vickers’s remarks.
“Using health-care reform as a political football has got to stop and we’ve already, once again, seen this happen in this election campaign,” Coon said.
“Using health-care reform as a political football and instilling fear in people as a result, is no way to solve the very real challenges faced by our health-care system.”
Coon gave details of the Green plan to fix problems that he said are at the root of many problems in the system.
“The management of our health-care system has become so over-centralized,” Coon said, “it has lost touch with the needs and expectations of local communities and local people.”
The Green leader argued that’s how what he called “the appalling plan” to cut services at six rural hospitals came to pass.
“It didn’t make sense locally, which is why, understandably, there was overwhelming opposition to that plan which I joined as did my colleagues,” Coon said.
He added that a Green government would restore local autonomy to hospital administrators and their staff.
“There’ll be no more decisions handed down from on high in Fredericton by managers who have no direct connection to the hospital or the community health centre,” Coon added.
“We will also establish community health boards to ensure local health-care services reflect the needs and expectations of the community.”
Coon’s words were echoed by Megan Mitton who is running for re-election in Memramcook-Tantramar.
“Successive governments, both Liberals and Conservatives, have failed to listen to what people in rural areas need,” she said, “and failed to recognize that these ill-conceived plans would add strain to the already overburdened urban hospitals.”
Mitton said she is listening to local concerns.
“I am listening to the patient who has been admitted by their family doctor and been able to receive care here in Sackville close to home and not had to worry about transportation,” she said.
She added she has also been listening to patients left in hallways at the Moncton hospital as well as to local people who have worked hard to raise money for Sackville Memorial.
“I will continue to stand with you and fight for you and to ensure that we have the health-care services we need and deserve in our riding,” she concluded.
Vickers’ 30-day pledge
For his part, Liberal leader Kevin Vickers repeated the pledge he made earlier this week in Sussex to maintain services at rural hospitals.
“I tell you that in the first 30 days of my taking the office of the premiership, I will direct both health authorities, in your case Horizon, that your hospital and the hospitals that were identified in the other communities will not be touched,” Vickers said.
He added that in the last four to five years, more than 30 people’s lives were saved at the Sackville hospital.
Vickers also argued that the hospital is not only important to the local economy, it’s instrumental in attracting new residents and businesses.
Later, the Liberal leader introduced Robert Gauvin, the former Conservative cabinet minister, now running for the Liberals in the riding of Shediac Bay-Dieppe.
“I remember when I ran in 2018 in Northern New Brunswick, Premier Higgs came there and said we are not going to touch your hospitals,” Gauvin said.
“Well, you know what happened,” he added, referring to Higgs’s initial decision to back the hospital cuts.
“Do you think all [Conservative] MLAs and ministers wanted this?” Gauvin asked. “He (Higgs) wanted this. He said, ‘We’re doing this, it’s good for the province, we’re doing this.'”
Gauvin said he told Higgs on a Friday that the Conservatives would be lying to the people if they went ahead with the hospital cuts, but the premier was adamant.
“On Sunday, he changed his mind,” Gauvin said. “What did he find out Saturday that he didn’t know before? So, it was just political, but you can’t play politics with people’s lives.”
Gauvin ended by urging people to support Memramcook-Tantramar Liberal candidate Maxime Bourgeois.
“So, right here, you have someone that will work for you,” he said, adding Bourgeois would join northerners, southerners, Francophones, Anglophones and First Nations people in the Liberal caucus and party.
“He’ll be a great addition to the team,” Gauvin said.