BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Under a bus

Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster left to deal with fallout after health minister Michael de Jong postpones hospital bed announcement...

Eric Foster has been thrown under the bus.

The Vernon-Monashee MLA had been promising for weeks that an announcement on Vernon Jubilee Hospital beds would be held April 2 or 3. But at virtually the 11th hour, the plug was pulled because Health Minister Michael de Jong’s schedule changed.

Now obviously there are significant demands on de Jong’s time as a minister, but there has been no bigger issue in the North Okanagan than hospital overcrowding. Patients have been shoved into halls and surgeries have been cancelled.

Foster, civic leaders, doctors, nurses and particularly residents have been lobbying loudly to have two shelled-in floors in the Polson tower developed into beds.

“You have ensured in the near future that I will be coming back,” said de Jong of rallies, letters  and petitions while speaking to the media at a Vernon stop in October.

It would be interesting to know what diverted de Jong from Vernon this week. Were there issues on the home front or constituency business he had to attend to? A crisis within the health care system wouldn’t be unusual. Or was he helping Premier Christy Clark shuffle the deck chairs after the iceberg known as John van Dongen’s defection to the Conservatives struck?

Foster has put on a brave face and tried to alleviate concerns that de Jong’s no-show may mean money isn’t being pumped into VJH.

“This isn’t a delay tactic with the announcement. Nobody needs to be concerned,” he said.

But I’m hearing from health care workers and residents who believe the postponed press conference is a clear indication that the government doesn’t take the North Okanagan seriously.

And it’s becoming very easy for the opposition to take a swing at the Liberals.

“This government continues to play politics with our health care,” wrote Mark Olsen, the New Democrat who hopes to replace Foster in the 2013 election, on The Morning Star website.

“We have been raising this issue since 2006 and now because of scheduling conflicts we have to continue to wait. This is sad.”

It’s also been suggested that a photo-op with de Jong should be shelved if he can’t be here in a timely fashion.

“Mr. de Jong does not need to be here for the announcement. Mr. Foster get the press together and make it yourself,” states another poster on our website.

It’s not known when a new announcement date will be set, but the longer it takes, the more eroded local support could be.

Olsen is already acting like the election campaign is underway and the B.C. Conservatives are starting to make a lot of noise (a new poll shows the Liberals and Conservatives tied provincially at 23 per cent support, with the NDP leading the pack at 43 per cent).

If the government is to hang on to Vernon-Monashee, it needs to throw Foster a lifeline. And while the recent infusion of cash for parks  and recreation facilities is great, that’s not enough to turn the heads of dissatisfied constituents. Only something the magnitude of addressing chronic hospital overcrowding will help, and that’s not even a guarantee of election victory.

Ultimately, not only doesn’t the North Okanagan fit into de Jong’s schedule, but it appears the Liberals don’t have time for their own man fighting in the trenches and waving the party flag.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star…