Foster stepped up

Health Minister fawns over Vernon-Monashee MLA at hospital announcement

Michael de Jong is certainly good for the ego.

Last week’s announcement on new acute care beds was almost overshadowed by the health minister fawning over Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster.

“True to his role as a local representative, he has never shied away from what the needs of his area are,” de Jong told the assembled media and dignitaries.

“He made it clear he would not rest until those needs were met.”

De Jong even joked that if he didn’t provide  Foster with positive action soon, he may find himself floating at the bottom of Victoria harbour.

“I’ve never actually seen a colleague or local representative attack a project and seek to guide public policy with the skill and the fervor that Eric Foster has taken this on,” he said.

While those comments may seem over the top, there is absolutely no question that Foster was critical in addressing overcrowding at VJH.

Unlike some other local MLAs, he didn’t distance himself from the ongoing controversy every time code purple was sounded and he never tried to blame someone else for the situation.

When residents held a public rally last Canada Day demanding more beds, Foster did the unexpected. He not only showed up but he waded through the crowd and insisted that he was on their side and would join lobby efforts.

Ask any physician in the know and they will tell you that Foster was approachable and consulted with them on a regular basis.

Besides de Jong, Foster spent considerable time in Victoria banging on the doors of the premier, the finance minister and the treasury board.

The bottom line is Foster did everything we as citizens should expect from our elected representatives. He was tenacious and  spoke on our behalf and realistically, there isn’t much more he could do given that he is a first-time MLA in the backbenches.

But while we have to accept de Jong as genuine when he praises Foster, we also know there were other motivations for the kind words.

The Liberals under Premier Christy Clark are in trouble, with the NDP trouncing them in public opinion and the B.C. Conservatives nipping at their heels.

If the party even stands a chance of being re-elected in May 2013, it must immediately shore up support.

That means trying to appease voters over long-festering issues such as cancelled surgeries and patients being placed in hallways at VJH because there aren’t sufficient beds.

Every time overcrowding captured the headlines, it provided cannon fodder for the NDP, which has targeted Vernon-Monashee as a constituency it believes the party can win.

And there’s no question that’s possible given that Foster only won the 2009 election with 37 per cent support (the NDP’s Mark Olsen had 32 per cent).

Bolstering the relevance of local MLAs is critical to the Liberals’ campaign strategy, and de Jong joins the ranks of Finance Minster Kevin Falcon and Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom singing Foster’s praises during stops here.

The question, though, is if voters can be swayed by soundbites and back-slapping?

Or will they be more focused on the overall record of the government, including the HST, legislating an end to the teachers’ collective bargaining process, ongoing budget cuts in our schools and massive bonuses for senior civil servants.

And if the discussion revolves around those issues, Foster may want his more experienced colleagues to keep quiet and speak up for himself.