Six weeks into his new portfolio as Minister of State for Seniors, Ralph Sultan heard first hand from seniors during a visit in Williams Lake.
While at the Senior Advisory Council’s annual general meeting on Oct. 17, members pressed Sultan to advocate for free medical for seniors, to lobby that the Cariboo Memorial Hospital master plan move forward, and requested there be more funding to health authorities.
Sultan responded when it comes to Medical Service Plan premiums, there is always debate about whether they should be scrapped and rolled into regular taxes.
“People would think we were great until we said we were raising their taxes,” Sultan said. “People should understand that there’s no free lunch in this world and all those medical services you get have to be paid for. The MSP premium pays a small portion of the entire cost.”
Cariboo Chilcotin Independent candidate Gary Young disagreed with Sultan.
“Seniors in this province have worked hard for 40, 45, or 50 years to pay taxes, volunteer, raise their kids, and worked with their backs, minds and hearts. In effect it’s the seniors that have created the wealth and equity we see around this province and have already paid for their healthcare and deserve to get it without any more financial constraints.
“We made it and you were part of it. Please, don’t treat us as second-class citizens,” Young told Sultan.
Sultan replied he would love to live in that world; however, added the world Young described would have one quarter of the population demanding five per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) paid for by everybody else.
“I think if we put it to a vote, those other folks might have their own views. I think it’s unrealistic to think that a quarter of the population is not going to be asked to pay a significant portion of the health services,” Sultan said, adding the province has a huge number of citizens in B.C., and the percentages will grow from 15 per cent to be 25 per cent of the total population.
When Williams Lake resident George Atamanenko asked where Sultan sits on the Cariboo Memorial Hospital master plan being implemented, Sultan responded he is no expert on the local hospital.
“I have heard about it yesterday and today, that equipment is not as modern as it should be, that all of the hospital space is not being used, etc. etc. I think if Williams Lake needs an advocate in Victoria I will do my best, but you’ve got the feistiest raspy-voiced MLA advocating for you. Donna Barnett doesn’t stop until she’s done advocating, demanding and badgering people about getting the very best for Williams Lake,” Sultan said, adding he’ll be playing second fiddle to Barnett when it comes to advocating for this part of the world.
To Atamanenko’s query on increasing funding for health authorities, Sultan said the “magnitude” of the total health budget, $17 billion, is an ongoing major policy issue of the government.
“There’s no question that in these belt-tightening times, the health budget, as well as all the other ministries of government has been squeezed and squeezed again,” Sultan said, adding it’s his hope as the province comes out of the recession there will be more money to spend on health and the other ministries as well.