VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) The BC NDP which doesn’t see why Vancouver tax payers should have to find the money for more help. That’s because funding for health care is a provincial responsibility.
The City of Vancouver is considering increasing property taxes by an extra 0.5 per cent in order to fill a $3.5-million contingency fund for combating the opioid overdose crisis. If passed as part of the 2017 budget, this would be in addition to a 3.4 per cent increase already planned. Vancouver’s fire department has been asking for more resources for the Downtown Eastside fire hall. It has seen a 111 per cent increase in overdose calls compared to last year.
In a perfect world, the NDP’s health critic says firefighters shouldn’t be have to respond to overdose calls. Paramedics should be and funding for them comes from the province. Judy Darcy says the amount spent there by the province isn’t enough. “I think it’s really shocking that we’ve come to the point where a municipal government has to raise taxes in order to take over a provincial responsibility. We have a really inadequate response from the province and it means that the responsibility for this opioid crisis is being downloaded onto municipalities, fire departments, the ambulance service… It’s time the province really stepped up.”
Darcy finds it hard to understand why there isn’t a larger financial response when the finance ministry is projecting a $2.24-billion dollar surplus for 2016.
Neither Health Minister Terry Lake nor Premier Christy Clark see it that way.
When asked about the idea of the property tax increase, Clark says we all have to do our part. “I haven’t seen the city’s budget. I do know that it includes $2-million to implement their vacancy tax and some other big budget items. I haven’t reviewed it in detail, but we all have to do our part. This is not something that one government can do on its own and the provincial government has invested heavily and we are going to continue to do that.”
A breakdown from the Ministry of Health on dedicated spending on the opioid overdose public health emergency includes:
- $5-million to form an overdose task force
- $5-million for BC Emergency Health Services
- $5.5-million from the Public Safety Ministry for a gangs and guns strategy
- $5-million for establishment of BC Centre on Substance Use
- $14.2-million on operating 220 treatment beds
- $4.42-million on extra health authority spending
- $1.18-million on public awareness campaign
- $1.1-million on BC Coroners Service
- $320,000 on Naloxone kits
- $750-thousand on community action initiative
This totals over $43-million in dedicated spending.
Lake says his ministry is taking this crisis seriously, but it’s not only a healthcare problem. “This is a society issue and we could point fingers, but as health minister, it’s important that we ensure people are being looked after and so we are doing an enormous amount. The City of Vancouver is stepping up and doing their share as communities across the province are… This is our problem as British Columbians and so communities are, in fact, very engaged.”
There is $5-million on the table for BC Emergency Health Services which can be used to hired more paramedics or upgrade equipment. Lake says they are looking at additional resources for BC Ambulance in the future. He was unable to say how many paramedics have been added in Vancouver since the public health emergency was declared in April. Lake says they are increasing shifts and personnel.