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B.C. premier tours southern Interior in bid to deepen rural connections

Transportation, health, and transportation to health top agenda as Eby reaches outside big centres
Premier David Eby said his government has “got a lot more work to do” in rural health care during a tour of the South Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary regions.

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff welcomed Premier David Eby’s visit to her community as part of tour through the South Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary regions of British Columbia.

“There are many complicated issues that all British Columbians are dealing with,” McKortoff said. “We always appreciate the chance to hear the Premier and (Boundary-Similkameen) MLA (Roly) Russell talk in person about rural issues. So having a meeting in the South Okanagan was important to us.

“Premier Eby needed to hear about local concerns from those of us dealing with them on a daily basis.”

Eby answered a wide range of questions during town hall held Friday (Oct. 20) in Osoyoos. He also visited nearby Oliver and Keremeos. On Saturday, he visited a flood-mitigation project in Grand Forks, participated in a roundtable discussion on watershed protection and met with regional leaders.

Eby said he found it valuable to hear directly from rural British Columbians about the challenges, which they are facing, and learn about ways to improve government.

Eby’s tour through the region happened almost exactly a month after his government had released what it called a new vision for rural British Columbia.

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Eby said his wife’s medical doctor residency at the Port McNeill Health Unit on northern Vancouver Island during the pandemic was “very instructive” because it revealed the unique gaps and challenges of rural communities.

“The strategy is about a few different things, but really it is about deepening connections between smaller communities and the rest of the province in a couple of different ways,” Eby said. They include improving connectivity through high-speed internet, more responsive policies designed by people in the rural regions where they live and better transportation.

“The rural MLAs said to me, ‘there are three issues right now, there is health care, there is transportation and then there is transportation for health care,’” he said.

While government has attracted more foreign-trained nurses and doctors to improve health care, Eby acknowledged that “we got a lot more work to do.”

He also acknowledged that government does not always have the best perspective, when it comes to health care and for that matter other issues.

“A lot of decisions get made up here and the reality is lived here and the people, who know the solution are here, and the people and who make the decisions are (up) here,” he said. “That disconnect between the two is a major issue.”

Decision-making that remains as close to the ground as possible avoids problems like doctors foregoing work at Oliver’s South Okanagan General Hospital in favour of work at Penticton Regional Hospital, he added.

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South Okanagan General Hospital is among three hospitals in rural B.C. no longer subject to a fee-for-service payment model. It saw physicians paid based primarily on the number of patients they treated during a day.

Eby also faced questions about small business, the impact of the short travel ban on communities like Osoyoos and the natural resource sector.

“Natural resource extraction is the backbone of most of our communities in rural B.C.,” Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said. “What is the government’s plan to create sustainability in these sectors? Logging and mineral extraction are in some ways under attack, in other ways they are struggling.”

Eby said his government has asked the federal government to extend the payment deadline for the Canada Emergency Business Account loans.

He also acknowledged that the travel ban caused a “huge financial hit” for not just hotels, but also associated businesses. “Right now, we are looking at ways that we can provide support to the industry and we recognize the community spirit with which the industry stepped up,” he said.

Responding to Coyne’s question, Eby said the forest industry is struggling with low prices, as well as the effects of wildfires, beetle kill and “frankly, mismanagement of our forests for a long time.” He said government is working on ways to get more value out of existing timber supplies.

“On the mining, the big challenge has been permitting processes,” he said. “It takes a really long time to open a new mine in B.C. ” Government has been working to reduce those times, “because a lot of the mines in B.C. produce the minerals we need to respond to climate change.”


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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