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VIBERT: Nova Scotia's Liberals bar doctors from health committee

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

Stick a fork in it, folks. It’s done.

“It” is the Nova Scotia legislature’s health committee. It is a ruse, a ploy, a gimmick, a cruel hoax perpetrated on Nova Scotians by a Liberal government desperate to show concern for health care, but unwilling to permit a discouraging word on the subject.

The Liberals clearly recognize that they are politically vulnerable on health care. Their strategy to manage the liability is to stifle all discussion that might cast the government in an unfavourable light.

That’s getting dangerously close to stifling all debate save the utterly banal.

This week, the Liberal majority refused to allow doctors to come before the health committee to talk about physicians’ working conditions. In case it’s escaped your notice — as the government hopes it has — there are a bunch of unhappy docs out there.

So, excuse the repetition, but the Nova Scotia legislature has a standing committee on health that won’t hear what doctors have to say.

Nor will it hear from paramedics. Ambulances are in short supply because they’re lined up waiting to offload patients at overcrowded emergency rooms. But the Liberals defeated a motion to discuss emergency health services at the committee.

It is a safe bet that the real problems in health care and the topics the Liberals plan to block from committee consideration are the same list.

So, why bother with this charade?

Chester-St. Margarets Liberal MLA Hugh MacKay’s justification for keeping doctors away bordered on the absurd.

The Liberal agenda items, which passed easily, included hearing from senior bureaucrats about redevelopment plans for the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax and hospitals in industrial Cape Breton.

MacKay maintained — aloud, mind you — that the hospitals’ redevelopment, now in the planning stages and years from completion, somehow answers doctors’ concerns about their working conditions. At least, that’s what he seemed to be saying:

“One of the things we look forward to with the QEII redevelopment and Cape Breton health-care facilities redevelopment is that we are going to create the working conditions that will be attractive (to doctors) . . . so it’s our contention that physician working conditions will be covered quite well in discussions here through the topics, the Cape Breton and QEII redevelopment.”

No, he wasn’t kidding.

The Liberals defeated Tory health critic Karla MacFarlane’s motion to call a group of doctors to the committee, that the group include Antigonish surgeon Jeannie MacGillivray, and that the doctors be invited to talk about current physicians’ working conditions in Nova Scotia.

MacFarlane wants MacGillivray at the committee because the popular Antigonish doctor has a story Nova Scotians should hear.

MacGillivray had hoped to alter her work schedule to bring more balance to her life. The Nova Scotia Health Authority was having none of it and took the unprecedented step of issuing a news release “for clarity and context” about MacGillivray leaving her practice in Antigonish.

The authority’s treatment of Dr. MacGillivray seems in stark contrast to the lifestyle promises it makes to physicians it is trying to recruit to Nova Scotia.

“In Nova Scotia, you get world-class professional opportunities balanced with a truly satisfying lifestyle,” reads the health authority’s come-on to doctors thinking of relocating to Nova Scotia. “With 41 hospitals across the province, it’s easy to practice where you play. Making life here incomparably rewarding.”

MacGillivray’s situation raises the question: Why is the health bureaucracy more concerned with attracting new doctors than keeping those already here?

“It is our understanding that Dr. MacGillivray plans to pursue a new opportunity outside NSHA,” the authority said in its release, despite knowing full well that the doctor’s first choice is, and always was, to stay and work in Antigonish, her hometown.

Having succeeded in blocking doctors from the committee, the Liberals flexed their majority muscle again to ensure that problems in the province’s emergency departments aren’t aired before the committee. They defeated an NDP motion to hear from paramedics and emergency health officials about over-crowded emergency departments and ambulances tied up waiting to offload.

A committee that won’t listen to doctors and won’t listen to paramedics is not a health committee. It’s a Liberal political gambit. Nothing less but certainly nothing more.

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