Wednesday marked the first day of regular business in the New Brunswick legislature since Blaine Higgs won a Progressive Conservative majority government Sept. 14.
It didn’t take long for the parties to exchange jabs during question period. One of the focuses for the opposition Liberals was health care.
Interim leader Roger Melanson called for details on a plan to address health care that was referenced Tuesday.
“Your plan… That you said in the speech from the throne yesterday… Table it! Table it and we can see; everybody can see it!” Melanson said to Higgs.
There’s no doubt health care is an important issue — and one that people are passionate about.
When the Tories tried to implement health reforms in February and reduce hours at several rural emergency rooms, they were met with uproar from the impacted communities.
But the challenges within the system aren’t going away; if anything, they could worsen with more doctors and nurses retiring — and not enough replacements coming in. Recruitment of medical professionals has been a chronic issue for New Brunswick and other Canadian jurisdictions.
“We really need to move forward by having a provincial plan,” says Dr. Jeff Steeves, an opthalmologist in Rothesay. “The government addressed it I think by calling it an action plan; that was their wording. But to look at how we can best utilize human resources within their areas of excellence and abilities.”
That’s something Higgs has also stated in the past two days — that the province must look at how it can improve services with the resources New Brunswick already has.
But details on any health reforms need to be made public, says the official Opposition.
“The premier needs to be open, transparent… And when he makes it public, that famous plan that he says in his throne speech yesterday that exists, we will look at it and see what that is,” Melanson says. “Today, we don’t know.”
During question period Wednesday, Dorothy Shephard, the province’s health minister, says the plan is to consult with communities and medical professionals within the next six months.
“We’re going to deliver on meaningful, progressive change,” she said in the legislature. “That change can only come when the community is at the centre of what we want to deliver — and how we want to deliver it. They need to help us make those decisions.”
But Green Party MLA Megan Mitton, who represents Memramcook-Tantramar, says the key will be how consultation happens.
“Members of my community and members of the committee who have come together to work on this have said, ‘We want to be part of creating the consultation process so that we make sure we have a say, we make sure that the right players are there,'” Mitton says.
Higgs highlighted the St. Joseph’s hospital focusing on surgeries as an example of how hospitals could specialize in certain services.
“We have thoughts, I’m sure the health authorities will have thoughts on how they can give better results,” he told reporters. “Because the whole hip and knee thing was something that the health authorities said, ‘If we focus on our efforts here, we could improve our service to customers’… So how many more of those opportunities exist?”