Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Strings on Selinger promise rankle

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FLIN FLON -- When Greg Selinger stopped by this rustic mining community shortly before the last provincial election, he knew Flin Flonners were largely on side with his NDP.

Now a pledge the premier made during that visit is causing some residents to wonder just how much the NDP is on side with them and the party's own values.

True to Selinger's word, the NDP government is preparing to spend $22 million on a new state-of-the-art emergency room for the aging Flin Flon General Hospital.

Unknown to most Flin Flonners until recently is a rather large catch: They are on the hook for millions of dollars worth of Selinger's campaign promise.

The NDP mandates new provincially supported health-care capital projects be partially funded by the host community. Communities pay 10 per cent of the tab up front ($2.2 million in Flin Flon's case) or, failing that, 20 per cent over 10 years ($4.4 million).

Northern Manitoba's health authority, the Northern Health Region, recently voted to establish a charitable foundation to fundraise for the new ER and future projects across the region.

But Flin Flonners like Thomas Heine worry that will be easier said than done.

Heine, a staunch health-care advocate, suspects there will be "a real reticence" among residents to financially support "something that should be funded provincially in its entirety."

Calling the fundraising requirement "almost beyond belief," Heine, who unsuccessfully ran for the Liberals in the last provincial election, worries the decree is a way for the NDP to renege on its promise of a new ER.

The NDP, of course, denies any plan to backtrack on its ER pledge, and points out that in the 16 years since the fundraising requirement was enacted, not a single community has failed to generate its share.

A spokesman for the province says the requirement "reflects that projects like the new Flin Flon ER are a shared investment between the community and the provincial government and allows communities to have a say and be involved in new health capital projects."

Now that's rich. Are we to believe the only way for the public to "have a say and be involved" in a health-care project is to pay for it twice, once with our tax dollars and again with our private dollars?

As for the notion the new ER is a "shared investment," it should be noted Selinger did not formally survey Flin Flonners to ask them what tops their health-care wish list.

Had he done so, and despite shortcomings with the current ER, it's quite likely options such as extra doctors and specialists, or additional diagnostic equipment, would have proven more desirable.

To be fair, the NDP did not invent the fundraising requirement for health-care projects. Other jurisdictions have similar prerequisites, and the Progressive Conservatives brought the concept to Manitoba.

But the fact the New Democrats, those pioneers of government-guaranteed health care, are comfortable with this policy has surprised many in the party stronghold of Flin Flon.

So far, no one is officially ready to contemplate the hard question of what will happen if the new northern charitable foundation's fundraising efforts fall flat. They should.

Though there are pockets of prosperity in our region, northern Manitobans are not, like my mother used to say, "made of money." In fact, the region has the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the province.

And if northerners are now digging into their pockets to cover government-mandated funding gaps in health care, will their service clubs, school athletic teams and cash-strapped churches suffer?

Flin Flon is not Winnipeg and north is not south. Extracting $2.2 million, $4.4 million or any other figure ending in "million" from this region is bound to carry unpleasant reverberations that communities will feel.

But, hey, at least we get to "have a say and be involved" in a project that may or may not be our priority as a community.


Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_ naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 A11

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