BRANDON -- "If the NDP is so worried about wait times, why did they make us wait for them to do something about it? I guess the first 12 years of NDP rule didn't count."

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/9/2011 (3664 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

NDP leader Greg Selinger speaks to the media outside the Brandon Regional Health Centre during a campaign announcement with Brandon NDP candidates Jim Murray, left, and Drew Caldwell, right.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN

NDP leader Greg Selinger speaks to the media outside the Brandon Regional Health Centre during a campaign announcement with Brandon NDP candidates Jim Murray, left, and Drew Caldwell, right.

BRANDON -- "If the NDP is so worried about wait times, why did they make us wait for them to do something about it? I guess the first 12 years of NDP rule didn't count."

"Six months too late for my family."

That was the reaction of two Free Press online readers shortly after Premier Greg Selinger's promise on Monday that a re-elected NDP government would make cancer wait times the shortest in Canada, provide faster cancer screening and testing, hire more cancer patient advocates and cover the full cost of cancer treatment and drugs for all patients.

That announcement was made minutes after Selinger promised a $12-million expansion of the Brandon Regional Health Centre's medical ward. Two days earlier, he promised a $4-million MRI machine for the Dauphin Regional Health Centre and a $2-million community health centre for Swan River.

The common thread to the four campaign pledges is that they were each made in western Manitoba ridings presently held by New Democrats -- Swan River, Dauphin and Brandon East -- that Team Selinger is in jeopardy of losing to strong Progressive Conservative candidates.

The announcements raise troubling questions about the NDP government's motivations and the extent to which they are willing to play politics with the health of Manitobans.

Dauphin's need for a MRI diagnostics has been known for quite some time. For the past several years, people living in Manitoba's Parkland region have been forced to travel to Brandon or Winnipeg -- often in dangerous driving conditions -- for their MRIs.

Selinger could have announced the funding for Dauphin's MRI machine in this spring's provincial budget. Instead, Parkland region residents have been forced to wait another six months so that Selinger could make the promise in support of Stan Struthers' re-election efforts.

Though the design deficiencies at the Brandon Regional Health Centre predate the 2007 election, Selinger's announcement coincides with the growing possibility that Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell may lose the seat to PC candidate Mike Waddell.

Unreasonably long cancer treatment wait times have been an issue during the NDP's entire 12 years in power, as has the high cost of new cancer medications.

Until this week, however, the NDP stubbornly resisted pleas and petitions by cancer patients and their families to cover the cost of cancer drugs that other provinces have provided to their citizens for several years.

That is the promise that really rubs Manitobans the wrong way. Fighting back tears, a Brandon widow who lost her husband to cancer three years ago told me, "When I heard Selinger's announcement about the cancer drugs, I wanted to throw up.

"My husband wasn't told about new drugs that might have helped him because they weren't available in Manitoba. But people in Ontario were getting them."

How many low-income Manitobans went without life-saving cancer medications they could not afford, simply because our government refused to provide them? How many would still be alive today if the government had made the commitment earlier in its mandate?

If the promise to pay for the cancer drugs had been made in the provincial budget six months ago, cancer patients would be receiving the medications right now. Instead, those patients are being told they must first vote for NDP candidates in order for that to happen.

If that isn't emotional blackmail, what is?

After 12 years of saying "no" to cancer patients and their families, did it take the palpable prospect of electoral defeat to convince the NDP to finally agree to give all Manitobans -- not just the rich ones who can pay for it themselves -- access to medications that many Canadians take for granted?

Or did they save this announcement for their re-election campaign -- deliberately depriving cancer-stricken Manitobans of the life-saving medications they desperately needed -- just so Selinger could play the hero before the election?

The last word goes to another Free Press reader, who wrote, "It's 'promises' like this that show electioneering for what it really is... They didn't think it was a big enough deal to bring forward a year ago... Unless they only thought of it two weeks ago, it's pretty cynical to make it part of a campaign platform."

 

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator based in Brandon.