A provincial Liberal government would spend at least $1.5 million a year to provide free ambulance service for seniors making less than $20,000 a year.

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This article was published 17/3/2016 (2046 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A provincial Liberal government would spend at least $1.5 million a year to provide free ambulance service for seniors making less than $20,000 a year.

That was the pledge from leader Rana Bokhari in a 15-minute foray into public view Thursday, her only public event in what so far has been a low-key start to the campaign for the party which had only one sitting MLA.

Bokhari appeared more in command Thursday than she did on Wednesday, the initial day of the formal campaign, even though again she was a few minutes late and again didn't answer all questions. More confident, Bokhari didn't preface responses with, "Um, you know what..." as she did several times Wednesday.

Her ambulance announcement came at an Osborne Village street corner in the Fort Rouge riding Bokhari is contesting. Backed by six candidates --- again, not introduced to the media --- Bokhari said seniors should not have to choose between paying for food and rent, or paying for an ambulance when they're in crisis.

"I can't tell you how many have said to me, 'I'm taking a cab, I'm having a heart attack,' " she said.

Bokhari could not say how many Manitoba seniors make less than $20,000 a year. "I don't have an exact number," she said, but indicated the free-ambulance policy would be a priority with her government.

"It would definitely be something we should do immediately," she said.

Bokhari said under the Liberal plan, ambulance bills would go directly to the province, without the seniors paying a penny. The Liberals estimate it would cost $1.5 million a year, though that figure is based on current usage, when some seniors are being deterred from calling an ambulance because of cost.

As for seniors proving they qualify, Bokhari said, "income taxes, there's different ways you can figure out what someone is making."

Seniors welcome anything that eases their financial burden and provides more equitable access, Jim Evanchuk, executive director of the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Manitoba, said in an interview.

"I'm sure a lot of people would be reluctant" to call an amublance because of the cost, Evanchuk said. Free service for low-income people would enable good health choices, he said: "That would encourage people to make the right moves."

Seniors would need education to ensure they are eligible for the free service and use it only when necessary, he noted. "There have to be clear parameters."

Bokhari said Thursday's announcement was not intended to address concerns over the high cost of an ambulance ride, but she is aware the charge for ambulance rides in Manitoba can be $500 or more: "That is absolutely on the table. We're thinking about the entire province," she said.

And that was it for the day as far as public press conferences. Bokhari had lunch with Mayor Brian Bowman, visited the offices of the Downtown BIZ, and had individua media interviews lined up.

The Liberal website lists 35 candidates, but Bokhari said in an interview that 53 have been nominated, and the Liberals will run someone in all 57 ridings. The party website is not up-to-date in listing details of nomination meetings in every riding, she said.

Bokhari and Liberal campaign officials said there have been no invitations so far for all-candidates' debates in her Fort Rouge riding, which includes high-profile NDP candidate Wab Kinew, Tory Audrey Gordon, Green Grant Sharp, and independent Matthew Ostrove.

The Liberals expect Bokhari to have another policy announcement Friday morning, and to unveil her financial plan Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca