NDP leader Adrian Dix is going out swinging.
After avoiding personal attacks in last year’s provincial election, the outgoing leader of the B.C. New Democrats is no longer mincing words about Liberal government policy on education and health care.
“The premier and the government are lying about key issues in public education and this has to stop…it can start by bargaining in good faith,” Dix said Monday during a visit to Campbell River.
But that remark was just a slap compared to the next verbal punch regarding health care policy which allows contracting out and mass layoffs at care homes, like at New Horizons in Campbell River.
“It’s stupid health care policy!” Dix stated.
Dix was at the office of North Island MLA Claire Trevena where he met with union representatives from New Horizons, members of the Campbell River and District Teachers’ Association, local hospital district representative Brenda Leigh, and School District 72 Board Chair Michele Babchuk.
His strongest criticism was aimed at the Liberal policy which allows contracting out at privately-owned care facilities. On Dec. 30, the owners of New Horizons – Park Place Seniors Living of Vancouver – handed layoff notices to all 120 employees.
The company intends to contract out operations management to another company when the current contract expires with the Health Employees’ Union at the end of April. Current workers can reapply for their jobs and have the first right of refusal, but it’s expected that if they’re rehired they will receive less money, fewer benefits and will lose seniority.
Dix called the move “unbelievably heartbreaking” for the employees and characterized the layoffs “unbelievably disrespectful” to the workers and the residents who are mostly senior citizens.
Park Place is doing the same thing at a care home in Duncan and Dix said this disrupts the lives of the residents and will deter future workers from entering the field. It’s a “foolhardy public policy,” he added, because B.C.’s faced with an aging population which will require more care facilities and workers.
As well, Dix said, allowing more private operators and contractors will escalate health care costs, “We’re moving in the wrong direction.”
However, he is encouraged by the 6,000-plus names on the petition supporting New Horizons employees which Trevena recently presented in the Legislature. His hope is that growing unrest in B.C. will pressure the government to rethink its policy on contracting out.
However, he doesn’t seem as hopeful for some sort of settlement between the government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. He rehashed the recent history of failed policies overturned by the courts and then re-enacted under new policies.
And now teachers are threatening strike action as the two sides continue to move in separate directions. Dix said the main issues are class size – too many – and class composition – more students with special our unique needs who don’t receive the support they require.
This is leading to “unteachable classrooms,” Dix said.
The teachers are also not optimistic about a negotiated settlement.
“My greatest fear is this government doesn’t care,” said Elaine Thompson, president of the local teachers’ association.
But Dix encouraged the union leaders to remain optimistic and to continue pressuring the government.
“The idea that we can’t do these things is so pessimistic…I can’t believe the Liberals are promoting this. I bet we can do these things,” he said.
Dix is stepping down as the party leader following last year’s election loss. A leadership convention will take place later this year.