BC Liberals accused of playing politics with Burnaby Hospital committee

Burnaby Hospital - NEWSLEADER FILE
Burnaby Hospital
— image credit: NEWSLEADER FILE

New Democrats are accusing the BC Liberal government of political interference in the Burnaby Hospital Community Consultation Committee after releasing emails to the media between committee members.

As reported in the NewsLeader last spring, Burnaby council accused the committee's work of being a political exercise after it was learned its chair is Burnaby-Lougheed Liberal MLA Harry Bloy, its vice-chair is Burnaby-North Liberal MLA Richard Lee and its "citizen chair" is Pamela Gardner, a former Liberal riding president for Burnaby-Edmonds.

Meanwhile, invitations to join the 12-member committee were not extended to Burnaby City Hall, Burnaby-Deer Lake NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan, in whose riding the hospital is located, nor front-line nursing staff.

In one of the released emails, Gardner expressed surprise that Corrigan and B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix were not participating.

In an interview, Corrigan called the statement "quite ironic" adding, "The release of these emails demonstrate exactly why I chose not to participate."

The lack of invitations to non-Liberal-friendly politicians and groups "was a pretty obvious hint that this was a political endeavour and not truly an objective endeavour to make sure we get the best information for the hospital."

The committee's final report is being written by Sonya Sanguinetti, a retired lawyer and a former president of the B.C. Liberal Party.

In one email, Gardner said that Sanguinetti's report would include citizens' comments about the lack of resources for the hospital, especially compared to other hospitals in the health authority.

"She feels this isn't a reflection on the Liberal government but more on the Chair of Fraser Health. The government hires someone and has to trust they will do an equitable job. It's not the Liberals that force and continue to allow the citizens of Burnaby to suffer."

Another email referred to a submission from Kathy Corrigan's sister expressing a desire to see the hospital moved to the provincial property at Willingdon Avenue and Canada Way.

"Do we want someone to write a similar letter stating there are big problems with that?" Gardner wrote.

"You can't trust the report in any way because it's been manipulated and put together and the process obviously put together for partisan reasons, and very crassly so," Corrigan said.

She noted that the messages were sent to a number of personal email addresses, including that of Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, which would have prevented the correspondence from being accessible through Freedom of Information requests.

MacDiarmid said in an interview that a couple of people on the email list are friends who likely only had her personal email address.

"Certainly I think there was a good lesson here for me. I received an email on my personal email [address] but I should have let the people know that were involved that this is a work issue for me and to contact me through my work."

Others on the list were likely using their personal email addresses because their work on the committee was voluntary and not part of their jobs "but in the case of discussions about redevelopment of the hospital that's definitely part of my job," MacDiarmid said.

"I think it's a shame to say that report has no value and certainly I plan to look at it and read it, and I will forward it to Fraser Health Authority and I will make it public." As of Monday morning she had not yet received the report.

She said "hundreds" of citizens contributed submissions to the committee and stressed that while the consultation committee will provide input, it's Fraser Health that is leading the planning process for redevelopment of the hospital.

"Those are not things that politicians are directly involved in, nor should they be, because politicians, and laypeople as well, none of us have the expertise to actually do that."

Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow, one of the early critics of the committee, said "the whole thing was a sham when it was first put up" and "this was simply for show."

Volkow said he feels sorry for people who made an effort to contribute submissions and attend the committee's meetings.

"This is not going to be an objective report by any stretch of the imagination."

The chair of the committee, Harry Bloy, denied that it was a political exercise.

"There was absolutely no political interference and people have a right to express their own opinions. I didn't see anything in the emails. We had 12 citizens who totally volunteered their own time, they weren't getting paid for any of it, and they were working for a rejuvenated Burnaby Hospital, they were very passionate about what they were doing."

Bloy said committee members were from throughout the community and there was no bias.

"This committee does not make the decisions," he noted. "We listened and when you see the report you will see an accurate reflection of what we heard."

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