In a week of sweltering temperatures in British Columbia, the NDP government is also facing heat from Kamloops opposition B.C. Liberal MLAs over an election campaign promise to build a cancer centre in the city within its four-year mandate.
That commitment now appears to be attached to a 10-year window — two or more provincial elections away.
Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone called it the “height of political hypocrisy.”
“I think he [Premier John Horgan] should apologize to the people of Kamloops and I think he should find a way to rebuild the trust with folks here on this project,” Stone said, telling KTW the premier has passed his campaign promise to Health Minister Adrian Dix, who is now offering vague timelines in the next decade.
In October 2020, a week before the provincial election, Horgan appeared at a press conference at Thompson Rivers University. There, he promised that an NDP government would build a cancer centre in Kamloops within its four-year mandate upon being elected.
As quoted by KTW and other media at the press conference, Horgan said of his cancer centre pledge: “The services will be prepared and delivered within the mandate of the next government, absolutely,”
Stone noted that promise was later reaffirmed by the premier during a Feb. 5 interview on Radio NL. Stone said the premier in that interview went a step further, claiming the Treasury Board was looking at project costs. Treasury Board review is a “critical stage” in a capital project, Stone said, one that reflects government prioritization.
“But ever since he said that in February, the premier has been silent on the matter, referring to his health minister, Adrian Dix, to comment — and Dix has been very consistent in saying, ‘No, no, no, no. We’re committed to a cancer centre in Kamloops as part of our 10-year cancer plan,’” Stone said.
Both Stone and Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar questioned the timeline last week during budget estimate meetings in Victoria.
Stone said the premier’s estimates were taking place in one room, while the health ministry’s estimates were taking place in another. Stone pushed Dix, while Milobar queried Horgan.
“I went in and asked Adrian Dix on the record if the premier’s commitment to the four-year timeframe was still intact or whether it was the 10-year timeframe that he had consistently mentioned as health minister,” Stone said.
“He confirmed for me that it’s the 10-year time frame. At the same time, the premier confirmed for Peter that it indeed is a 10-year timeframe, not four years.”
Stone called a 10-year-plan “notional,” with two additional provincial elections to occur and plenty of time for plans to change. He said in order for the four-year timeframe to be met, the project would need to have been approved through Treasury Board, be subject to a detailed project design, involve negotiations with the hospital district for a site location and include working with Royal Inland Hospital Foundation to top up fundraising before beginning procurement.
Kamloops Mayor and Thompson Regional Hospital District chair Ken Christian said he spoke to BC Cancer in the last month, but noted no timelines have been provided.
Christian clarified that a cancer clinic complete with diagnostics and chemotherapy exists in Kamloops and it “irks” him when people say the city doesn’t have cancer care, as it is a disservice to workers. He said radiation oncology is missing and discussion is underway with BC Cancer on the potential reuse of hospital space or a standalone facility for that service and creation of a one-stop cancer clinic.
Currently, patients requiring radiation treatment must travel to Kelowna.
Royal Inland Hospital’s phase three expansion plans now include cancer care and Christian said he has asked for it to be fast-tracked.
Another issue is funding.
“All of that is in the works and all of that is up for discussion,” Christian said. “It’s not my concern whether it was a promise made or a promise broken. My concern is that residents of Kamloops and the area are using fully 40 per cent of the amount of radiation oncology available in Interior Health and so it strikes me then that, when you get up to that kind of a percentage load in Kelowna, you best decant some of those patients out here, which would actually be better for Kelowna and it would be much better for us.”
Coun. Dale Bass said the government needs to stick to its promise. She noted a previous failed promise by the NDP to build a cancer centre in Kamloops. In the 1991 provincial election campaign, NDP Leader Mike Harcourt promised Kamloops a cancer centre. Upon forming government, the NDP decided to put the cancer clinic in Kelowna.
“They promised us a cancer clinic … there are people today and tomorrow making the drive to Kelowna for radiation treatment,” Bass said. “There will be people driving Monday to Friday or riding the bus when it comes back, for weeks, months and, apparently, years still, because they are breaking their promise.”
Bass — a cancer survivor who spoke at Horgan’s press conference last year — travelled in Kelowna for several weeks of radiation treatment. Between pickup, treatment and drop-off, the days started at 6 a.m. and ended at about 3 p.m. — nine hours of travel and waiting for a five-minute treatment, she said.
Though she touted Kelowna staff, Bass described the process as exhausting and stressful and she worries about Kamloops seniors continuing to make the trek.
Christian said out-of-town radiation is so inconvenient that some cancer patients opt against the treatment, leading to their situations worsening.
Coun. Sadie Hunter ran for the BC NDP in the last provincial election and lost by a slim margin to incumbent Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar.
Hunter said the need in Kamloops has not changed, but noted projects of such magnitude take time.
“The need for that service in Kamloops hasn’t changed and I am confident that the provincial government will follow through,” Hunter said. “The commitment they made was that they would bring the cancer clinic here within the next term, so within the next four years. It hasn’t even been a year yet.”
KTW has reached out to the provincial government for comment.
In response to Milobar’s questioning last week, the premier said in a recording of debate in the legislature: “We made a commitment to the people of Kamloops to build a cancer centre there, so they did not have to go to Kelowna to get the services they so desperately need. I appreciate this as a cancer survivor, the importance of this, and I’m committed to the region to make this happen.
“We have a 10-year cancer plan that is not exclusively capital. It’s a range of other policy and program initiatives. That’s what the minister [Health Minister Adrian Dix], I believe, is referring to. I’m not there, I haven’t read the blues, I can’t confirm that. What I can confirm is the concept stage is underway, which is part of our capital deliberations, and if that was misunderstood by the people of Kamloops, I will go on NL and make that retraction. I will not retract my commitment to the people and to build this project, so they can get the services they need. That’s what I said and that’s what we’re going to do.”