Hospital promises

All-candidates meeting for Parksville Qualicum Beach happens without B.C. Liberal candidate

Parksville Qualicum B.C. Conservative candidate David Coupland

Weeks away from the opening of the $17 million Oceanside Health Centre, provincial election candidates are talking about a hospital for the Parksville Qualicum constituency.

A member of the audience at an all-candidates forum Sunday asked for direct answers from Barry Avis (NDP) and David Coupland (Conservatives) regarding improved health services for the region. The candidates were asked to answer if they will, or will not, fight for a hospital in their first year of office if elected. Both Avis and Coupland said “I will,” but both put caveats on their answers when interviewed by The NEWS after the meeting.

“Not a hospital,” said Avis. “The plan from (a 2004 report) was not a large hospital, a small hospital, 30-beds. And not in the first year. I’ve talked with (NDP Leader) Adrian (Dix) and I’ve talked with (NDP health critic) Mike Farnworth and they say they are willing to support me on having that facility (the OHC) get to the point where the local residents are happy with the service they are getting and I think of that as a small hospital.”

Coupland also clarified his response after the meeting. “What I meant was emergency care facility —  transitioning to a hospital.”

During their responses to the question from the floor during the meeting, Avis suggested a first step to improving health services here would be to have better equipped — called Level 3 — ambulances in Parksville Qualicum Beach. Avis called the ambulances “basically an emergency room on wheels.”

Coupland, a radiologist who has worked in the health care field in the Mid-Island region for 17 years, disagreed with that characterization.

“An ambulance is not an emergency room on wheels, let’s be clear about that,” he said.

B.C. Liberal candidate Michelle Stilwell did not attend the forum, which was attended by about 100 people at the Knox United Church and sponsored by the Oceanside Coalition for Integral Care Advocacy.

Stilwell’s camp said the candidate was attending an event at the Child Development Centre in Nanaimo and Sunday’s moderator Kay Howard said Stilwell indicated in early April she would not be able to attend Sunday’s forum. (The NEWS erred in reporting Thursday that all candidates had been confirmed for Sunday’s forum. All three were confirmed for last night’s forum at the Parksville civic centre — see Thursday’s edition of The NEWS for a report on that meeting.)

Stilwell’s absence Sunday did not go unnoticed by members of the audience or Avis, who noted Stilwell was also absent from an all-candidates forum recently at The Gardens in Qualicum Beach.

“This isn’t the first time it’s only been David and I sitting here,” said Avis. “I just wanted to point that out.”

For the most part Sunday, aside from the talk of the hospital, Coupland and Avis stuck to the same answers they have been giving for the last two months in response to questions about the province’s finances, resources, health care, skills training and the environment.