Two letters from Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad to Minister of Finance Kevin Falcon and Minister of Health Mike de Jong caused a stir in council chambers last week.
The petition and accompanying letter regarding the inclusion of an operating room in the proposed new Lakes District Hospital were given to Rustad to present to the province after a recent community meeting with Northern Health.
In his letters to the ministers, Rustad lists the population of Burns Lake as 2,500 and areas B and E of the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako as a combined population of 3942 however Coun. Eileen Benedict said the figures were misrepresenting the total population that is served by the hospital.
“We calculate the figures to be over 10,000 people,” she said.
Councillor Benedict, who also sits on the Lakes District Health Advisory Board (LDHAC) said she was disappointed that these figures were presented to the ministry.
“When I read this I was disappointed, It appears to not be that big of a population, it is a shame that he referred to the numbers,” she said.
She added that council should consider writing a letter to each of the two ministers stating the actual population the hospital serves for clarification.
Mayor Bernice Magee suggested it would be better to speak to Rustad and have him correct the population numbers himself.
“He’s laid it out [the letter] and he’s presenting it [to the legislature], he would just have to say Mr. Speaker I made a gross error when reporting the population numbers served by the hospital,” mayor Magee said.
Councillors agreed unanimously that a letter should be written to Rustad asking him to make the correction.
Lakes District News spoke with Rustad about the source of the population figures.
He said he took the figures straight off the cover letter that was given to him with the petition.
“The figures in the letters I presented to the minsters were based on the figures I was presented by LDHAC,” he said.
He went on to say, “It is not up to me to change the numbers on the petition, it would be up to LDHAC, as this is what I was presented.”
Rustad added that he had already met with the Minister of Health and would soon be meeting with the Minister of Finance as well.
“I will be stressing that the numbers are higher than presented when I speak to them again,” he said.
Rustad suggested that the population numbers in the petition were most probably calculated lower because they didn’t include Granisle and the surrounding areas of Burns Lake that the hospital services.
Rustad also added that he had previously had a brief discussion with Premier Christy Clark about the project.
He also said he has plans to discuss the 40 per cent funding requirement imposed on the area with the ministers. “I will be arguing strongly that the 40 per cent component be reduced significantly,” he added.
Councillor Benedict later said to Lakes District News that as a member of LDHAC herself, she knows the group did not write the letter or organize the petition that was given to Rustad.
“If there was a letter that went with the petition it didn’t come from LDHAC, the petition was not part of LDHAC,” she said, adding that it was organized by community member Joan McFee.
“LDHAC has always said the hospital services 10,000 plus people, which includes the areas of Granisle, Fraser Lake and Topley,” Coun. Benedict added.
When Lakes District News spoke to McFee about the source of the population statistics presented in her letter that accompanied the petition she said she has previously taken the figures straight off the Village of Burns Lake website.
“I didn’t think they were entirely accurate, but this is where I got the figures from,” she added.
Stephanie Beerling, Village of Burns Lake deputy director of corporate services said, “The population of the municipality is not currently displayed on the Village of Burns Lake website, however it soon will be.”
When asked by Lakes District News if the statistics were ever included on the village website, Beerling said the official comment is that any population figures are not currently displayed.
The village have also recently written a separate letter to Statistics Canada requesting local First Nations population figures be included as part of the population for Burns Lake.
The village said in the letter, that combined there is a total of 2,966 people living within the municipal boundaries, rather than the 2,107 presented in the 2006 statistics produced by Statistics Canada.
The village are requesting First Nations be included in the head count as a large amount of grant funding is missed out on due to the under reporting of actual population estimates.
The letter was signed by Grace Duncan, representing Lake Babine Nation, mayor Magee and it is also being forwarded to Chief Albert Gerow of the Burns Lake Band for signing as well.