Rural caucus listen to Burns Lake issues

It was an opportunity for local government and community groups to discuss issues, and have them heard.

Members of the rural caucus met with the Village of Burns Lake’s mayor and council last week to discuss local issues. Caucus member Donna Barnett

Members of the rural caucus met with the Village of Burns Lake’s mayor and council last week to discuss local issues. Caucus member Donna Barnett

It was an opportunity for local government and community groups to discuss issues, and have them heard.

Members of the provincial government’s rural caucus arrived in Burns Lake last week and met with several groups including the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, mayor and council of the Village of Burns Lake and Rotary Club of Burns Lake.

The caucus also took an hour long tour of the Lakes District Hospital.

The rural caucus comprises of MLA for Cariboo Chilcotin and caucus chair Donna Barnett, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, John van Dongen MLA for Abbotsford South, as well as Lorne Mayencourt, director of outreach.

Currently the caucus is traveling throughout the province gathering information on local issues and working towards developing solutions to address those issues.

Van Dongen said to Lakes District News that it is the goal of the caucus to take the issues and present them to the government

“Some issues are easier to fix than others,” he said.

Each group met with the caucus at scheduled times. During the Village of Burns Lake’s meeting mayor Bernice Magee discussed the changes that she feels need to be made to the education of medical students so that there is more focus put on servicing rural needs.

“There is limited exposure for rural communities and we are unable to attract physicians and nurses to the community,” she said.

“It is the role of the caucus to work with the ministries and there needs to be a change in the direction of the curriculum,” mayor Magee added.

Rustad said that it is the goal of Moira Stilwell [from the B.C. Liberal Party] to get together with a number of rural doctors to talk about the issues and find a strategy the government and doctors can both support.

“The challenge is the College of Physicians and Surgeons, because they set the standards,” Rustad said,

“It is a big issue and one that I have been watching for 20 years,” said Barnett.

She went on to say that she feels the blame should not just fall on the shoulders of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, rather that the government also has to step up to the plate in order for changes to be made.

She said there needs to be more opportunities for students to complete their practicum in rural areas.

“It’s a challenge and it’s one that we face throughout the whole province of British Columbia,” she added.

Van Dongen said the caucus had also recently met with groups in Smithers. “Did you know there are currently 28 doctors in Smithers?,” he asked.

“That number fluctuates,” Rustad added.

“In the old days general practitioners did obstetrics,” van Dongen said, adding that it is his understand that rural communities need doctors that are qualified to anesthetize patients.

Rustad went on to say, “The problem [with obstetrics] is that sometimes a low risk patient will have challenges and when you live one and a half hours away from help it is a risk, so rural doctors are reluctant to do any obstetrics and that is a problem.”

“Everywhere we go we hear the same story,” Barnett added.

“Rather than just complaining about it, we need to deal with it,” mayor Magee said.

With limited time scheduled for the discussion, councillors and village chief administrative officer Sheryl Worthing also brought up several other issues.

Worthing said to the caucus that it is a requirement for public works staff who are operating the water and waste water systems for the village to have a level two qualification in the environmental operators certification program (EOCP) water distribution and EOCP wastewater treatment.

“It takes 2,000 hours to just qualify to do the test, so it is difficult to get our employees trained and certified. It takes seven years for one employee to work towards the certification, then a week long test and writing an exam,” she said.

Worthing went on to explain that it is more difficult for small communities because the public works crew are not dedicated just to one area of expertise, as they are in larger communities. She said that a public works crew member may spend two hours a day working on water treatment, a few hours picking up garbage and another few plowing snow. “We don’t have the need for a 24/7 sewer operator,” she said.

Worthing asked the caucus if there is a possibility that the minimum requirements could be changed to better suit smaller communities.

“It is a big issue for smaller communities. I know the chief administrative officer in 100 Mile House is looking to share the cost of a salary with other municipalities. They would hire one person with the qualifications and share the expense. Once someone becomes certified [with EOCP level two] the cost is absorbent,” Barnett said.

“They are experts once they finish the course, you’ve paid the bill then they leave,” she added.

Rustad said that the Ministry of Forests and Natural Resource Operations set the standards in legislation and created a body that oversees the legislation [B.C. Wastewater Association]. “The legislation was probably done decades ago,” he added.

“We need standards and the question is should set standards be different for community A with a population of 10,000 as opposed to community B with a population of 2,500? It is not going to be easy,” he said.

“We first brought this up in 2006 [at Union of British Columbia Municipalities] and we are not seeing any change,” Worthing said.

Mayor Magee added, “This is dragging on, we need to see some changes.”

Councillor John Illes also brought up a number of issues including the Service B.C. agent transfer from Burns Lake to Vanderhoof, the fact that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure no longer has any employees working directly from Burns Lake and that he feels there is a need for a hospital administrator to be employed at the Lakes District Hospital.

Mayor Bernice Magee also asked for the 40 per cent requirement that the community has to pay for the proposed new hospital to be decreased.

“We need to move away from the 40 per cent traditional capital cost requirement. Forty per cent won’t happen,” she said.

John Rustad said that one of the problems in raising the 40 per cent from the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District is that 50 per cent of the area is comprised of First Nations who are not part of the tax base.

“I wouldn’t say 50 per cent … more like one-third of the population,” said Coun. Eileen Benedict.

“Yes, but First Nations use 50 per cent of the services,” Magee responded.

All of the concerns brought forward to the rural caucus by Burns Lake groups and local government will be discussed with the full caucus in the coming months.

Barnett said the goal of the rural caucus is to help the government work better for all British Columbians.