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Four elected parties, one common vision: improve health care

While many New Brunswickers are still confused over the outcome of the recent election and are wondering who will end up leading the province, I see an opportunity. No matter who ultimately forms government, we have an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration and finding common ground. There are 49 elected MLAs who can and should work together on comparable platform promises, namely on improving health care.

While the four elected parties — the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, Green Party and Peoples Alliance — may disagree on certain policies, their platforms suggest they all have a strong desire to improve our province’s health-care system, a desire the New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS) certainly shares.

During the election campaign, three of the four elected parties called for the elimination of billing numbers, a system that controls where, and how many, physicians can work in the province. Furthermore, all elected parties made pledges in their platforms to support the recruitment of more physicians and other medical staff such as nurses, nurse practitioners and paramedics. These are important issues that MLAs of all stripes should be able to support and find common ground on.

Minority governments have worked before. In fact, some of our most cherished policies were brought in by these governments. In the 1960s, under Lester B. Pearson’s minority administration, the federal government introduced the new Canadian flag, the Canadian Pension Plan, official bilingualism, and of course, universal healthcare.

When New Brunswick economist David Campbell spoke at the NBMS annual general meeting a few weeks ago, he warned that because of our current economic and demographic challenges, the next five years of policy could be among the most important for many years to come. Putting politics aside and focusing on people, the 49 elected representatives of New Brunswick can address our shrinking economy, growing debt, and overburdened health-care system.

During the lead up to the 2018 New Brunswick election, the NBMS released our own platform for improving health care, called Smarter Health Care. In total, we saw parties pledge more than 150 campaign commitments relating to heath care and the wellness of New Brunswickers. We were pleased to see that 45 of these commitments directly aligned with our Smarter Health Care campaign.

No matter which party winds up forming government, the four parties represented in the legislature will have to work together. This is an opportunity for an innovative, collaborative government to support innovative and collaborative approaches to health care. While parties have different proposals to tackle issues such as emergency room wait times and the shortage of family physicians, they are championing the same issues. All parties recognize the need to recruit more specialists, which means it should be possible for legislation to be agreed upon to address these issues.

Multiple public opinion polls have stated that health care was among the most important issues for voters in this past election. The 49 elected representatives were given the mandate to improve health care, by focusing on the recruiting and retaining of doctors, the reduction of emergency room wait times, and filling the much-needed specialist positions. They were given a mandate to further our province’s efforts in preventative care and healthy lifestyle education. They were given a mandate by New Brunswickers to ensure that we have access to timely and effective care.

The next few weeks will be interesting as we learn which party will lead our province. No doubt there will be more challenges as government winds its way through this somewhat uncharted territory. However this ends up, on behalf of the NBMS, I call on all elected MLAs to put forth every effort to maintain a functioning government with a vision and mission to address the challenges that our health-care system is facing.

Dr. Serge Melanson, MD, CCFP-EM, is an emergency room physician and president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.