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NDP’s election focus is on health care

‘I keep my word, and I expect nothing less from the NDP candidates.”New Democrat leader Todd Hardy was talking via speakerphone at the…

‘I keep my word, and I expect nothing less from the NDP candidates.”

New Democrat leader Todd Hardy was talking via speakerphone at the Yukon Inn Tuesday, as nine candidates presented the NDP 2006 election platform.

The NDP released a five-point plan broad in scope but thin in detail.

It was eight pages long.

It promised a strong economy, a healthy environment and “successful, supportive communities,” including increasing the food allowance as the first step in a comprehensive anti-poverty action plan.

It promised expanded education and job training and an honest government that would hold a territorial referendum on electoral reform within three years.

But most of all, Hardy pushed better health care as the cornerstone of a New Democrat agenda.

“The NDP will guarantee a universal public health-care system,” said Hardy from his hospital bed in Vancouver, where he is receiving chemotherapy for leukemia.

Though ill, Hardy had no trouble slamming other governments for shortcomings in the health-care system.

Unlike the former Liberal government, which flirted with the idea of a private health clinic offering CAT scans, Hardy promised to forbid privatization of health care.

“You know the NDP position on that. You know my position on that.”

Before he was medevaced Outside and hospitalized in August, Hardy met with the Yukon Medical Association, the Yukon Registered Nurses Association and the Yukon Hospital Board to discuss the territory’s health-care needs, he said.

The four key elements are more health-care professionals, better funding and programming for education and prevention, collaboration between the various branches of health-care delivery and a holistic approach to medicine that considers First Nations’ traditional practices, he said.

The NDP would keep commitments the Yukon Party failed to keep, said Hardy.

“We will complete the Watson Lake and Dawson City multi-level care facilities.”

A palliative-care unit would be installed in the Thomson Centre, which the NDP would open as soon as possible.

“Not everything is about money,” said James McCullough, NDP candidate for Riverdale North, which includes the Thomson Centre and Whitehorse General Hospital.

“In order to see a specialist you need to have a family doctor because they won’t refer you to a specialist until they know there’s someone there to interpret the results,” he said.

“That leaves very many people unable to gain access to the people they need.

“That doesn’t take money to fix. That takes discussion with the medical association and the medical clinics to try and find a change in procedures to satisfy medical needs.”

Federal Liberals created the shortage of health-care professionals and hospice beds across Canada through cutbacks in the 1990s, said Hardy

“We’re now feeling the effects of that.”

The NDP would also implement a territory-wide ban on smoking inside any building that has public access or employees.

But youth are key to restoring the territory’s health-care system, he said.

So the NDP’s education platform meshes with its health-care promises.

“We need Yukon students to consider work in the health-care field while in high school or even elementary school,” said Hardy.

“We’ll try to encourage them to look at that, to go down that road, and then build on that and have them come back to serve the people of the territory.

“That’s a little bit longer term, but that’s what will pay the biggest dividend as our population ages.”

To do this, the NDP has also vowed to make the Yukon post-secondary education grant more accessible.

And once they’ve travelled Outside for medical training, students need incentives to return, he said.

If a central NDP initiative is built — a Yukon university — health-care students wouldn’t need to travel Outside for training, he noted.

The NDP health platform extends beyond medical services and into social intervention, specifically with a child-protection co-ordinator who would oversee Yukon social workers covering child custody files across the territory.

“That person would be totally dedicated to ensure the safety of the child and protection of the child,” said Hardy.

“There are just too many steps, and we’ve seen a few cases over the last few years that have been totally tragic, that could have been prevented if this position would have been in place.”

But can the Yukon afford the NDP plan?

There are no price tags attached to it.

“This is the direction that the NDP will go in if elected to government over the next five years,” said Hardy.

“It would be so unbelievably irresponsible to throw a dollar figure out there when the public has not even been engaged with that discussion to the extent that it needs to be.”

Health-care and environmental issues have become personal for Hardy since doctors told him his cancer is a product of his environment.

“It’s not genetic, my leukemia. Mine came from the environment.

“Something triggered my leukemia. I don’t know what.

“My doctors have talked about it. They’ve also talked about the number of people coming from the Yukon with leukemia in the last year and a half.

“They’re starting to look at the numbers because they’ve seen a lot more come down here.

“These are things that we should start paying attention to, and we haven’t been.”

Still, Hardy said he is feeling well and is itching to return home, but his doctors have forbidden him to leave.

“I ask them every single day, ‘Why do I have to sit here, why can’t I come home and sit?’” he said.

“I’m feeling good. That’s what’s so frustrating.”