British Columbia North Coast MLA, Jennifer Rice spoke with The Northern View on Jan. 7, 2021, at a proper social distancing length to explain the goals and focuses in the riding and for the provincial government for the upcoming year. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

British Columbia North Coast MLA, Jennifer Rice spoke with The Northern View on Jan. 7, 2021, at a proper social distancing length to explain the goals and focuses in the riding and for the provincial government for the upcoming year. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Exclusive Interview: Health care is primary focus in the North Coast riding for 2021

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said small to medium-sized businesses are also a priority

Realistic expectations and goal tempering are needed in the new year in terms of what can be accomplished, Jennifer Rice MLA for the North Coast said, on Jan 7th, because we are still in the middle of a pandemic.

“The response to the pandemic is my top goal. As my first priority would be, it is making sure people get the health care that they need,” the MLA told The Northern View in an exclusive interview.

While realizations from last year are now being put into action, Rice said it’s about getting health care closer to home and meeting people where they are at.

“We have, here in the north coast, so many outlying communities and villages. They don’t have hospitals yet, for example in Hartley Bay. So, how do we deliver health care in a timely way to all British Columbians regardless of where they live? So that’s kind of the theme. It’s all really around health,” Rice said of the 2021 goals and focus in the riding and throughout the province.

More resources are being put towards long term health care and senior care, Rice said, with the provincial government health care plan having three main goals.

“Faster care is number one, (two) care closer to home and (three) more personalized care,” Rice said, “while focussing on training, recruiting, and certifying more skilled healthcare professionals. We are working with various colleges and universities around training more professionals.”

Rice said across the province Urgent Primary Care Centres have been opening. These are clinics that are open after hours and have a breadth of professionals working at them to ensure patient care.

Another thing very important to talk about Rice said is the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It gives us a lot of hope. We’re getting more vaccines a lot quicker than we expected. So that’s really good news,” she said.

“It’s still gonna be a while. We still have to hold the line. We still have to wear a mask and wash our hands. We still have to limit our contact with people, but we didn’t expect such a quick arrival of the vaccine. So it’s great. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Rice explained that the vaccine may not be available to the public in Prince Rupert for a couple of months because the primary focus is being given to frontline health care workers, long-term care residents, and seniors, as well as rural and remote locations without hospitals where treatment can be obtained.

Hartley Bay is an example of this, Rice said.

“Hartley Bay’s a community that experiences inclement weather, a lot. It has a medivac. If they had to get a patient out it can be precarious,” Rice said. “They focused on those communities first. So, Prince Rupert has a hospital. Prince Rupert has multiple transportation options to move around. Hence, Prince Rupert is lower on the list.”

“No one knows the exact time. But I do think that we’ll start seeing people vaccinated before spring,”

Rice said health isn’t the only goal and other equally important issues still need attention.

“Particularly we’ve talked about housing quite a bit. So it’s really about how we do the health response, but we also still need to accomplish and get things done like building housing. That still uppermost on my mind,” she said.

Also, she said, there are the financial benefits the government has been providing to British Columbians.

“We have the health recovery, but we also have the economic recovery,” she said. “For starters, B.C. is doing pretty well compared to other jurisdictions. We’ve seen increased revenues, and we’ve seen the jobless rate go down. So, that’s good news.”

“We’re trying to get more dollars into the hands of individuals and businesses. We believe that will help contribute to local economies,” Rice said.

With the recovery benefit of $1,000 for families and $500 for individuals, that’s money which most likely will be spent here in the local community supporting local small businesses which is what everyone wants to see to keep our communities thriving, she said.

To assist local small businesses the provincial government has recently relaxed the criteria to make it easier for businesses to qualify for recovery benefits and removed some of the previous prerequisites and requirements. She said had heard from the small business communities that the process was quite “onerous” to receive benefits, hence many did not apply.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last few months with the small business community in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii as well as the tourism industry in the Bella Coola Valley,” Rice said. “One of the things we’ve heard is some of the recovery benefits for small businesses have been difficult to obtain.”

“It was initially required for (businesses) to have experienced a revenue loss of 50 per cent or more, so that has now been changed that if you’ve experienced a revenue loss of 30 per cent when you applied you can qualify for this grant, which is a loan of up to $30,000 or $45,000 if you are a tourism-based business.”

Also amended was the original qualification that a business needed to be operational for the prior three years, brought down to an establishment of business for the 18 months prior.

K-J Millar | Journalist
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