A suggestion that North Island governments tax their citizens $1 million to pay for “free” parking at the new Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals has been met with shock in Port Hardy.
At their regular meeting July 19, council discussed a letter from Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District Chief Administrative Officer Debra Oakman asking regional districts, municipalities, and stakeholders within the “catch basin” for both the Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals “if there is an appetite to participate in a tax requisition to cover the cost of operating a free parking facility” at both sites. Deputy Mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt was “stunned” by the letter.
The District of Port Hardy has written letters to both Health Minister Terry Lake and Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams expressing that people from the North Island, who have to travel down island for health reasons, are already at a financial disadvantage, because they have to absorb the cost of driving for six hours, return, and may also have to pay for meals and accommodations depending on how long they are required to stay.
“They really can’t get away from this parking,” said Bood, adding that it is not like North Island residents have a choice to just hop in a taxi from their homes.
What is not being taken into account is the economic spin-off to Comox and Campbell River caused by “captive (medical) tourism”, Bood said, adding that if a similar hospital was built on the North Island and patients were being sent here, there would have to be four more hotels, etc. to accommodate the visitors.
“There is a benefit to them. We really contribute to their economy,” Bood said.
“Fundamentally, I think it’s wrong” to tax people who are ill, and have no other option than to drive, by charging them parking fees, said Councillor Fred Robertson.
There has been discussion of a hardship provision which would waive or reduce parking fees where they pose a genuine financial challenge to patients and families, however, Port Hardy councillors are also concerned the steps that are required in order to be approved are not simple.
Corbett-Labatt said after looking at the hardship criteria, “it’s not going to be easy to get, is how I’m reading it.”
“They don’t make it easy,” agreed Councillor Dennis Dugas. Robertson disagrees with the principle as a whole. “It’s just creating a race to the bottom,” said Robertson.
Councillor John Tidbury made a motion that council send a letter “showing our dissatisfaction with their response.”
“This will be the third letter we’ve sent,” said Bood. The motion was approved. If a requisition was approved, it would have to come from the Regional District of Mount Waddington.
“The District is requisitioned for a certain amount by the Regional District to pay for the Regional District hospital services,” said Chief Administrative Officer Allison McCarrick in a later interview.