In the early morning hours of Monday, January 16, as the sun rose on a fresh snow-covered ground, I, along with Canada's premiers, watched as 15 bright umbrellas came bobbing around the Victoria harbour. Fifteen youth activists representing Students for Medicare, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, British Columbia Health Coalition, HIV/AIDS organizations, GLBTQ rights organizations and more "braved the elements" (as the Globe and Mail reported) to send a message to premiers that medicare has got you covered.
None of the premiers came out to greet the youth, but MP Libby Davies (Health Care Critic) and MP Anne Minh Thu Quach (Deputy Health Care Critic) accepted "medicare has got you covered" postcards and exchanged concerns and words of encouragement with the youth representatives.
While Maude and I ran off to a media conference, the youth walked behind the hotel to a wall of windows behind where the Council of the Federation sat to eat breakfast. The youth and Council waved at one another, which at least ensures that they saw us and knew the message we were trying to hand-deliver to them.
The Council of the Federation then announced that a photo opportunity would take place at 8:30 a.m. (which we had know about and prepared for) but a statement from the Council would be coming out sometime that morning. "Sometime that morning" meant that it was difficult to lure media away from the Council of the Federation meeting and to our press conference across the street. The promised media statement was never given that morning and it raised questions for me about whether or not that was a planned strategy to keep media away from additional and critical perspectives (not to toot our own horn -- there were many groups involved in the media conference with hard-hitting and critical perspectives).
We went ahead with the press conference anyway. We were joined by Dr. Vanessa Brcic, Canadian Doctors for Medicare; Val Avery, NUPGE; Vince Terstappen, Check Your Head and hosted by Rachel Tutte, BCHC. Several media outlets including CTV national news, the Vancouver Observer, Radio Canada, and CBC French were present for both the conference and follow-up questions, and personal interviews and commentary following the media conference.
Maude and I headed back to the Council of the Federation meeting where MPs Libby Davies and Anne Minh Thu Quach were sitting outside the press room waiting for updates on where the premiers were at with their discussion. When Christy Clark did enter the press room to give a statement, the MPs were turned away from watching live coverage on the only available television because it meant crossing a rope in the lobby that was supposed to only have Council of the Federation behind it. I understand safety concerns at a high profile meeting, but it was pretty startling to see an MP turned away from watching a live government announcement on her portfolio.
Outside the press room we stood with Chief Lillian Squinas (no First Nations groups were invited to the talks -- even though the 2014 accord was being discussed which they also have a big stake in and should be at the table with provinces when the federal government "negotiates"-- because I believe we can make them negotiate -- the 2014 accord), and opposition health critics. None of us were able to see or hear what the premiers were announcing.
That afternoon I sat with BCHC and pro-medicare allies from both B.C. and national organizations to discuss the 2014 health-care accord. Many of the concerns of people in the room and many of our hopes for the accord were the same. We seemed to agree on a 10-year accord, on the need for continuing care, community care and community health centres, and pharmacare. Linda Silas pointed out that we need to hear from more voices. Many of the opinions and voices that are circulating in communities and media are the same ones people hear all the time. We need more actions like that morning's youth action. I don't mean to sound like an old Uncle Sam poster, but we really do need to hear from YOU!
That evening, Maude, Diana Gibson of the Parkland Institute and Mike Luff of National Union of Public and General Employees addressed a packed house in Victoria on the 2014 health-care accord. The weather was not in our favour and Ava Waxman, our B.C.-Yukon Regional Organizer, was pacing the floor worried that the storm outside would keep everyone away. A city that's not accustomed to snow means that no one has snow tires or a lot of experience driving in blizzard-like conditions, Ava explained to me. But Victorians proved us wrong and 250-300 people packed the room with laughter, applause, "shame"-calling, and intelligent comments and questions. It was a roaring success!
Thanks to everyone who braved the weather to participate in Victoria. The youth action, press conference and town hall will be available soon for viewing thanks to Paul Manly!
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