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b.c. votes 2013

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, right, listens to senior citizens Isobel Beaucock, left, and Wilda Morris during a provincial election campaign stop at the South Granville Seniors Centre in Vancouver B.C., on Tuesday April 23, 2013.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix has promised that an NDP government would invest in a variety of health-care programs, most notably $70-million to expand home and community care for seniors and people with chronic disabilities, a commitment he says would improve quality of life and save B.C. taxpayers in the long run.

"This plan does not have big ticket items, but it does have what's necessary and focuses on what's necessary," Mr. Dix told reporters and a group of people at the South Granville Seniors Centre in Vancouver on Tuesday.

As Mr. Dix was unveiling his party's modest health-care plan, Liberal Leader Christy Clark came out firing, invoking her party's newly launched "spend-o-meter," a billboard the Liberals put up in Delta to keep a running tally of what the NDP's campaign pledges would cost. It is updated with every new promise.

Earlier in the campaign, the Liberals argued that NDP promises would contribute to the provincial debt, making vital services harder to finance. The Liberals say strengthening the economy is key to funding those services.

"The NDP has not changed. Out-of-control spending and ballooning debt is their plan. They promised to spend $2.75-billion and the spend-o-meter is going up every moment of every day," Ms. Clark said at a campaign stop at the future site of the Comox Valley Hospital on Vancouver Island. "That means higher interest on the debt, and that means less money to put toward hospitals, health care and the other services we all depend on."

Ms. Clark reiterated the need to grow a strong economy to pay for health care. The Liberals have expressed in their platform that opening up new markets in Asia and new revenue from expanding liquefied natural gas operations will mean more money for key services.

Ms. Clark said her party would add $2.4-billion to the health-care budget over the next three years while keeping government spending low.

The Comox Valley Hospital is part of the $600-million North Island Hospitals Project, which also includes construction of a new hospital in Campbell River. The new Comox Valley Hospital, expected to be completed in 2017, will have capacity for 153 beds and replace the 116-bed St. Joseph's General Hospital.

Along with the $70-million for home and community care, the NDP pledged an additional $35-million to improve service levels at residential facilities, including improved standards of care for bathing, toileting and recreational activities; $35-million to expand outreach services for child and youth mental health treatment; and $45-million to improve surgery, obstetrics and critical care in targeted rural hospitals.

Mr. Dix said investing in home and community care is important for the entire health-care system because it frees up acute care resources at hospitals.

"Many of the least expensive and effective forms of health care – community and home care and home support – have been consistently cut," he said.

The NDP also said it would establish an independent seniors' representative with the power to independently review government decisions affecting seniors, as well as restore and expand programs that reduce the cost of prescription medications.

Mr. Dix also took shots at his opponent on Tuesday.

"The Liberals are running a campaign where it says 'debt free' on the side of their bus, but they're running up debt faster than any government we've seen," he said. "They say they're running balanced budgets, but they're actually running deficits."

An Angus Reid Poll conducted last week for The Globe and Mail revealed that health care is the second most important issue on voters' minds behind the economy. When respondents were asked which leader would be best suited to deal with health care, 17 per cent said Ms. Clark, while 34 per cent said Mr. Dix.