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There are areas in which the federal government should undoubtedly play a role in this country. Senior care is not one of them.

And if one ever needed an example of why, then allow me to point you to the recent controversy now engulfing a trio of seniors care homes on Vancouver Island.

The facilities are run by Retirement Concepts, a company which was sold to China’s Anbang Insurance Group two years ago amid loud concerns that patient care at the homes would deteriorate under foreign ownership.

The federal government, which had to approve the sale, assured all at the time that the level of care would not be compromised. But, as we now know, conditions in three homes in Victoria, Courtenay and Nanaimo have deteriorated to the point they’ve had to be taken over, at least in part, by the province.

This prompted a bizarre situation in which federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains – who is responsible for ensuring Anbang meets its obligations in Canada under the terms of the purchase agreement – was asked what he was going to do about it all. To which he replied that his department was continuing to “monitor” the situation, and is working closely with the provincial government.

That is not anywhere near good enough.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a litany of grievances about the quality of care at these homes, particularly the one in Nanaimo. According to a report by the local medical health officer, there were 35 complaints at the Nanaimo Seniors Village over that period. They included everything from “unexpected death” to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The report concluded that the licensee was either “unable or unwilling” to meet its contracted responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of the people in its care.

Boy, isn’t it shocking the federal Ministry of Innovation wasn’t aware of what was going on?

There is so much wrong with this story it’s hard to know where to begin. But the easiest place to start is at the beginning: The federal government ignored repeated and legitimate pleas of concern about the sale of a chain of care homes in British Columbia and then promptly proceeded to deal with other matters.

As B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said this week, the federal government clearly didn’t see the events that followed the Anbang takeover as worthy of its intervention. And hundreds of seniors paid the price.

No one held Anbang to account, and that was a concern from the outset. Who in the federal government was going to be responsible for ensuring this controversial company, now under the control of a firm owned by the Chinese state, met its obligations under the terms of the sale?

Under the Investment Canada Act, the federal government can impose remedies if the care-home owner fails to maintain critical employment levels. Well, there have been concerns about the staffing levels at some of these homes for some time. And one of the reasons why is they pay their staff lousy wages.

According to the Hospital Employees’ Union, a care aide working at a Retirement Concepts home can earn as much as $7 an hour less than someone doing the same job at a public facility operated by the health authority down the road. This pay discrepancy had led to staff shortages, which has caused some of the problems at the Retirement Concepts operations. And the company is the largest provider of private care beds in B.C.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered.

In what world does it make sense for the federal Ministry of Innovation to be responsible for overseeing the care provided in seniors’ homes in B.C.? Surely, this needs to be the sole purview of the province.

Why are private care homes protected from facing fines when they fail to live up to their obligations? They can only be temporarily taken over or closed down permanently. Maybe if they were fined they’d clean up their act before that was necessary.

And now that B.C. taxpayers are funding the provincial takeover of some of Anbang’s facilities, will the company be held liable, to at least make the province whole?

The sale of Retirement Concepts to a Chinese multinational was a crisis waiting to happen. Well, it’s happening.

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