Taxpayer dollars for ads proclaiming the government's jobs plan could have supported a seniors home-care program for the next 30 years, NDP Leader Adrian Dix said in Kamloops on Monday.
"You can't live in B.C. without seeing the millions of dollars in government ads the Liberals are running," Dix said. "The government is using its contingency budget to pay for taxpayer-sponsored ads."
Dix stood in front of Ponderosa Lodge with Alan Robinson, president of the Centre for Seniors Information, to make his point. The centre ran its home-care program, first with federal cash then provincial government support, before funding ran out in March 2011.
A key aspect of the program was that it created jobs while enabling seniors to remain independent in their homes, possibly avoiding falls that could send them into institutionalized care.
"We considered it a pilot project and we assumed when we finished the program it would be expanded to other communities," Robinson said.
Instead, the government embarked on another pilot project, a volunteer-run program called Better At Home. Funded through United Way, that program is being run in five Lower Mainland centres.
Robinson said experience has shown that volunteers cannot provide the same level of care provided by paid workers with regular, scheduled visits. He said the Kamloops program was modeled on one in Alberta that has operated for 30 years.
The Liberal government has been under fire for its current TV ad campaign on its B.C. Jobs strategy. Dix said the campaign costs $15 million, paid for from a budget contingency fund.
"The government could have used the money spent on advertising for that. In fact, they could have funded it for the next 30 years."
He said it shows a difference in priorities between the NDP and the Liberals. Home support is critical to the health-care system because it allows seniors to prolong their independence and keeps them out of care, he said.
"The record of the program is extraordinary," he said.
Robinson backed that assessment, noting that the program was audited by Price Waterhouse Cooper for the Ministry of Health, which did its own assessment as well.
"The fact that over the two years of the program we didn't have one client admitted to hospital for injury," Robinson said. Within four months of the program's cancellation, four former clients were injured in falls. Two of those falls caused hip injuries and the seniors were unable to return home, he said.
About 400 seniors took advantage of the Kamloops program.
Dix said the Liberal government has declared it intends to run a campaign of personal attack ads leading up to the spring provincial election while he reiterated his pledge to avoid such tactics.
In relation to the ad-campaign spending, the NDP leader cited last week's fiscal report from the Ministry of Finance, which pointed to a projected $328 million in the deficit beyond what was expected.
"I can think of $15 million I can find today," he said when asked what programs he would cut to balance the budget.
MLA Terry Lake said all governments spend money on advertising and the NDP was no different when it was in power.
Lake said $27 million was budgeted for advertising this year, down 18 per cent from the $33 million spent last year. He contrasted that to $28 million spent by the NDP government in 1994, a sum worth the equivalent of $43 million in 2012 dollars.
"I guess I'd ask Mr. Dix if there was some of that $43 million he could have used to have kept beds open at Royal Inland Hospital," Lake said.