NDP's Throne Speech deaf to dead hero's story
Among the almost 2000 mourners at the funeral of Rev. Harry Lehotsky was Premier Gary Doer.
Lehotsky was the American-born Baptist minister who dedicated his life in Winnipeg to cleaning up his tough, crime-ridden West-End neighbourhood and building a community with hands-on projects ranging from renovating dilapidated homes to opening a restaurant staffed by locals.
Doer was the politician who disagreed with almost everything Lehotsky believed about the system -- that it was dysfunctional, that it favoured the politically correct over the competent, that it threw roadblocks in the path of anyone trying to solve community problems.
Lehotsky took shots at the NDP's sacred social causes and made the Socialists squirm.
On the Social Planning Council and do-gooder agencies:
Many people have commented on the fact that it’s always the same people who are first to hear about funding even before it’s announced publicly... It seems the same empowered people keep showing up to control every pot of empowerment funding ... they use their power to keep money from new groups that could provide more services for less funding.
On Immigrant communities and gangs in August 2004:
I have two predictions for next year's review of this year's crime. You'll likely see a serious spike in street crime and also an alarming increase in the number of criminal activities associated with some recent African immigrants ... Left unheeded, this situation will produce far more serious problems... It won't take long before the recruits tire of being "sub-contractors" and organize to grab their own slice of the action. That's a gang war just waiting to happen.
And in 2005 when his warning went unheeded:
But, said Rev. Harry Lehotsky, the city needed the murder of a 17-year-old innocent boy from the suburbs to call attention to the area's plight.
"The problem has been around for years, now the rest of the city knows what we put up with," said Lehotsky, pastor at New Life Ministries...
"I'm surprised people think it's a new phenomena," said the Baptist minister.
And on First Nations funding:
... But I noticed that, even as the Lord’s Prayer was removed and Christmas celebrations neutered, children were increasingly being indoctrinated through publicly funded powwows and other aboriginal spiritual ceremonies ...
Should the criteria for funding social initiatives include funding religious indoctrination to one particular form of aboriginal worship?... It’s amazing how much federal and provincial funding is tied to a requisite display of ceremonial religion. It’s discrimination.... Anyone who doesn’t worship in the “traditional way” won’t get the money.
But Lehotsky was a true local hero, loved and respected in his community, and Doer knew he better stop at the funeral before heading to the Manitoba Legislature for the Throne Speech.
Doer issued a public statement on learning of Lehotsky's death from pancreatic cancer, a statement so tepid it was embarassing.
By Wednesday, he had worked up a better response, declaring he had "great respect for (Lehotsky's) ideas, energy and passion."
Yes, that was an improvement.
And it was better than what the NDP called him when he ran for office as a Progressive Candidate in Minto riding in 1999.
Right-wing reactionary. Law and order ideologue. Religious hypocrite.
While at the service at Calvary Temple, Doer prayed, hard---to the politicians' patron saint of short memories. And, until now, his prayers were answered.
None of the reports about the Throne Speech mentioned Harry Lehotsky.
And all of the funeral stories started with the diagnosis of terminal cancer in May.
But the story of Harry Lehotsky's death and the Throne Speech are really two sides of the same coin.
Maybe I'll become another poster child for NDP health care "improvements."
Lehotsky wrote those words in his column in the Winnipeg Sun on April 30, 2006. It was his last column before he knew he was dying. As he wrote it he knew he was sick, more than likely very sick. And he was mad.
A few months earlier, he had noticed occasional discomfort in his upper abdominal region. This turned into occasional pain, which gradually developed into steady, and occasionally severe, pain. He decided to see a doctor.
Like many sick Manitobans, he learned the hard truth about the Mantioba health care system.His family doctor said he could get an appointment---in a few months. He was that booked up.
Someone suggested Lehotsky go to an emergency room. He went and found 20 patients and one doctor. And the wait to see the doctor was likely 12 hours. Sound familiar?
He left. But by Easter Sunday, the pain was excruciating, and he got to see the emergency room doctor faster this time. The doctor couldn't tell what was wrong. Sound familiar?
But he could make appointments with a gastroenterologist. In seven months.
"The prospect of waiting in pain didn't excite me," he wrote. He sought a second opinion.
The next doctor also thought he might have an ulcer, and " a proton pump inhibitor", a drug that stops your stomach acids. Except that this drug is not covered by pharmacare.
I started thinking, "What if -- in five to seven months -- I find out it wasn't an ulcer? Whatever it was would certainly have gotten much worse -- perhaps even inoperable by that point.
For now, I'll resist paranoia. I'm still assuming I'll get better.
I don't want to change my schedule, both because there's too much to do and it keeps my mind occupied on positive things.
Even when the pain is bad, I know others have it worse. If it's just an ulcer, I know people who suffer daily with more serious problems.
Friends and family started finding out about my situation. Responses mirrored my own feelings -- everything from shock to disgust that I was paying for medical care not available to me.
Lehotsky was raised in the United States, and his friends and family began telling him the obvious---go to the States where you don't have to wait for medical tests.
Part of me wants to stay and fight for what I've paid for here. But the pain and the concern of others may override any "point" I want to make with the system.
A friend, another pastor, visited Winnpeg from North Dakota. Hearing of Lehotsky's predicament, he picked up the phone.
A short while later, I was talking to a doctor in North Dakota.
After reviewing my symptoms and the schedule he said might be able to take me next week for both a gastroscope and a CAT scan, just in case the scope isn't conclusive.
Now I'm wondering if Manitoba Health will cover any of the cost.
Cynicism would suggest that if they're delaying getting the most important diagnostic tests, they'll likely try to duck paying any of the bill if I go south.
What am I paying for?
So what exactly am I paying for here?
The pain was so severe, he wrote, he wasn't eating. "... it seems to hurt less when I don't eat."
He concluded with this indictment of health care under Gary Doer.
While the WRHA bureaucracy swallows more and more resources, people wait longer and longer for even basic diagnostic tests that could reduce long-term costs as problems fester during long delays.
Maybe I'll become another poster child for NDP health care "improvements."
Seven years ago they promised to end hallway medicine in six months.
Not only has that not happened, but now it's worse.
It seems part of this government's strategy on getting people out of hospital hallways is to leave them on the street in pain.
How ironic, that Lehotsky's funeral was on the same day as the NDP's latest Throne Speech.
Healthcare doesn't have the same priority with the New Democrats that it once did. Not when they can announce billions for megaprojects (Hydro, roads), multi-millions for tuition rebates, and sexy "green" grabbers like subsidies for hybrid cars, all just before an election call.
Healthcare was relegated to recycling old announcements about expanding emergency wards at three Winnipeg hospitals, and the odd project at hospitals and health centres in Dauphin, Thompson and Steinbach. Not like the good old days when health care slogans defined the battle: End hallway medicine! Put Grafton out of business! Hire more nurses!
Oh yes, nurses. The Throne Speech found room to brag about the NDP record.200 more doctors, 150 more specialists. 1,300 more nurses.
But if the nursing shortage in 1999 was 500, and we have 1300 more nurses, why is there still a nursing shortage? What's wrong with this picture?
If Tory leader Hugh McFadyen wonders, as the rest of the province does, he would begin the debate on the Throne Speech by reading Rev. Harry Lehotsky's April 30 column in the Legislature.
And demanding answers to the questions that Lehotsky raised, the same questions that every Manitoban who has been in a hospital in the past six years, or knows someone who has, wants answered.
One question we had, which no news reporter in Winnipeg ever asked, was how Lehotsky was eventually diagnosed.
Did he go to the U.S. after all?
We thought he must have, until we came across this blog by fellow minister Jamie Arpin-Ricci: http://emergentvoyageurs.blog.com/748751/
In a post headlined Prayer Request for an Urban Hero, he referred to the April 30 column:
"Tests were possibly going to be delayed until November. As a result of his column and pushing, he managed to get in earlier."
Unfortunately, not every cancer victim is a newspaper columnist.