© Guardian photo
Visitors pay to park at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. Guardian File Photo
It’s a case of déjà vu all over again. On a somewhat regular basis, the issue of parking fees at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is raised in the legislature.
Opposition MLAs condemn the practice, it gets roundly berated in the House and that’s where it stops. Parking fees continue as Health P.E.I. will argue the $350,000 or more raised yearly represents an important source of revenue for health care.
And in today’s tight financial climate, every penny counts.
Each side has legitimate arguments and while the case against fees is much stronger, it’s all to no avail.
The arguments against the parking fees are as valid today as they were when first applied in 1993, as they were when the matter got a thorough discussion in the legislature in 2011 and as they did in early 2014 when then-federal finance minister James Flaherty opined about removing the HST taxable portion from hospital parking fees.
Health P.E.I did not add the HST onto parking fees when it came into effect in April 2013 and was remitting that extra nine per cent to the federal government, or about $50,000 annually.
And still the parking fees remain. And that’s where the issue will remain until the next time it gets raised in the legislature.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Why isn’t there a bi-partisan motion presented to the legislature, an open vote held and Health P.E.I. directed to rescind the hated fees and remove the tollbooths at the province’s central referral hospital?
The arguments against the parking fees have been repeated many times.
They impact most on the sick and their families at a time when they are most vulnerable. We all pay taxes and they should include the right to park for free at the QEH, to visit a doctor, the sick or a loved one.
Parking fees are not charged at any other hospital or manor or public health facility across the province.
What’s fair for the Prince County Hospital in Summerside or Kings County Memorial in Montague – which have no parking fees - should be fair for the QEH in Charlottetown.
But it’s not.
The QEH is getting more and more referrals as the scope of health care changes. More Islanders from rural parts of the Island are being sent to Charlottetown.
More Islanders, many of them seniors on a fixed income, have to travel longer distances and pay a lot of money on gas to do so. And then they are met with parking fees.
It may not seem like a lot, and yes the first half hour is free, but it’s the little things that mean a great deal at a difficult time.
It would be a meaningful gesture to end parking fees.
Health P.E.I. rejected a call in 2011 from the Canadian Medical Association Journal to eliminate hospital fees. The Journal argued such parking fees are not allowed under the Canada Health Act and that they impose a barrier to patient care.
The amount is $350,000 in a provincial health-care budget of over $600 million. Are there no efficiencies to make up for the lost revenue? Why do we have those fees if the costs involved are so high?
Now there is talk of a small concession - that Islanders might get the first hour free.
PC member James Aylward has long led the criticism to parking fees and this year he has converted Liberal MLA Bush Dumville to commit publicly to the cause.
Mr. Dumville’s passionate attack helped convince Health Minister Doug Currie to take a look at how much it would cost if the free 30 minutes was extended to a full hour. It seems to be the only concession available at this time.
Hospital parking fees are a tax on misery. In many ways, they are repugnant. They prey upon the ill and their loved ones.