Pandemic continues to drive the narrative says Topsail-Paradise MHA Paul Dinn

By Mark Squibb/February 3, 2022

Last year was such a long year that many of us probably forgot that there was a provincial election held at the start of it that will probably become a playbook for other provinces on how not to hold such contests in pandemic times.

But Topsail-Paradise MHA Paul Dinn remembers it, perhaps in part because it was his third election in just two years.

“It was a really challenging start to the year,” said Dinn. “We were in the middle of the pandemic, dealing with the second wave, and of course we had an election, which, in the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic, I think was a bit ill-advised. But it was done, and it was a bit of a fiasco, and probably showed the government’s true priorities.”

But, Dinn said, he did enjoy getting out to meet with constituents — despite the winter weather and COVID regulations.

Dinn, a member of the PC Opposition, was asked to take on the role of ‘shadow minister’ of Health and Community Services shortly following the vote.

“That’s a fairly big portfolio and a role I take very serious,” said Dinn. “Immediately I began meeting with the various agencies and groups and began to listen to their challenges.”

The role means meeting with health care workers of every kind, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, administrators, pharmacists, psychologists, and more.

“They all have their own different concerns,” said Dinn. “But one that ran through them all that I thought was disheartening, was they all felt disrespected, or a lack of respect. And I think that’s a pretty serious concern when you’re trying to make a more positive environment to help our health care situation, because we need a lot of work done there.”

Dinn said COVID controlled much of the narrative in 2021, as the pandemic rolled on with apparently no end in sight (though some still whisper hopefully of a coming ‘endemic.’)

And while he appreciates the effort made by all to keep the virus at bay, he said there are some things government could have simply done better.

“Throughout covid, one of the biggest issues has been communication,” said Dinn.

He said, for example, that when it came to scheduling booster shots this fall, it was every man, woman, and child for themselves.

“When we put out the first vaccinations two years ago almost, there was a plan, and the information came out, saying these people would be prioritised,” said Dinn. “You went from seniors to front line workers and so on. There was a process to it. But when the boosters came out, that seemed to be thrown to the wind and it was everyone for themselves. I think that could have been handled much better.”

He said lack of communication about testing wait times over Christmas was another communication flub.

“We were told if you have symptoms or you’ve been in contact, you might be able to get a PCR right away, and then isolate as if you had COVID,” said Dinn. “And many people did that. They went and got tested. And then you’re waiting for a response, and waiting for a response, and that creates a huge anxiety, plus it has people in isolation longer and perhaps they’re negative. So, (Health) Minister (John) Haggie comes on and says, ‘Well we had sent the tests out of province.’ He’s telling us this after the fact. That’s probably something that should have been communicated earlier.

Dinn said members of his own family found themselves in that exact situation. Two of his daughters and wife went to get tested together just before Christmas. His two daughters received a response almost immediately, within 24 to 48 hours. His wife waited eight days for her result.

Government also did a poor job communicating that all non-emergency procedures had been cancelled following the most recent alert level change, Dinn added, by electing to post it on the government website.

Furthermore, he doesn’t understand why government has been so tight-lipped on the recent health system cyber attack.

“I think government dropped the ball when it came to better communication,” said Dinn. “People just want to know the information.”

Dinn also raised concerns about the long-term consequences of the pandemic, especially for health care.

“We’re going to come out of this CVOID pandemic with a mental health pandemic,” said Dinn, who also lamented that cancer treatments, cardiac treatments, and other serious procedures have been cancelled or delayed.

Dinn said the government has know about gaps in the healthcare system for years, and had it been more proactive, perhaps we would not see as many cancellations and delays during the pandemic.

“They’re into their seventh year now, this administration, and COVID has only been around for about 20 months,” said Dinn. “They could have done so much more if they were more proactive dealing with the issues at hand in health care… Yes, COVID has been a drain on us, but it shouldn’t be the excuse for not having other medical issues move ahead, or at least worked on.”

He said one thing that has become clear is that we’re not all in the same boat when it comes to the pandemic, as single parents, low-income workers, seniors, and rotational workers have been hit especially hard. Dinn applauded volunteers and community organizations throughout the pandemic, the work of whom, he said, has been miraculous.

Dinn said he is looking forward to the presentation of the Health Accord later this year, a document which will make recommendations for the health care field moving forward.

“That piece of work is certainly going to induce a lot of scrutiny and debate in the coming months, and I’ll certainly be making comments and suggestions with the goal of making the best health care model that we can,” said Dinn.

Meanwhile, it’s time to carry on with the regular work of government as much as possible, said Dinn.

“Coming out of the election, there were a lot of election promises, and that’s what happens, but my concern right now is that out of those promises made, there has been very little done, and government has been using COVID as an excuse,” said the MHA. “We still have to carry on with our regular work. I think collectively we have done an amazing job at keeping COVID at bay, but it hasn’t been without sacrifice. I think it’s nice for the premier to applaud the efforts, and say all the right things, like, ‘We’ll get through this,’ but there’s a time for cheerleading, and there’s also a time for action. And I think we’ve come to the need to see action.”

Dinn said he’s also wondering how long the federal and provincial governments can continue to throw money at the pandemic.

“I would love to have the money tree they’ve got,” he joked. “I would have one planted in my back yard. But you know at some point in time, we have to come to the realization that we are where we are, and we have to move on. And I have no insight as to when that will happen.”

He said government needs to begin phasing out business support funding, rather than cut it altogether.

“The money tree is not endless,” said Dinn. “Sometime, somewhere, somebody’s got to pay. We’re all going to pay for this when the time comes, because we’ll have a debt that has to be paid back. The other drawback I’ve found is that small businesses have had trouble getting employees. Because programs like CERB have created an attitude of, ‘Well, if I continue to receive this, why would I go to work?’ I’ve seen a bit of that and heard a bit of that. You see a lot of Help Wanted signs now… There has to be some kind of plan to transition businesses back.”

Dinn said he’s excited to work with the newly elected councils in CBS and Paradise, and has already had informal talks with CBS mayor Darrin Bent.

He counts the construction of Paradise Intermediate as a success, but says the 1.6 km busing restriction is still an issue, although it has fallen a little to the wayside as school has been virtual as often as it has been in person the last year. Speeding in school zones, conditions of Route 60, lack of public transit, and ATV abuse continue to be problems, amongst others, he added. Dinn reminded residents that if you’re going to be anything, be kind.

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