COLUMN: There are times to stand on principle – public health isn’t one of them

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

There’s an old Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

The story of Smithers’ new CT scanner will be one of two legacies. One section will tell of Fritz Pfeiffer and his selfless donation of $1.6 million to help build the scanner. It will speak of councillors Frank Wray, Lorne Benson and Greg Brown, who voted in favour of a Nov. 27 motion to waive off-site work costs for the hospital. And its pages will praise the numerous members of the public who, when stakes were high, came out in force to protest council’s 4-3 decision to deny the above motion.

READ MORE: CT scanner ‘paused’ after council denies variance

On the other hand, another chapter will tell the tale of three town councillors and a mayor who, in a matter of public health, stood on principle in one of the few cases that one ought not to.

Let me be very clear with my biases here. As someone whose stepfather received a double-lung transplant back in 2013, I know all too well the difference access to crucial medical infrastructure can make to families.

As a journalist, much of my job is concerned with data: crunching numbers, analyzing statistics and looking for trends. They matter, full stop.

In matters of public health, however, we need to recognize that people are not numbers and wait times are not just statistics – they are real, tangible barriers to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community.

I would be remiss not to mention that I do think the argument Casda Thomas, John Buikema, Gladys Atrill and Mayor Taylor Bachrach presented – that granting a variance of this kind sets a precedent – is a valid one in many situations.

Holding up standards is important. Saving a town money is important. Improving and maintaining infrastructure is important (and, as a recent water and sewer user rate hike indicates, a growing concern).

But let’s be real here, renovation improvements to build a CT scanner in a region desperately needing access to one, is a pretty high bar.

As councillor Wray (someone who, by my standards, seems to care about saving the town money) said during that vote, this isn’t a time to stand on principle.

Because in matters of public health, we cannot reduce humans to statistics and we cannot halt progress in the name of precedent.

READ MORE: CT scanner expected to be up and running by end of June

Yes, the CT scanner will save lives, but let me be clear — this debate is about so much more than that.

It’s about thousands of frantic, late-night commutes by families.

It’s about rushing loved ones to a medical procedure, all the while in the back of your head not knowing if the only thing that will determine whether they live or die is the seemingly-arbitrary placement of a medical device.

It’s about money spent on countless litres of gas, parking tickets and hastily-eaten fast food meals.

It’s about standing up for your community and showing the 4,000 individuals a year from Hazelton to Burns Lake that have to travel to Terrace or Prince George to use one of their CT scanners that their representatives are ready to fight for them.

Because population size shouldn’t correllate to health standards and where you live shouldn’t impede access to health care.

And those, my friends, are principles you can always stand on.

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