Two years in the making

Last week, we exclusively told you former British Columbia Medical Association president Margaret MacDiarmid would be running for the provincial Liberal nomination in Vancouver-Fairview. But why has she chosen to make a bid for public office? Well, in an interview with Public Eye, Dr. MacDiarmid explained, when she became an association board member in 1996, much of what she did "was government relations with respect to patient care, health promotion, health policy. And I got more and more involved with that and I ended up as president. It was sometime during that year that I started thinking about what I had learned how to do. So I had learned how to, I guess, be a leader. I learned how to do public speaking and be a much more powerful advocate I think. I learned a lot more about health policy. And I had gotten to the point where, instead of being somewhat of a critic and sometimes a harsh critic of government, I actually respected what they were doing and thought, 'You know what, with the skills I have and the interests I have I would actually like to go and be part of government.'"

That was in 2006. And towards the end of her presidency, in 2007, that "kernel of an idea grew into, 'Yes, I really think I want to do this.'" So Dr. MacDiarmid spoke with Premier Gordon Campbell and then economic development minister Colin Hansen in August and September of that year "about the job, what it was like - the good, the bad and the ugly. And I did say to the premier that I would like to run in May 2009 if there was an opportunity for me."

But three weeks later, Dr. MacDiarmid was diagnosed with breast cancer. "I was totally out of it. I had work lined up - some really interesting things I was going to do. I would have gotten more involved in the party. And I would have done a whole lot of things. But, instead, I did surgery, chemo and radiation."

Dr. MacDiarmid said she eventually became well enough to consider running again. But, by that time, "the landscape had changed. People were in ridings. The Liberals have to plan for the next election. That's what they must do to have the best possible team. So I found out there was an opportunity (in Vancouver-Fairview) where there was a nomination. There was one person (running for that nomination) but it wasn't by any means over. And, as I said, not only is it eight blocks from where we live but it's also the riding where the BCMA is. So that's where my work has been in Vancouver. And that's where all my places are. It's the neighbourhood we shop in, eat, go to the dentist, doctor, my church. All those things are in the riding. And it's a lovely, diverse, beautiful place to live."

Asked what she would do if she became a legislator, Dr. MacDiarmid responded, "My top area of interest is education. And I think some people were surprised to hear that. I'm always going to have been a doctor with 23 years of being a doctor. So it's not like I would suddenly lose interest in health."

But, during the course of her practice, Dr. MacDiarmid said she saw many patients whose health problems could be have been averted or alleviated if "they could have had a good education from the beginning - and I'm talking about literacy issues, I'm talking about opportunities for early education, as well as post-secondary training. I'm not talking about everybody going to medical school. But having work you like or love makes a huge difference to the quality of your life and inevitably your health. So I would be sitting there and thinking, 'I can't really help this person. But, if we had done something from the beginning, they probably wouldn't even be in my office right now.'"

So does she have any specific education policies she'll be proposing? "I think there's already really great direction now. And I couldn't pretend to understand all the Liberal policy or be articulate on all the Liberal policy now. I know there are a number of intiatives underway. And I know literacy is one of the things that has great value put on it and efforts are being made to improving it because we still have a problem with that. But what I would do - if I was elected and I get to be a Liberal MLA - I would be asked to do what I'm asked to do and I would do it."

"So, regardless of where my interest lies, I'm going to have to become more familiar with all Liberal policies much more in-depth than I am now and then do what I'm asked to do. And what I'm asked to do might be to go and be the best MLA you can for Vancouver-Fairview. And that's what I'll do. I think the premier looks at the skill set of everyone that he has in caucus and uses those skills to the best of their ability. And I think, when you say you're going to sign-on, you don't decide here's what I want to do. I mean, you can express - and I have already expressed to him - this is what interests me the most. But he might pick me to do something different. And I bet you I'll find it fascinating."

Finally, Dr. MacDiarmid addressed concerns surrounding a report she told the August 2005 Canadian Medical Association annual general meeting that rejecting private healthcare would be "closing the door to exploring new options for meeting some of those many shocking unmet needs."

"I felt that if we couldn't, as physicians, have a dialogue about healthcare and the healthcare systems where could you? I think my concern at the time was that the debate was kind of being shutdown in the way that I think it's often shutdown in the public as well where people use certain phrases just to cut off conversation," she explained.

"I do believe in a strong publicly funded healthcare system. I do. Absolutely. And I can't imagine a scenario where that would change. I've just been a patient in that system. And I know that in certain parts of the world people like me would end up being bankrupt. But, in Canada when you have an illness like I had, the system takes care of you."

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