Burnaby MLA Richard Lee appointed parliamentary secretary for Chinese medicine

Jennifer Moreau

Here's the transcript from this morning's announcement that Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee will be overseeing the provincial government's plan to bring a traditional Chinese medicine school to B.C. The publicly-funded school will be set up in an existing post-secondary institution.


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Transcription from Dec. 20 scrum with reporters:

Amrik Virk: Good morning all, and thanks to all of you for braving our wonderful west coast weather to make it here as well.

I have an important announcement to make that many in the community will be very happy to hear. I am very pleased this morning to announce the appointment of Burnaby North MLA Richard T. Lee as a parliamentary secretary for traditional Chinese medicine. I have a great deal of confidence in MLA Richard Lee to fulfill government's mandate to establish a public school of traditional Chinese medicine.

I think it's a testament to the importance of that task that we have that Richard Lee is appointed as parliamentary secretary. The parliamentary secretary's role for traditional Chinese medicine is going to have several very important roles. First of all, some responsibilities that my colleague Richard is going to have is he is going to act as a liaison between the program advisory committee and the broader community across British Columbia. Richard will also be responsible for providing a report to myself in my role as Minister of Advanced Education by May 31 of 2014 on the opportunities -- and there are many, many opportunities -- and the challenges of establishing a school of Chinese traditional medicine at a publicly funded university in British Columbia. Richard's additional responsibility is going to be to support international partnership opportunities, and I think that's very important and can't be underscored, and to expand on and enhance the public school of traditional Chinese medicine.

These are very, very important tasks and responsibilities that Parliamentary Secretary Richard Lee is going to have. In the end the ultimate goal is the government of British Columbia wants to ensure that BC's first public school of traditional Chinese medicine is a reality and it offers people choices and options in health care. We hope.... I know you'll be asking questions. We hope to announce the name of the public institution that will host the school of traditional Chinese medicine very early in 2014. Myself and Parliamentary Secretary Richard Lee will be making that announcement early in 2014, and we'll invite all of you, and we'll be making that announcement together.

I thank you once again for coming, and now we're going to hear from Parliamentary Secretary Lee.

Richard Lee: Thank you, minister, for this appointment. It's actually a great honour for me to be appointed as parliamentary secretary for traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine is gaining wider acceptance in the health and the well-being of British Columbians. It's important that government provides the necessary support for the implementations of a high-quality as well as a sustainable school of traditional Chinese medicine. My role is to act as a special advisor to the program advisory committee. I will also be the liaison between the program advisory committee and the broader community.

I look forward to my new role in helping to set up the public school of traditional Chinese medicine. A public school of traditional Chinese medicine enhances the breadth of opportunities offered in our provincial system. Once open, I believe this school will deliver on a promise we make to British Columbians.

Thank you very much for coming today. I would like to read the latest statement in Cantonese and then Mandarin.

Q and A

Lee: I am talking about there would be staff helping me to carry my duty, and I have the full support of the Ministry of Advanced Education.

Reporter: Will this be the first of its kind in Canada?

Virk: Let me just expand upon that. This is the first of its kind for western Canada and certainly the first of a kind for British Columbia in a publicly funded university. There are some similarities or similar programs somewhere in the east, but it's certainly the first for our province and very respectful because of the diversity of our province.

Reporter: We will find out, as you have mentioned, the Chinese medicine school in early 2014. How did you pick that school?

Virk: I didn't understand the question fully, but I do want to add that this is the first publicly funded school of Chinese traditional medicine. It does complement six other programs that are available in private career institutions in British Columbia, as well, and those private career institutions are regulated by PCTIA, which is the private career training institutions authority. So there are some private institutions, and I think this is offering in many ways a broader choice for British Columbians, the fact that it's going to be offered at a public university.

Reporter: [Inaudible].

Virk: I'm not going to get into the number of applications. I can say that we provided information to all 25 university presidents in British Columbia of all the public universities and asked for an expression of interest, and we have expressions of interest from more than one, and we will decide and let all of you know very early in 2014 the institution, university or college, that has been successful.

Reporter: Will that institution be partnering with a Chinese school in China?

Virk: That's going to be some of the responsibilities of Parliamentary Secretary Lee here -- is to examine the opportunities of international cooperation. Absolutely, we're going to be looking at all opportunities in the end. It's going to be what's best for British Columbians will be the result of those partnerships.

Reporter: [Inaudible].

Virk: The kind of things that we're going to look at collectively as a ministry is the ability of that university or college or institution that's applied...is their history in providing other programs, the rigour with which they're provided; their availability of facilities, space; their availability to draw the appropriate staff; their availability to have the appropriate finances in place as well. We're looking at all sorts of things from leadership ability, space, capacity, and we're going to put all of that together in deciding who gets the school.

Reporter: [How is it regulated?]

Virk: As you may already know, the traditional Chinese medicine is regulated by the college of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. They're designated as health professionals in the appropriate provincial act as well. It will be regulated.

Reporter: By those people?

Virk: Yes.

Reporter: Minister, I'd like to know.... The school will be chosen for 2014. Then how soon the school will open to the students?

Virk: I am hoping.... Perhaps let me narrow it down. When I say early 2014, I am hoping in the first 30 to 60 days of 2014 to announce who is going to get the school. Then myself and Parliamentary Secretary Richard Lee will be working very closely with that institution to get a time line, and we'll report back to you as progress develops. You know, I am optimistic. I am hoping for a start hopefully by the end of 2015. I'll throw that out. That's my hope. But we always have to recognize that we want.... You know, this is the first public school of traditional Chinese medicine, and we want to do it right. We want the right instructors. We want the right partnerships. We're going to work very fast to get this done.

Reporter: The industry has been pushed very hard to have the traditional Chinese medicine covered by our MSP, but after we have a public school of traditional Chinese medicine, do you think there's a possibility?

Virk: Well, you know, indeed, a very good question. Right now I can be quite clear there is no plan to include Chinese traditional medicine in the overall MSP, but I must point out that for all of those who are on premium assistance in British Columbia the government does pay up to $23 towards acupuncture visits already, and it is indeed covered in many supplemental plans that many individuals have, as with other kinds of health care.

Reporter: [Inaudible].

Virk: Both of us will answer that. We'll answer it in Mandarin and in English.

You know, we want it to be accessible to all British Columbians, first of all. It's a publicly funded university. We want it accessible to British Columbians of all backgrounds. And in terms of the size and breadth and depth and how many students we'll have, that's going to be some of the responsibilities that Parliamentary Secretary Richard Lee is going to have into how many students and what the capacity is, and then we'll certainly want to examine the availability of international students as well. That's certainly on the table.

Reporter: [Inaudible].

Virk: If I believe the question to be right, you're asking if private can apply. The private institutions are self-funded and are not funded by you, the taxpayer. The opportunity is for public universities to apply for a public university for a school of traditional Chinese medicine, so the opportunity is not for private to apply for this. The privates already exist.

Reporter: She mentioned about private institutions. There has been some concern expressed by them that such a school may drain their applicants after the public school opens. How does the public-funded TCM school coexist with the private institutions?

Virk: In British Columbia we have some 351 private institutions in different areas. Six of those are traditional Chinese medicine schools. We have always coexisted. Public universities, theological universities and private universities and private education in this province have coexisted for a long time. I firmly believe that there can be a coexistence between private institutions and public institutions. There are private business schools and public business schools. In that same environment, an environment of open and fairness and competition, you know, this government welcomes private institutions to work in parallel with public institutions.

Reporter: Traditional Chinese medicine is a very broad definition. What exact programs are you guys thinking of instituting?

Virk: I think that's a task that we are assigning to Parliamentary Secretary Lee in response with.... It's going to be working with the university. Once the university is selected, there's going to be a program advisory committee that's going to draw upon the right number of experts and determine exactly what.... We have not prescribed exactly what program is going to be there. We want to have the committee come to that conclusion. We want the university that is selected to do due diligence, to do due analysis and then find out what's best for British Columbians.

Reporter: How is the committee chosen exactly?

Virk: The committee will be.... We haven't agreed upon exactly who is going to be on the committee, but it's going to be the appropriate number of experts in a number of fields. You need individuals that have financial expertise. You need individuals that have expertise in traditional Chinese medicine. You will need experts in program delivery. You'll need experts in how to start new programs. It'll be a wide selection from a wide, diverse group of individuals.

Reporter: Some doctors still don't quite agree with the traditional Chinese methods. What would your response be to those people who are still critical of those practices?

Virk: You know, I have been a patient of non-traditional medicine for most of my life as well. We want to offer British Columbians their decision to make that choice -- you know, not individual as a critic, but we want British Columbians to make the choice what's best for them and their health.

Reporter: There is some controversy regarding the new law school in the private-owned faith-based Trinity. It still got that final approval. Any comment on that.

Virk: The question relates to my approval just this week of the law school at Trinity Western University. I made the decision very carefully after a careful analysis of feedback that I had from the degree quality assurance board that the program had the appropriate rigour, the appropriate planning, the appropriate depth and breadth of programs, and also the review by the Canadian Federation of Law Societies, which had a similar examination, and a very rigorous examination, may I say, that dealt with the exact same question. The Canadian Federation of Law Societies came to the conclusion that the students from the proposal as presented to them could be accredited with law societies across British Columbia. Taking both those into consideration, I made the decision to permit the new law school at Trinity Western University.

Reporter: How do you deal with that controversy?

Virk: I'll take the last question on that. There certainly will be detractors and opponents of any decision that's made. That's made based on the fact that we have two independent review panels that analyzed it in depth with a great deal of rigour and came and recommended the advice that the law school application as presented and the depth and breadth of the program represented was sufficient to allow a law student to gain accreditation across Canada. So it's based upon that that I made that decision.

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