B.C.'s plan to roll out new high-tech CareCards is on indefinite hold because of labour strife, says the health minister.
The provincial government will delay a late-November launch of the new CareCards because employees at the Insurance Corporation of B.C. who would be responsible for the transition are refusing to be trained, said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.
"It's too close now to the [launch] time," MacDiarmid said Tuesday.
"We have to delay it until such time as the training can happen and the training can be done properly."
New CareCards were supposed to be issued when motorists renew their driver's licences at ICBC offices, starting Nov. 30. The rollout is to be phased in over five years.
But ICBC employees are without a contract and locked in a dispute with the Crown corporation over pay, benefits and job security. They have refused to administer the new Care-Cards as part of job action that includes brief strikes and a ban on overtime.
It's unclear when the $150-million project could be resurrected.
"I don't know what the new date will be, but it will be as soon as it can," said MacDiarmid.
"All of the work is done in order to launch as soon as the work at ICBC can be completed."
MacDiarmid said she also wants to launch a public-awareness campaign, so people understand how the new cards will affect their health insurance.
Enrolment will be mandatory, except for certain seniors and those younger than 19. Old Care-Cards are supposed to expire after the five-year phase-in, meaning those who fail to register for a new card won't have their health-care costs covered by the government.
Workers at ICBC had been hoping the CareCard project's looming launch date would pressure ICBC into a settlement.
"Unfortunately, we need to find further ways to put pressure on ICBC and government," said David Black, president of the union local representing ICBC workers.
The company and union recently hired a mediator. Negotiations remain unproductive, and ICBC has started decreasing offers it had previously put on the table, Black said.
The new cards have enhanced security features that the government says are intended to combat fraud. There are twice as many CareCards in circulation in B.C. as people, the Health Ministry has said.
People will also have the option of combining their new CareCard with a driver's licence to create an all-in-one B.C. Service Card.
NDP critic Mike Farn-worth said the delay is part of a pattern of government mismanagement of the issue.
He said that MacDiarmid should first brief the legislature on the purpose of the CareCard program before launching a public-awareness campaign that might fail to address key questions.
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