Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Les Leyne: MLA mom tells how working remotely could have saved a life

MLA Harwinder Sandhu was attending a sitting of the house remotely when her daughter went into a health crisis
The domes of the B.C. legislature in downtown Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The B.C. legislature was ­thrashing out final consideration this week of allowing MLAs to participate remotely.

Taking part via video has been permitted since the ­pandemic started four years ago, on a temporary basis. There was one last debate Wednesday before they voted to make it a permanent option.

The talk was about ­parliamentary principles and expectations.

Pretty mundane stuff.

Vernon-Monashee NDP MLA Harwinder Sandhu joined the discussion (in person) toward the end. She made some points about how it can allow flexibility and saves travel time and costs.

Then she got personal.

During last fall’s sitting, she had house duty the morning of Nov. 27, meaning her attendance was mandatory. But her teenage daughter, Jasreen, had become seriously ill.

Sandhu could have taken leave, but didn’t want to miss the sitting. So she called in on her phone to fulfil her house duty — from her daughter’s bedside at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

With her background blurred on the phone video link, she was listening to proceedings when a nurse started an infusion for her daughter.

“Within seconds, my daughter was developing anaphylactic reaction, unable to speak, unable to breath.

“When I looked back, I saw she’d turned red, her heart, like she’s trying to tell me it’s going to explode.

“Immediately, I knew that she was red. So quickly, I was able to turn off the camera and run. There was a saline syringe. I happened to be able to stop the pump … and that saved her life.”

Nurses rushed in and Sandhu, who is a career nurse on leave from the hospital, apologized.

“I didn’t want to overstep.”

A nurse waved it off, expressing amazement at how she handled it.

“She said, ‘It was phenomenal to see, not only that you saved her life; in those couple of minutes, you switched from being an MLA to a mom to a nurse.’”

Sandhu said it was then she realized: “My goodness, if I wasn’t there, my daughter, who wasn’t able to press the call bell and wasn’t able to breathe, the outcome would have been different.”

“I did not realize until then that this [remote option] could even save lives. So that’s why I thought I’d share my thoughts.”

In an interview Friday, she said she shared the story with her colleagues in the NDP caucus only shortly before she rose in the house.

She got a standing ovation and a round of hugs. There was a warm round of applause in the house, as well.

Sandhu’s husband, Baljit, is also a health-care worker and happened to be working elsewhere in the hospital at the time.

“He didn’t know it was happening. He was pretty amazed and of course grateful.”

Sandhu said her daughter recalls thinking during the episode that she was “drifting away” from her mother. It was very traumatic.

Jasreen spent about a week in hospital with her mother sleeping in the room and is now home under treatment and recovering.

A committee had already agreed to make the change, and Sandhu’s experience just confirmed the decision. So they took the leap and made it a permanent option. It will save hours of travel time, lots of tax dollars in costs and lower emissions.

One of the more compelling advantages is that it eases one of the many challenges that deter people from running for office.

Even being allowed to substitute a call for in-person attendance just a few times during the several months the house sits could make the job more appealing.

The big downside is that it can be glitchy and awkward, as it was during the first few sittings during lockdown.

Cabinet ministers’ attendance is crucial, and opposition MLAs stressed there is no substitute for live debate with them.

In-person is the default expectation, and remote is to be used only in special circumstances.

After four years of embarrassment and hilarity about Zoom mishaps around the world, Sandhu’s simultaneous performance in a crisis as MLA, mother and nurse proves the value of the remote option.

It also shows a lot about her dedication in all three roles.

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]