Feature Story                                                                    Wednesday, May 3, 2017



Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

O'Hara has been pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, talking with average people

Staff/Voice photos


NDP's Tracey O'Hara is hoping all her hard work will pay off at the polls running next Tuesday.

he's been juggling a full-time job, looking after kids and campaigning for the elections, NDP candidate for Chilliwack, Tracey O'Hara hasn't had time for much else. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to meet with The Voice last week and tackle some nagging questions and concerns constituents have.


What do you think you need to do in this election?

I think I need to be visible. I think I need to be on the doorstep and asking what they want. I think I need to be listening to people.


Itís been reported that one reason the NDP lost was because the party was all over the map instead of focusing on a few main issues. Which issues would you focus on?

Well, all I hear about is affordability. I feel like, so for people, that seems to be at the top of the list? People canít afford to live, even where theyíre living. Some are being forced out of their homes because rents are going up, theyíre income isnít enough to keep them where they are. Some people talk with me about home ownership and they think, ďweíll never own a home hereĒ. We donít make enough money and how are we supposed to do this on the incomes that we have?


Do you think the Liberals have done enough to help homeowners i.e. grants or tax breaks?

If they have I donít see where. I guess youíd have to do the math. Thatís what some people donít do, is that they say: Hereís the cost of a home, hereís how much they can put down. Whatís paid over 25 years? What does it actually cost to own that? They donít look at the long-term theyíre just so fixed on the short-term because of the interest rates. I think that the way things are they canít afford it right now.


Do you own a home?

Well, the bank owns the home. I might own it one day.


What do you think are some of the main issues here in Chilliwack?

Crime. It certainly comes up in this area talking to people. Theyíre very frustrated. Iím not here at night and I think thatís when a lot of the activity really starts to heat up. Some of the people I know they work shift-work at night, and the streets are just alive at one or two in the morning. There are a lot of video cameras, homeowners included, who watch and see what happens around here at night. I almost feel that, are like people all just numb to all of this? Do they think this is the new normal? That this is how life is? That somethingís youíve worked your whole life that's sacred gets stolen? You have to be so mindful to keep everything safe, keep the doors locked at all times. If I forget something in the carport, will it be there tomorrow morning?


Initially, the NDP came out against pipelines and then they flip-flopped on that. Why do you think that was?

I only know what Iíve been told thus far. Iíve been told that they are against Kinder Morgan expansion, so thatís what I know. If something has changed between now and the last conversation, then thatís all I know about that.


The Liberals have been balancing the budget for the most part? How would the NDP do that?

Theyíve been robbing Peter to pay Paul. I donít think thatís balancing the budget. Itís not how I look after my finances. My understanding of it is that you only know the numbers that they present to you. The NDPís not in governmentís books or anybody elseís, so I donít think you are privy to that information. Thatís my understanding, so you wouldnít really know all the details of whatís going on.


If you were an MLA, would you sign-off on every penny that went out?

I absolutely would. I donít now anything about the financing of a district such as Chilliwack. You can ask all my administrators at work. I question everything. Iím quite particular. Whether itís donations or taxpayer money. When youíve been put in a position such as an MLA, you are accountable for those finances.


Legalize drugs? Mike Harcourt recently came out and declared that all drugs should be legalized? Will it reduce crime?

There has been talk about marijuana and thatís a federal issue coming down through federal legislation and we simply have to follow their lead on that one. Iíve heard people speak of decriminalizing drugs, thereby I guess in thinking that, it would allow people who are addicts to get help. I get being addicted is a disease and I get it that it needs to be treated as such.


What about harm reduction? Is there a need for methadone treatment, opiods etc. and doing something for mental health like with proposals at Riverview (Colony Farm)?
Clearly, something needs to be done because what weíre doing now isnít working. And thatís how I look at it. What is best practice going to be? We need to look at what other towns and cities are doing. I think maybe thatís what you need to do, start asking the questions and we need to look at real options for people. You canít think that by throwing people onto the streets and expect them to surviveĖespecially those suffering with mental issues. For me, itís just cruel. I think itís not right. A lot of the doctors Iíve spoken with lately say that about 80 per cent of addicts and homeless suffer from some sort of mental illness issue.


Rent control. Rents are raised 2.9 per cent annually. So for renters, at $20 a year increase, that means in five years theyíre paying $100 more a month for the same thing. What do you think needs to be done?

 I think they want to drop it down to 2 per cent. I hear from lots of people that every year it keeps going up and their disability payments donít go up and so eventually, theyíre going to be in a negative situation if this continues. A lot have said that 75-80 per cent of their income is going to a roof over their head and thereís no money left. How do you do that on disability? I just donít think kids should have to live like that.


Automation. Should they work at reversing it to keep jobs?

Itís been my experience that whenever they try to automate things, it seems to cause more work. I feel it does and in a lot of cases you just lose that personal touch. I canít tell how business people to run a business, but I certainly think that when youíve got productive staff and so when someone walks in your business, and youíve got a smiling face, I bet you that chances are theyíd come back rather than go somewhere else just because they save 50Ę or a dollar.


Should the business tax be eliminated to create more jobs?

I certainly know theyíre dropping it and hoping that stimulates the economy. I guess that you try that and see where it goes from there. I think if that isnít working, then itís more important to talk to small business owners and find out that what is it that government can do to make the business more successful. Iím not a business owner. I have a lot of friends who have small businesses and they seem to do okay, but can we do better so they can be more successful and a more sustainable part of our community.


MSP costs? 24 per cent hike by January 1

Yes, I know. Canadian universal healthcare, free. Full-stop. My friend in the US pays $500 a month.


Do you think the Liberals are doing enough to help post secondary students?

Iíve talked with a few families who have children that are in post secondary and I am shocked at the debts that these kids are coming out of school with.


How about free textbooks?

Theyíre not free. Certainly theyíre more expensive now. Iím shocked at what they charge now for textbooks. My understanding too is that those textbooks could be obsolete the following year or the year after that. They donít keep with the same words. You might be able to sell them at the end of the school year and might be able to recoup a few bucks or trade books or something. I donít know. Iím just going by what Iíve been told by kids in school. So I think thatís a huge cost to students and certainly I think it would be reasonable to look at for sure.


Minimum wage is $11 an hour?

Itís not working for me. I donít think itís working for many young families.


How do you live on $11 an hour?

You donít. I bet there is a big part of the equation that many families are just one cheque away from being homeless. No savings. So where is the disposable income to spend in the community to keep the small businesses thriving? Thatís how I look at it. If all youíve got is money for rent and gas and a few groceries, then how do you go to the cinema or a play or production? How do you have your kids in sports? For me, sports is really big. I volunteered many years for my kidís sports and that has been a huge part in making them healthy, vibrant young adults.


What do you think of LNG and fracking?

What Iíve read about it kind of frightens me. Iíve done a little bit of reading about it from back east and I donít know if itís the practice that goes on or that is the end result.


Itís going to pay a lot of bills.

At what cost? You canít drink the water that comes out of your tap because thereís so much methane coming off it you can light it with a match. At the expense of everyone and weíre going to do it? To me, it doesnít make sense. When I read stuff like that, then I think someone needs to look carefully at this before we pursue it.


What do you think about the BCAS (BC Ambulance Service) and the shortage of ambulances here? Throw some money their way?

Well yeah. Do you think? I donít know how they manage. Iíd be interested to know that if calls come in, that they canít get to people in a reasonable amount of time. I donít know if thatís a reality. Iíve used them lots. I was very, very ill for a couple of years and have had my fair share of rides with those guys. They were fantastic. I cannot say enough about our paramedics. I think theyíre just a fabulous bunch.


Doctor shortage, what kind of incentives do you think we need to get them here to Chilliwack?

Yes there is a shortage. Iíd like to know if we donít have enough here because they donít want to be here. I think thatís the question that we need to be asking.


Human Rights?

I havenít had any experience with human rights issues, but where does one go if they are having problems?


Do you support Rail for the Valley?

I do. I would use it every day if need be. Itís a great way to cut down traffic congestion and pollution.


Can politicians be optimists?
Of course. I would hate to go through my life being a pessimist.


Learn more about Tracey O'Hara here. Connect with her on Facebook here.



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