Feature Story                                                                                                Saturday, March 21, 2015

 

Listen, We Need to Talk

NDP "heavyweights" hear resident's concerns about Chilliwack and Fraser Valley issues

Staff/Voice photos

 

John Horgan, leader of the BC NDP and MLA for Juan de Fuca, along with Carole James, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, were in Chilliwack to speak with supporters about local issues Wednesday.

 

ven though the next BC general election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 9 2017, MLA Carole James and BC NDP leader John Horgan were in Chilliwack to bolster support and speak with residents about local issues, such as the proposed Aevitas toxin recycling plant.

 

The plant plan has environmentalists up in arms, who say they aren't against it, just the location, which the City of Chilliwack council passed without much in the way of public consultation.

 

Following their meeting with residents, Horgan and James sat down with reporters. The following are the question and answers:

 

John Horgan

In our own communities, people are getting nickeled and dimed to death. Costs are going up and services seem to be disappearing. Whether it be in our health care system our public education system seems to be pulling money back and not putting money in to make quality of classrooms the highest priority.

 

Progress

What's the "quality of classrooms"?

 

Horgan

What teachers tell me, what parents tell me is that it's harder for kids to learn and it's harder for teachers to teach because of increasing numbers and the composition of those classrooms as well. Increasing numbers of what they call "grey area kids". So we're hearing that whether it be hydro rates, ICBC rates, medical services premiums for small business people or for seniors, young families, they're going up, year after year, after year and wages have been flat and even the Business Council of BC chief economist Jock Finlayson talks about the troubling events of the past nine years where wages have been flat, in other words going down as costs on almost everything have been going up.

 

Our question to the people who came today was; where do you think you need a break? Where is it that these increased costs are finally getting to the breaking point, and we heard quite a range, and thats the objective here, it's a listening tour rather than a talking to tour.

 

Progress

What were the topics?

 

Horgan

Well, we talked about some environmental concerns in the region, the waste (recycling) plant on the river, and we've been on that in the Legislature Spencer Chandra Herbert and the interesting part is that I had a constituent of mine in Metchosin on the Island, who came to me and said that there are 'serious concerns that we have on the West Coast of Vancouver Island about what's happening on the Fraser River.' These are recreational fishermen who are concerned about stocks dwindling because of habitat impacts here on the Fraser. And that was interesting for the people in the room, because they began to realize that we are all interrelated, even though we're halfway up the Fraser to Hope, even on the West Coast of Vancouver Island we have common interests about managing and protecting habitat, not just salmon but other iconic species, sturgeon and so on.

 

So we did spend more time talking about salmon than I expected to and then we got back into just the struggling; how is it that costs keep going up and services go down; why did the government chose to give a tax break to the top 2 per cent of wage earners and pile 700 million dollars onto the backs of everybody else.

 

Carole James

You've heard people talking about the insult of the minimum wage.

 

Horgan

Two dimes.

 

The Voice

Are there any plans to bring it up to what Seattle's minimum wage is; $15?

 

Horgan

The BC Federation of Labour is on a campaign to do that. I'm not sure we can get the $15 tomorrow, but 20 cents, it's an insult. The only good news in the announcement is that they're now indexing it to the cost of living, so the increases will be annual. But you need to start from a higher point than $10.45.

 

The Voice

The Federation of Post Secondary Educators are not happy with the amount of money being put into post secondary education, will the NDP put more money in?

 

Horgan

People often say, well if they gave $250 million to rich people, what would you do with that money? But it's not so much the tax cut that's the challenge, it's the waste that you see every single day. The auditor general for local government, we've been talking about that in the Legislature. $5 million, that's an adjustable number. People understand that. $5 million, that's real money and we're spending it on an office that has done one audit in two years.

 

It's one of Christy's pet projects. That's wasted money in my opinion. We have an Auditor General that's been in place for 30 years, has a clear line of responsibility. It's independent for politicians and instead of saying to that office, 'we're going to add a municipal office to your activities', they created a whole new office. Burned money in my view and that's money that we could have used to reduce the impact of cuts to advanced education, which again, then they talk about skills training and they cut the budget. How can you square that circle? It's rhetoric out of one side and reality out of the other, and the reality is in the room over here (meeting room) where they're saying 'our kids can't get a break, they can't launch, they come out of post secondary education if they can afford to get in with massive student debt.

 

We met a family in Kamloops last week, $100,000 between the two of them of student debt. They're trying to advance themselves. They're trying to make a better life for themselves, they've got two kids, $100,000 of student debt, that just floors me.

 

James

That's what you heard from people here again is that don't expect government to do everything. They're working hard, they're getting jobs, they're trying to launch their kids, they're trying to look for daycare and yet the government makes it tougher and tougher by hydro rate increases, by ICBC rate increases, by medical service premium increases, and just when they're starting to get ahead, the government says 'oh, here's another 4 per cent increase.

 

The Voice

When is that kicking in? April?

 

Horgan

Yes. Hydro's going to go up 28 per cent over the next three years.

 

James

The government makes it hard to get ahead. The government makes it more difficult for them. They're doing everything right, they're doing their part. They're working hard, they're raising their kids, and the government makes it tougher and tougher by adding fees on services and costs.

 

Horgan

And you see that increase in cynicism in the whole political process as well and cynicism breeds a lack of participation. That's why we see participation rates going down at election time at every level of government and that's because people feel that there's nothing that they can do about it.

 

Progress

With two provincial NDP heavyweights coming to Chilliwack, what did you choose to come here for, did you come here to want to talk about Aevitas mainly, and everything else, or what was the main reason for coming here?

 

Horgan

We wanted to come to the Valley and we're heading up to Hope this afternoon, and we'll be into Princeton, Osoyos, Keremeos, later, I think it's next week or the week after.

 

James

Prince George and Kamloops last week.

 

Progress

Aevitas, and salmon are the two big issues...

 

James

And affordability, and basic services; health care and education.

 

Horgan

It was the unfairness of giving millionaires a tax break when you're saying 'we've got to tighten our belts.' That's a disconnect for people. There was a woman whose husband just passed away, was not getting home care at the end of life for her husband, had been going along smashingly for ten years, he's been in a wheelchair and then the last three years were hell. That's how she characterized it. So when people look at government services dwindling, government saying we're tightening belts, so we have to increase costs on you, and the same day, they give $17,000 to millionaires that they didn't even ask for.

 

That was, if you made a million dollars then you got $17,000 tax-free for the top 2 per cent income earners. That was for individuals (earning) over $150,000, not family income one individual. Only 2 per cent of British Columbians make over $150,000

 

The Voice

My understanding of deficit is that you import more than you export. Are these government trade missions going to help reduce the deficit or are they just junkets?

 

Horgan

I support reaching out to new markets. We have an abundance of wealth in  British Columbia. Our natural resources are commonly known. Our forests, our rocks, our minerals, our metals, our gas, so, I believe it's our responsibility as political leaders to make connections so that we can grow our ability to trade. We're a trading nation. We're a trading province. The Port of Vancouver is the second busiest after Long Beach on the West Coast of North America, and Prince Rupert is growing by the day. So, I believe that as a trading province, you have to talk to your trading partners.

 

I'm not so certain, when I look at the people that end up getting on the plane and going on these trips that they would rather just stay home. But they're kind of brow beaten, 'we're going on a trade mission, everybody's got to get on board.' You're better to ask them how they feel about it, but I sometimes get that sense.

 

You talked about the advanced education sector, I know a couple of university presidents who have been dragooned into flying across the Pacific Ocean to drum up business and most of that business is done through the internet these days.

 

James

I think a really good example, or bad example, of the challenges of import/export in British Columbia's manufacturing sector which is atrocious compared to the rest of the country. We are way down, No. 7 (of the provinces) when it comes to manufacturing and exports, are raw logs.

 

You know there are secondary manufacturers here in British Columbia who say we could expand our business, we could hire more people if we could get fibre. But we can't because they're shipping raw logs off, they're exporting them without the jobs being here. So, it's also frustrating to see the lack of interest, the lack of attention to local manufacturing, local opporunties that could be here if the government just gave it a little bit of attention. But we haven't seen that.

 

Horgan

I was in the Valley last fall with Lana Popham, our Agriculture Critic, visiting a dairy farm in the region and looking at agriculture. It's so important to this part of the province, that's been virtually ignored. There's no standing committee in the Legislature on agriculture. So Lana Popham started her own and it included the independent member; Vicki Huntingdon.

 

It's not an NDP committee with independent members, and we said to the Liberals, 'you should come along and talk about agriculture'. 'No, no, we're not allowed to do that.'

 

So, we're trying to find innovative ways to connect on important economic issues in regions of the province. Obviously, agriculture is critical here. LNG, not so much. But yet all the government did for two years was talk about liquefied natural gas at the expense of forestry. So, these small re-manufacturing operations Carole talks about couldn't get wood. At the same time they were begging for trees, for logs, were sending a 500 per cent increase in raw logs.

 

There used to be a lot of logs moving up and down the Fraser River and it's just not happening any more because those small mills are shuttered and they're not going to be opening up because they can't afford to buy the logs because we're being undercut by foreign buyers, and the big companies who have the tenures say 'well you know if we reduce our overhead and just ship the logs it's instant profit for us', and they don't have the headaches of salaries and benefits. And that's not how you grow an economy in my opinion.

 

Progress

We had some fairly recent precedents in the community, where we have had the NDP holding a seat here in Chilliwack, what do you think it's going to take to have that breakthrough again?

 

Well, we need to keep showing up and being present in the community, talking to people and having people recognize that their values are our values. The government would have you believe that they're the only ones that believe in economic development. The government would have you believe that they're the good stewards of our economy. The reality is, that the records of previous NDP governments can be put up against the current government, and statistically in virtually every sector, it's almost a wash. So if there's no comparative advantage on the economy for the government, then what are we doing on these other issues that are so critical to people; public education; social programs; and growing vibrant communities. Certainly, there's no more vibrant communities than Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Agassiz. If we can come and connect with people, I believe we can be successful in the next election.

 

James

As John said to the group (in the meeting), this is about "choices." This is a government that made a choice coming out of difficult economic times, to give a tax break to millionaires and to put fees and more costs for services onto families. Is that the choice that people in British Columbia want? We don't believe that. We believe that people want a government that is balanced and recognizes that middle class families are working British Columbians, and deserve a break not millionaires, because if you've got money and you're going to make a choice, then it should be those hard working middle class families in British Columbia.

 

The Voice

What do you think of this national drug plan, universal Pharmacare, free medications?

 

Horgan

That's a federal issue.

 

The Voice

But you guys have a role to play though in that.

 

Horgan

Well we have a role to play in managing our health budgets here in British Columbia and the health costs continue to rise and the big driver large pharmaceuticals (companies) and the higher expectations for healthy outcomes as well and that's because we getting better at doing things.

 

I had cataract surgery, it took twelve minutes and it used to take an hour. So, they're charging the same for the procedure, but they're doing five of them now when they used to only do one. That's good for the people that have cataracts, but it costs that much more for the system.

 

James

You can save lots of money for the provincial health care budget by having a national drug plan. You can buy in bulk, you can use your buying power.

 

Horgan

When the NDP was in power in the 1990's, we brought in reference-based pricing. The Liberals kept that because it makes sense to make sure that you're prescribing drugs that are as efficient as they can be for the patient, but as low cost as you can find. And we have partnerships with Manitoba, Saskatewan and Alberta to buy in bulk and that's the lion's share of the federal plan is to give provincial governments the opportunity to have savings by buying large amounts of a particular drug.

 

The Voice

So, then you agree with that plan?

 

Horgan

Well, I'd have to look at it in detail at the very provisions, but I certainly agree in reducing costs to the system and making sure we get better outcomes for patients.

 

The Voice

Is enough being done on the violence toward women issue, should penalties be stiffer for abusers?

 

James

I certainly think more needs to be done. A terrific example are the murdered and missing women and the report that came out and the government still hasn't acted on the recommendations, on Highway 16 the Highway of Tears. Those are basic services that the government could have taken the recommendations and acted on them and they haven't. So I think it just shows that the premier said that BC was going to be violence-free. Women and families, because it impacts everyone in the community, not just women. They need more than slogans, they need action. They need support here in the community and they aren't getting it and the government has not acted on the recommendations.

 

The Voice

What does that mean? More money, stiffer penalties?

 

Horgan

Well, you've always got to raise awareness first and foremost. I walked a mile in women's shoes as part of a fundraiser in Victoria and I learned a lot from just that exercise. But I think that violence against women starts largely with men and they need to make sure that we're raising our children to understand and that means programs that are not overly expensive, but educating people and creating better citizens, and that goes right back to our public education again. It's a great equalizer in our society in my opinion. I was raised by a single mom, my dad died when I was a baby and my siblings and I were raised, and I had a strong female role model and my sister was the secondary caregiver, and so I come at the world in a different way because of the input that I add and if we can make sure we're cultivating good young men we're going to have less violence in society, but that's not sufficient. There are people that are not going to be part of the program and that's why we need to ensure that law enforcement is as informed as they can be on trends and make sure that women are not put back into violent situations by the courts and a whole range of other things, so, it's a multi-faceted problem and there's a multi-faceted solution.

 

James

Women coming out of transition can't find affordable housing many times and the only option they have is to go back (to the abusive situation) where they came from. Well, that's not a good solution for anybody and certainly not for that family.

 

The Progress

Regarding Aevitas, the number one issue here, the BC government has said "if it's not safe, it will not be built".

 

Horgan

That's right. That was a result of questioning from (Spencer).

 

Progress

They said they were deciding on whether or not they were going to do an environmental assessment, and deciding on how they're going to do the technical review, now they've since demanded more consultation, which I broke the story on, and so why are people still worried if they are saying at every level, they are going to make sure it's safer, and not to mention bending over backwards to make sure that everybody knows? Why worry?

 

Horgan

It's the cynicism in the system. I think that it goes right back to one of the first points we made; the public is leery that they will be heard in a consultation. Assertions from government that everything is fine, don't worry, have been heard before and tragedy has followed.

 

Mt. Polley mine disaster; apparently there was nothing wrong with Mt. Polley until 25 million cubic metres of toxic tailings left the pond and made their way to the Quesnel Lake. So people in Chilliwack should be concerned that every step is going to be taken by government and the regulator to protect not just the people in the region, but of course the habitat for salmon and the importance of the Fraser is known to British Columbians for millennia. First people's get that. People on Vancouver Island get that. So, assurances from government that everything that can be done, will be done were given at Mt. Polley and they're still trying to figure out how 25 million meters leaked.

 

James

People had to fight to even get government to say that they'd look at the safety issues. That's why people are skeptical. From their perspective, they want to look at the safety issue first.

 

Horgan

What I would say is that even those I spoke with today and in the past are enthusiastic about a recycling facility, it's the location that concerns them. I think that we need to be mindful of that. I'm a proponent of economic activity and development, provided that there are safeguards in place to protect the environment and protect the public. That's where regular folks are at they want to have confidence in their government and regulator, but they see these horrific examples and it gives them pause. So I think there's a wait and see attitude, certainly in the region towards this proposal today and the proof will be in the pudding. Is the government going to protect the public interest or are they going to turn a blind eye.

 

The Voice

Mr. Horgan, simple yes or no, pipelines: for or against?

 

Horgan

There's no such thing as a simple yes or no. The Kinder Morgan pipe is in an existing right-of-way and they're in process now. I think the process was botched from the beginning. The provincial government gave away their ability to have a role in the process and I think that was a significant failure on the part of Christy Clark, But the Enbridge pipe in the north, we are on record as being opposed to that. There is no existing right-of-way. There is no tanker traffic coming our of Douglas Channel in Kitimat. There is in the port of Vancouver and I think the public has to have a serious look at this that's not been marred by the views of the National Energy Board who clearly are just going to be pushing forward on an idea based on inputs from the company. If we don't know what their spill response plan is, something's wrong with the process.

 

The Voice

The US government came out last week and said they expect ten unit (oil) train derailments a year. You don't get ten pipeline blowouts a year.

 

Horgan

No, look, I'm not suggesting that the alternative is better than what's being proposed. I don't want to leave you with that impression at all. I think that rail is the last way in which we should proceed. But there is an existing pipe and Kinder Morgan has been operating it for fifty years and they are proposing to expand it. Now, if they were expanding it to feed the refineries that would create jobs in the Lower Mainland, I would be more empathetic than I am today. They're building this pipe to export and that export will have little benefit for British Columbia but lots of risk. The reward goes to the owners of the asset and they're not British Columbians.

 

My job is to protect British Columbia's interests and Alberta is interested to get their product to the coast. The coast is a British Columbia issue and that's where I'm going to focus my attention.

 

Related Stories

Families Squeezed - March 18, 2015

Railing on Pipelines - March 2, 2013

Tapping into the Community - December 2, 2012   ** Lac Megantic was July 9 2013 **

 

 

 

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