It has been an exciting few months as we started what we hope and anticipate will be four years in government. A great deal has happened since the session began in September and a great deal more is in the works for the coming months.
But first I must apologise to you. From having been a regular correspondent, usually with a weekly email report when the Legislature was in session, I’m unfortunately no longer able draft a weekly report in order to keep you so up to date with legislative developments. While it is truly an honour to be a Minister in this government, the increased workload means I have far less time to keep people informed on what is happening. But I assure you I will continue to write and send reports as often as the work demands permit.
Our first three months in the Legislature have been busy. It is hard to say what is the ‘most’ important piece of legislation that has been brought forth – and is now law – but I would suggest that our approach to campaign finance has been foundational. No longer can BC be labeled, as the New York Times headlined, the “wild west” of election financing. We have passed a bill that will end donations from corporations and from unions and will limit personal donations to $1,200 a year. For too long people have looked at BC election financing almost as governments up for sale. John Horgan’s government has cleaned that up.
And we have taken the first steps to electoral reform with legislation that clears the way for a referendum next year to decide whether BC should move ahead with proportional representation.
We have also started to tackle social justice and inequality. We have an ambitious plan for housing across the province with thousands of new homes to be built in all areas: whether it is in Campbell River or Surrey we know there is a shortage of affordable housing. The welfare and disability rates have been raised $100 a month and we’ve started on a poverty reduction strategy. And we have a fair wage commission looking at how we can achieve the $15 an hour minimum wage as quickly as possible.
As Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure I’ve been working on a number of areas including trying to “green” the sector. That means putting investment into transit and recognising that you cannot build your way out of congestion with more and more highways. I received a great deal of flak for the decision to halt the planned 10-lane bridge as a replacement for the Massey Tunnel. But it was the emphatic view of all but one of the communities in the affected region that their priorities were public transit and densification not a big bridge, wider highways and more traffic. The BC Liberals ignored these community priorities.
I’ve been travelling around the province seeing the needs of our highway system firsthand. And I am very aware of the issues impacting the North Island’s road system. I’ve been working with the Ministry on fixing the Junction at Highway 19 and Campbell Way in Port McNeill. The most senior executive of the Highways Division of my Ministry has toured all our roads and we’re working on priorities. We’ve been in serious negotiations about the road to Zeballos. And a top priority for me is the impact Western Forest Products closure of its log haul rail line will have on Highway 19 and the road to Beaver Cove.
Like most North Islanders I was disappointed by WFP’s decision to end hauling by rail and moving to trucks. The accident in Woss earlier this year was a tragedy for the community and the loss of jobs because of this change is a further blow. In addition the reduction in number of log sorts will inevitably hit our region. I will be meeting North Island mayors to discuss the impacts to communities in the coming weeks.
Of course, our marine highway continues to be central to the work that I am doing. As you may have heard, Premier Horgan has said, “everything is on the table” when it comes to BC Ferries. We are committed to cutting fares in the next budget and doing a thorough review of the system. BC Ferries in its current form is a law unto itself. Under the structure the BC Liberals put in place, it is virtually untouchable by the government even though it is the main shareholder. This is because the share is held at arms length. This means it is impossible to compel BC Ferries does anything: the corporation can unilaterally decide what it wants to do. I’m not prejudging the outcome of the review of its structure and operational mandate but my bottom line is that BC Ferries must work for our communities, not the corporation.
While most of my time has been taken in Victoria and around the province, I was pleased to be able to spend a week in the constituency around Remembrance Day. It was a busy week: the official opening of our Campbell River hospital was held and I was pleased the Citizens for Quality Healthcare got special notice for their hard work in getting this new hospital for our community. I also used the week to meet with individual constituents facing challenges with the system.
And now the Legislature has risen following a full fall session. We’ll be back in Victoria in February. But I will be active both around the constituency as your MLA and in Victoria and around the province as the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
If you are in Campbell River on December 18th, come by my Community Office at 908 Island Highway for our annual Christmas Open House.
You can always get hold of me at Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org. You can of course call the Campbell River office at 1 250 287 5100 and Port Hardy at 1 250 949 9473.
My very best wishes for this holiday season,