The legislature has officially wrapped up and I’m back from Victoria for the summer and September. It’s great to be home with my family and back in our neighbourhoods on a daily basis.
For our family, June has meant that my wife Cailey has wrapped up her epic medical school journey at UBC and will be starting her residency in family medicine on Canada Day – July 1st! I’m trying to get some time with her and our son at home this month before she’s back to an extended full time schedule as a new doctor, so my apologies in advance if you have to wait a little longer than expected for a face-to-face meeting with me.
As you may have heard, watched on Facebook live, or seen in person, our second run at holding our townhall meeting, this time at the Hellenic Community Centre, was a great success. Hundreds of you came out and had your voices heard, and we had five outspoken community experts and advocates share their opinions on where the government has succeeded, and where we need to continue to do work to improve.
More than 50 volunteers came out from the community to staff our meeting and ensure our event was, as intended, for constituents first, and that everyone felt welcome to share their thoughts and opinions. A special thank you to those volunteers, and to my hard working staff Dulcy, Nic and Thea who worked overtime to organize this meeting on the very first Monday after the legislative session wrapped up.
The school tax debate was a big part of the evening, and I’d like to thank those on both sides of the discussion who ensured that the meeting was as constructive as possible. We even arranged a venue with enough room for the school tax protesters who came to our community event to make their voices heard! I had a very anti-school tax protester come up to me after our town hall and thank me for organizing the event, even though she clearly disagreed with the government’s position on this policy.
It might seem strange to hear given the controversy of the last couple of months, but I have never been more hopeful about the future of our community, more confident in the importance of the work you sent me to Victoria to do, and more sure that the results we will achieve will be a legacy for our children’s children.
It is a bit hard to remember, but in March of 2016 we hosted another townhall in the very same Hellenic Community Hall on the same topic – housing. Back then we were having a very different discussion than we are now. We had a broken political system where unlimited donations from the wealthy and well connected bought access to the province’s leadership at private and secretive dinner parties. Our system was so broken that BC was featured on the cover of the New York Times as the “Wild West”, where a premier could collect a second salary paid for entirely out of corporate donations to her political party, and her MLAs would defend it in the legislature as the cost of democracy.
These donations, which brought us a government sponsored in no small part by those profiting from the housing and the climate crisis, were surely a consideration when rather than taking action, the Premier and her then housing minister told those feeling the pressure of the out-of-control housing market in Metro Vancouver to stop complaining and move to Fort St. John or Prince Rupert.
In March of 2016, many people showed up to tell me, and the then government, that you would no longer be put off. You wanted real action.
Well, you now have a new government, and real action.
There have been a lot of changes – both big and small – in a short period of time, and not just on housing. A recent CBC analysis showed we’ve delivered on, or made significant progress on, more than 75% of our platform commitments in less than one year in government. For those of you who couldn’t make it to the town hall, I’d like to share our progress with you.
First, the big. Those donations featured in the New York Times as so egregious are now illegal. No more union or corporate donations. No personal donations in excess of $1,200 are permitted. There are new rules restricting lobbying by former government insiders, banning them for two years from lobbying government, and ending the rotating door between lobby shops and government in BC.
We are introducing legislation to impose an innovative new tax on real estate speculators with vacant homes in the parts of the province hardest hit by the housing crisis, including Metro Vancouver. We’re building a beneficial ownership registry so we know exactly who owns property in our province, not numbered companies, but what real people own property. We’re tracking, and reporting to the Canada revenue agency, the activities of people flipping pre-sale condos, with a brand new law passed last session.
We’re making the largest investment in housing supply in BC’s history, $7bn, which includes (but is not limited to) direct funding for 37,000 affordable rental units; a housing hub at BC housing to build more affordable homes that has already announced a blockbuster deal with the United Church to build affordable rental housing; increased rental assistance for seniors and working families through the SAFER program; the opening of over 2,500 modular housing units with badly needed services for those living outside or in tent cities; and, 1,500 new transition and long-term housing units for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
I haven’t forgotten that many of you raised concerns with me about conditions in our classrooms during the campaign. Our government is hiring 3,700 new teachers, reducing class sizes and getting kids the support they need to succeed. Parents don’t have to fundraise for playgrounds anymore – they’re considered part of a new school and funded by government.
On that note, we’re investing $2bn to maintain and replace schools in our communities across the province that desperately need it. Here, in our community, our government green lit the Bayview Elementary replacement, to the delight of the Parent Advisory Committee there. These parents were sick and tired of sending their kids to an under-maintained school that waited, and waited, and waited for seismic repairs that never came. Instead of working on collecting and delivering petitions to my office, the PAC is now working on planning out a brand new school.
Many renters asked for better protection from out of control rents. We closed the fixed term lease loophole, and the geographic increase loophole, giving renters more protection from unfair evictions and rent increases. Instead of asking my office for help that is impossible to deliver, these renters can now focus on their work, school and families.
Many parents struggle with the cost of childcare in our community, and many have for the first time seen their childcare bills go down, not up, because of the largest investment in childcare in BC’s history, providing monthly savings of up to $350 per month per family. As of today, 37,209 families are receiving these monthly savings, including many hundreds of families in our community at local childcare facilities. In September, the second half of the program, the enhanced direct benefit to families, will be rolled out.
Many of you have talked to me about not being able to find a family doctor. Our Minister of Health has just announced the opening of 10 urgent primary care centres offering weekend and after-hours care, and 15 primary care networks of health professionals across the province in just the next twelve months.
On the topic of health, BC will be funding 37,000 more public MRI exams this year than were funded last year, 34% more hip and knee surgeries, and 15% more dental surgeries, all because of our commitment to ensuring timely access to these critical surgeries and tests for British Columbians.
For our aging population, an additional $548m in public funding over three years will improve support for seniors at home, and in residential care homes. This means seniors in residential care homes will get the dignified treatment they deserve, and seniors aging at home can get the support they need to stay out of care for as long as possible.
To help with affordability, we’ve cut the MSP by 50% this year, and 100% by 2020, saving individuals $900 per year, and families up to $1800 per year. For people living on low incomes, we’ve eliminated PharmaCare deductibles for people with incomes below $30,000 to make sure they can afford the prescription medications they need. We’re raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2021, increased income and disability assistance by $100 per month, and ensured people on disability support got their bus passes restored – bus passes which were taken away just over a year ago.
UBC students will be glad to hear government has created the fiscal space for post-secondary schools to build five thousand units of new student housing, not just here, but across the province. We’re also making post-secondary education more accessible. Kids in government care won’t pay tuition anymore, and those with student loans saw a cut in the interest rate they were charged by the province – the days of BC’s tax on student loans are over.
We’re partnering with the federal government to build out the biggest transit investment in BC history, with rapid transit on Broadway, and in Surrey, and three new express B-Lines.
For other community priorities, we’ve responded strongly to the overdose crisis, making life-saving naloxone kits available free at community pharmacies for those likely to witness an overdose, and launching 18 community action teams to spearhead local responses in the hardest hit areas.
Many of you wrote in to my office to celebrate when Minister Doug Donaldson signed the order that ended the grizzly bear hunt, to protect BC’s iconic bears.
We’ve passed comprehensive new laws to ensure ICBC and the car insurance rates paid by British Columbians are sustainable, to begin the work of putting out that financial dumpster fire left for us by the previous government.
We’ve also used every tool in the toolbox to protect BC’s interests in relation to the Trans Mountain Heavy Oil Pipeline project, and the massive expansion in heavy oil shipments by rail as well. We need to know we can clean up the mess when spills happen, and that someone will pay for the cleanup. Too many BC jobs in fisheries and tourism rely on our reputation for a pristine coastline.
In reading all of the above, you may remember that you were told by the previous government that British Columbia couldn’t make these long-needed changes without sinking our economy.
That information was, as we have pointed out for a long time, incorrect.
BC currently has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, and we have maintained our top rating with all three international credit rating agencies. Showing confidence in our future, big tech companies like Amazon have announced massive expansions in Vancouver – most recently, 3,000 new jobs – backed by hundreds of new post-secondary spaces in engineering, science, technology and math. Smaller companies have also followed suit.
In the meantime, you are all doing the incredible work you do to make this a better place. You are coming in to talk to me about starting not for profit organizations that reduce plastic waste, organizing neighbours to make and learn more about art, assisting refugee families who have joined our community, creating vibrant local sports organizations, doing academic research on transportation planning that you hope to use to make our streets safer, campaigning for better schools and better childcare, bringing your kids in to show us their amazing achievements in science and math competitions, and coming to talk to me about how you want our government to keep improving. So many of you give back and participate in our democracy. Thank you for making Vancouver Point Grey a special place in British Columbia.
MLA, Vancouver Point Grey