MLA Report

By Carole James

2016 started with housing as a major issue in our community with the tent city and renovictions front and centre. As the year comes to a close, the tent city has been dismantled, but homelessness and renovictions are still a problem, and housing and affordability remain major stressors for many.

When governments don’t pay enough attention to community-building, the results are far-reaching. Years of ignoring housing, failing to provide affordable childcare, and a lack of actions to reduce poverty have left Victoria-Beacon Hill with numerous pressures on infrastructure and services that citizens need.

Recently my community office was visited by a senior who was sleeping in her car – because she had no other choice. It’s just one sad example of many. Zero availability of affordable housing, the rising cost of living, and fixed incomes that are too low to pay all the bills are combining to drive some of our most vulnerable citizens into homelessness.

British Columbia is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan, and it shows. More than half of British Columbians are living paycheque-to-paycheque. One quarter of children are living below the poverty line. Wages are stagnant and the cost of living is skyrocketing. Government has a role to play and it must do better. The issue of affordability is a social and economic issue.

Improving inequality strengthens our economy. It provides our citizens locally with resources, which in turn supports our small business sector. It reduces pressure on our health, education, and justice systems. And it builds strong communities.

Our city continues to expand our economy with the power of innovation, entrepreneurs, the high-tech industry, tourism, and the amazing small businesses that drive our local economy. Creative citizens are the clean engines of the arts and culture and tourism sectors that bring vibrancy and life to Victoria, and keep our air and water clean with sustainable jobs for today and into the future.

An educated workforce is vital if we are to answer the opportunities ahead. Touring the province this fall as a member of the Select Standing Committee on Finance, education emerged as the top concern expressed by citizens. Students are paying more and BC continues to penalize post-secondary students with high student loan interest rates and no comprehensive non-repayable grants program.

In K-through-12, teachers, support staff and parents are working hard to provide children with a good education, but the system is entirely stressed by a government that has removed resources year after year. Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a BC court decision, which found that the provincial government deliberately tried to provoke a strike with BC teachers for political gain, while leaving children under-supported in overcrowded classrooms.

This ruling is a big win for children in the province and a vindication for BC teachers. It will force this government to recognize class size, composition, and specialty teachers. The ruling shows just how far this government has been willing to go to undermine public education.

The BC Liberal government continues to refuse to reverse the bus pass clawback that has left more than 3,500 people with disabilities unable to afford a bus pass – making it harder for them to participate in their communities. Raising the price of a bus pass from $45 to $624 per year has left many people with disabilities forced to choose between transportation and food.

Over the years, I have disagreed with many of the decisions of the provincial government, but its action on this issue must rank as the most cruel and mean-spirited. It has been mishandled both from the way it was introduced through to the government’s stubborn refusal to listen and act on the deep concerns many have expressed for months on end.

None of us expect government to do everything. But we do expect our governments to be at the table to support the amazing efforts of communities like ours. I am humbled to serve alongside caring, dedicated citizens who step up to volunteer, fundraise, sit on not-for-profit boards and generously give their time to help make Victoria a healthier, happier and more supportive place to live.

This past year we’ve seen it in so many ways, but none perhaps more inspiring than the manner in which our community came together to support Syrian refugee families starting a new life in our country. I’m proud and honoured for the opportunities to work alongside such exceptional people who inspire me every day. Best wishes for the holidays, and for 2017.