North Island MLA Michele Babchuk plans to spend the year making sure some of the B.C. government’s planned spending ends up benefiting the people of her riding.
Monday’s speech from the throne made by Lieutenant Governor Janet Austen marked the start of the B.C. Government’s calendar, and the over arching theme of the speech was that Premier David Eby’s government is prepared to make use of the nearly $6 billion surplus, despite a rocky economic forecast.
Babchuk said that in speaking to people from the riding, she learned that health care, housing, climate change and public safety were all top priorities. Though the Throne Speech touched on all of those priorities, translating those high-level promises to real-world action.
“The Throne Speech is a directional or aspirational document,” Babchuk said. “We’ll see more teeth come to some of these initiatives when we see the budget … at the end of the month.
“Right now it’s not the time to stop investing in people,” she said, addressing the government’s choice to use their surplus. “Right right now is the time when we need to continue to invest and make sure that those systems are there… we have a surplus right now. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re investing in people.”
Some of those people in particular are health care workers, which are needed in the North Island riding.
“Everybody knows that we need more doctors. We need more nurses,” she said.
Part of the plan is to invest in infrastructure (particularly an investment of $30 million for the North Island health care system) “so that we can attract those people so we are doing investments into both of those facilities to modernize them … The goal here is to stabilize those communities get those emergency rooms open. As soon as we possibly can get the docs up there and all the medical professionals that we need and get that care happen.”
Before those doctors and nurses can come to communities, they — like everyone else — need a place to live. Babchuk says that since the NDP came into power, low income housing has actually increased in Campbell River, and that it was time to shift to other priorities: that missing middle of working people who cannot afford the market.
“We’ve actually done a very good job of making sure that a lot of our most vulnerable people that wish to be housed are housed,” she said, citing examples like Rose Harbour, Eagle Harbour, the Head Injury Society, Q’waxsem place and M’akola Housing. “We have market housing everywhere… every time you turn around there’s there’s more market housing going up in the form of condos or apartments or or whatnot, but we have just as many people moving into town as we’re building them. So we still have quite a low vacancy rate.
“We need to just put our efforts into making sure that the people that are in need of housing that can’t quite get to them market value that we have the affordable housing that they can go into.”
Industry and Climate Change
“I am thoroughly convinced that we will always we will always have forestry on the North End of Vancouver Island,” Babchuk said.
However, what that forestry looks like could be very different in the future.
“Our whole riding is in a state of transition,” Babchuk said. “The goal is to make sure that as we transition into those sustainable economies that we have the workforce to be able to do it.”
Locally, Babchuk says the unemployment rate is low, but as things change to be more sustainable those workers are going to need to be trained to meet the new demands of the industry. One of the goals outlined in the Throne Speech was to retool B.C. mills to focus on value-added products, which Austen said could even replace existing plastic products. Though the closed Campbell River mill won’t be a part of that transition, Babchuk said that using local wood fibre in local communities is essential for job creation.
“We have lost a lot of mills so consequently now, we are working with our Indigenous partners, we’re doing the land use planning and taking a look at how we effectively use those forests.”
Toxic Drug Crisis
Though every community on the Island is dealing with the ongoing toxic drug crisis, Babchuk says that the approach is not a one-size-fits-all.
“This isn’t something that one level of government is going to be able to tackle on its own,” she said. “It’s going to be absolutely crucial that you know us as a provincial government works directly with local governments to to tackle what’s happening in each and individual communities. You know, some of the priorities in Campbell River are not necessarily the priorities that are happening in Port McNeill or Port Hardy. So we need to take a look at each community to figure out what the best solution is.”
That can be said for issues across the board. Babchuk hopes that by the time the Throne Speech comes around next year she’s able to address issues from communities as disparate as Sointula, Alert Bay, Tahsis, Campbell River and Cortes Island.
“We have a couple of large centers and a lot of very very rural communities that need to be represented because they are not the downtown east side,” she said. “They still have all the challenges, so my goal is to make sure that in rural B.C. we are getting exactly what we need.”
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