BY RATTAN MALL
WHILE Premier Christy Clark was busy dodging questions and making all kinds of unsubstantiated allegations and using scare tactics against her opponents, NDP Leader John Horgan was going out of his way to meet the media and answer all their questions directly.
He dropped in at The VOICE of his own accord on Wednesday – and I had questions for him.
VOICE: How’s your campaign been going?
HORGAN: The campaign has been going very, very well. I think we have been focusing on issues. We made three commitments at the start of the campaign: make life more affordable for British Columbians, make sure that the services that they count on are there for them when they need them, and then making sure that the economy works for everyone.
And we have laid out our campaign over the past three weeks, particularly here in Surrey, talking about transportation, talking about schools – 7,000 kids in portables. With our $10 billion capital plan we are going to invest in schools to get kids out of portables, light rail here – south of the Fraser – as part of the mayors’ 10-year plan, and, critically important, supporting the concept plan for a new hospital here in Surrey.
For too long, it seems to me and to our candidates, Surrey has been left behind on big capital investments. The community’s growing so rapidly that the public infrastructure has not been there to make sure that families get the services they need. And that’s been the focus for our campaign, and so far, so good.
VOICE: What’s been your experience dealing with Premier Christy Clark and her tactics?
HORGAN: Well, I am focused on making sure that we elect a government that will work for people. We can’t afford four more years of Christy Clark – not just for tactics during the campaign, having a truck follow us around; for example, BC Liberals showing up at our events and recording what we are doing. … For example, because of the weather, rather than have an event outside to talk about bringing on a new program to build infrastructure for playgrounds, for schools, for sporting facilities, for seniors’ facilities, we ended up doing it at a candidate’s house … and the Liberals show up out front with a big truck with billboards on the side. I think that’s juvenile and I think the voters think that’s juvenile. They stopped doing that after the media started calling them out on it.
But I don’t think the Premier’s focusing on things that matter to the people. Her message is ‘this is as good as it gets’ – status quo, let’s stay the course. And I believe the people expect more from government, particularly those people who are not getting the services that they count on: health, education, transportation. And we are talking about building British Columbia, a better British Columbia.
VOICE: A recent poll showed that you are leading on all fronts expect the economic front. So Christy Clark is always placing emphasis on jobs. What do you have to say about people tending to rely more on her than on you when it comes to the economy?
HORGAN: I think that how we do that is talk about jobs in a way that makes sense to people. Christy Clark talked about 100,000 jobs from LNG , which wouldn’t have had any impact whatsoever here in the Lower Mainland. She said that there was going to be 100,000 jobs there – there are no jobs. That was her promise in the last election.
We are committing to building public infrastructure: hospitals, schools, roads, bridges. We have a $10 billion capital plan and it will put 96,000 construction workers to work. That’s public sector investment. And when we make those investments in schools so that we get kids out of portables, the development community can start building more houses. The school board – I think it was last year – appealed to the Surrey planners and said ‘Please stop issuing permits; we can’t keep pace. Our schools are bursting at the seams.’
So if we don’t build that public infrastructure, the private sector can’t bring on more housing supply. If you can’t bring on more housing supply, the cost keeps going up and people can’t afford to live here. So I think public sector investments lead to freeing up private sector investments and that’s why our plan, I think, is superior to the Liberals’. They say we are going to create jobs in the North or build a pipeline into the Lower Mainland. But once that’s done, they’ve got nothing. I think if we are building the infrastructure we need, that keeps jobs going for a 10-year period and that’s good for the economy.
VOICE: There has been this controversy about the Liberals hiring some economists to claim that your budget plan will put the economy into a big hole. What about those economists’ credibility?
HORGAN: They are characterizing them as ‘independent economists’ from Toronto. But when you pay someone to do a review, they are no longer independent; they are employees. And the Liberals gave these economists inaccurate information about our plan. They said that we were freezing Hydro rates for four years, that we are going to be freezing ICBC rates for four years and so, when they made their economic analysis, they didn’t have all the right variables.
When we tabled our plan … the media asked economists in UBC, Simon Fraser [University], UVic [University of Victoria] ‘what do you think of the plan?’ and … the answer was ‘it holds together.’ We used the numbers that the BC Liberals tabled in the Legislature. We have the same forecast allowance, we have the same contingency fund for unforeseen circumstances – about $1 billion altogether – that’s not allocated.
And we looked at the toll question. For example, people south of the Fraser are paying a toll to cross the river – the only people in B.C. paying a toll. I don’t think that’s fair. We said we are going to get rid of it. The Liberals said they are going to get rid of two-thirds of it. And when they said they were going to get rid of two-thirds, they wanted a pat on the back. When we said we were going to get rid of it entirely, they said ‘Oh, the world will come to an end if that happens.’ Well, that’s just not true. The money is there to pay for the first three years and we are going to look at refinancing the debt on that bridge which is a public asset. I live on Vancouver Island and I benefit when people in Surrey can move around freely, when good and services can move around freely in the Lower Mainland. That’s a benefit to me; that’s a benefit to all British Columbians. So it was a question of fairness for us and … also that hangs together based on the numbers that the B.C. Liberals tabled in the Legislature.
VOICE: What about the controversy about a new Surrey hospital? The Liberals claimed that you first said you wouldn’t do it and then you suddenly announced that there would be a Surrey hospital.
HORGAN: I never said I wouldn’t do it. I said ‘stay tuned,’ because we knew we were going to make that announcement. We had our Surrey MLAs standing at the location of the land that was sold by the B.C. Liberals that was supposed to be the site for the second hospital. And so, it’s always been part of our plan to make sure that people in Surrey are getting the services they deserve. They’ve been shortchanged on education in terms of building schools, they’ve been shortchanged in our hospital with the ER clogged all the time … We need to get that fixed. We need to make sure that people are going to be able to access health care in their community.
One of the other elements that we’ve announced in our plan is to create what we call “urgent care centres” … a bridge between the walk-in clinics and the emergency room. We have a continuum of nurse practitioners, doctors, registered nurses, therapists, psychologists, counsellors, whoever you need to provide services to people, in one location that’s open in evenings and on the weekends. And if you need urgent care, you rush there, and if you need to be in emergency, you go directly to the ER. But if you take people out of ER that are going in because their elbow hurts and they don’t have a family doctor, then you are breaking up that backlog and then you are getting people out of the ER, which means you can get people into wards, which means you can get surgeries done so that the health system works more effectively. So it’s a temporary measure to take off the pressure before we get a chance to build the hospital.
VOICE: So what’s been your experience on the campaign trail?
HORGAN: Hmmm, having the time of my life. I am really enjoying it, and especially enjoying engaging with people. We’re getting larger crowds wherever we go. We started the campaign here in Surrey with 800 or 900 people, and I played the Commodore Ballroom in downtown Vancouver with another thousand people, and there were 800 people in Victoria … and it feels really good.
We’ve got a young group of people working with us. We’ve got just a great, diverse group of candidates … 14 South Asian candidates, seven Chinese Canadian candidates, First Nations candidates, 50 per cent women. Our team reflects some young, some old, experienced, enthusiastic. I think we reflect the diversity of B.C. And people can’t afford four more years of Christy Clark. And that’s why I think the campaign is doing so well because people are looking at us and seeing themselves and saying ‘I’m with them; they’re going to work for me.’
VOICE: So you are quite confident of forming the next government?
HORGAN: (laughs) Not at all! This is my fourth election and I’ve been in too many elections to take anything for granted. We were supposed to win last time – everyone said we were. But I feel very good. I think we’ve done everything we can to make ourselves available to the public and to the media to ask the questions about how we are going to build a better B.C. and we are not leaving anything on the field. We are going to go right to the eleventh man. [A cricket reference – there are 11 players in a cricket team. Cricket is the most popular game in South Asia].
VOICE: A lot of people are wondering if the NDP will be able to get their supporters out to vote – or will the supporters stay home.
HORGAN: Well, we are doing everything we can. The advance voting has already begun. There’s two more days of advanced voting than we’ve ever had before. The NDP usually does a really good job of getting their supporters out early. … You don’t leave it to chance, because anything can happen on a Tuesday: you could have an accident that clogs traffic, you could have a family emergency. … We’ve been calling our supporters, urging them to get out to vote, helping them to get out to vote and I am confident that we’ve done everything we can to make that happen. But we’ve been talking about the issues that matter to people and I think that’s the winning formula for us. The Liberals seem to always be on their back foot, they don’t seem to be attacking. They attack us every day and people go ‘well, that’s not true.’
And the great example of this campaign is two issues that have emerged. One is private health care. One of the Liberal candidates at an all-candidates meeting in Port Moody said she felt that it was okay if you could afford to, to go in front of the line, to buy private care. Well that led to an explosion of questions from the media to the Premier, Christy Clark, saying ‘do you support two-tier health care?’ and she didn’t give a direct answer on the first day, so they came back the second day. And I am not convinced that Christy Clark supports and believes that our public system is worth saving. So that’s an issue that we’ve been able to talk to people about.
The other one is this idea of a value added tax. And even [former premier and anti-HST advocate] Bill Vander Zalm said that they [the Liberals] said they weren’t going to bring in the HST, they brought in the HST. Now one of Christy Clark’s candidate said we are looking at a value added tax, which is an HST by another name. And when the Premier was asked about it, she said ‘well … umm … err.’ If you are not going to do it, you say ‘no, I am not going to do it.’ She stumbled, she stammered, and she said ‘well, we are looking at ways to make business more competitive.” Well, you are always looking at ways to make business competitive, but if you are going to bring in a new tax, you should talk to people about it. And I am not convinced that the Liberals are not planning to bring in a new HST with a different name and as I say, even Bill Vander Zalm got riled up enough about it to go on the radio.
Private health care, another tax and constantly attacking us with these childish tactics!
We’re putting forward ideas. We are holding them responsible for the choices that they make and we believe four more years of Christy Clark is something that B.C. can’t afford.