Get involved and have an opinion
by Ray Hudson
The Surrey–Fleetwood riding is South Asian (about 30%), Chinese, Filipino, a strong Dutch and German community here as well. It’s primarily residential apart from a little retail along the Fraser Highway. There are a lot of seniors and a lot of young families, a broad mix which presents a greater challenge because the needs are quite diverse. Economically, the riding is a fairly middle-class, fairly stable riding.
AJ: What services are people seeking mainly?
PF: Access to health care and working through that system, help with WorkSafe BC claims, federal issues around immigration – connecting to the right people, some social development. Transportation is a huge issue in Surrey because of our growth and people wanting better and more reliable transportation. As you know I’ve been a strong advocate for transportation over many years. Of course education is a big issue.
AJ: How do you balance your role as MLA and as Minister of Education? Do people see you as someone who has a faster track to resources?
PF: The reality is that because of my background as a mayor in the region, as the person who helped negotiate the RCMP contract, who is involved with Fraser Health as the co-chair of the municipal advisory board, my background has been pretty significant in a number of issues that are important to people. They see me as someone who understands those issues and in my role as a senior member of cabinet I have the ability to speak to those issues for sure. I think sometimes their expectations are that I can fix things faster than I really can, but I’m sure prepared to work hard on the issues that are important to people.
AJ: As the Minister of Education, what can you do for Surrey which has been one of the areas most underserved with respect to education resources.
PF: I don’t know that I would say that. We have significant growth here and the education system is having problems keeping up with that growth. A lot of that comes down to the city fathers allowing and encouraging dramatic growth, and then saying to systems like education, why aren’t you keeping up? It’s not quite that easy as we have to try and anticipate growth, but usually education has been a follower of growth rather than a leader.
AJ: It seems to be the approach of, let the people come first and then we’ll build it. Yet here we’ve seen the results of a lot of trouble in education, in transportation, in health care, in security by not anticipating that growth better.
PF: Totally, and I get that. When we allow growth to happen, or encourage it, or push it, then all the services that are needed to support that growth have got to try and keep up. And we’re always behind the eight ball.
AJ: Do you see a role for you and your fellow MLA’s from the south Fraser region in finding a solution?
PF: I absolutely think we have to do that. That’s a huge challenge, but it’s one that we have to continue to focus on. If everyone is going to encourage growth here, what are we going to need to support it, be it transportation, education or other social services that are necessary? Then we can use our roles as ministers and MLA’s within government to do everything that we can with the resources that we have available.
AJ: I think the public, because of the ease of access to information, has become somewhat cynical and believe that you can find the money and fix things if you really want to. How do you overcome that cynicism with the public?
PF: Should we mortgage the future by borrowing more, by losing our credit rating? People scoff at ‘this triple-A credit rating thing, that it’s just an excuse’ not to spend. No it’s not! Losing that credit rating means we will pay higher interest costs, and that money has to come out of the operating budget of the province, and that means we have to take the money from somewhere else. Where should we get it, education, health care, social services? If we can find a balance between keeping a fiscally prudent approach to our finances, while still meeting the needs of our society, that’s the balance we’re trying to strike.
AJ: Are you surprised at the backlash to the proposed sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation?
PF: The negative comes because the public is cynical about TransLink Management. People have to separate TransLink from transportation for the region, and ask if we’re prepared to see the needs of the region not met? I’ve been around long enough to hear people saying, ‘we want more, but you’ve got to find the money because we’re not prepared to pay for it.’ Well that’s not realistic. I support the .05% increase, because I know that every penny that will be raised will be dedicated to that and it will be tracked and audited, so none of the money will get squirreled away on other things. It’s absolutely going to go where it needs to go.
AJ: How do you keep up as an MLA while attending to the requirements of being a senior minister?
PF: Simple. I have great staff here in the constituency office. Brittany, Carmen and the team work really hard when I’m in Victoria, or traveling around the province. Certainly the pressures that I have on me are significantly higher than they would be if I were simply an MLA. I also have a provincial mandate as well as a cabinet mandate I have to deal with. But knowing that I’ve got great staff to cover me and do what needs to be done day in and day out is really important to me.
I only get frustrated when there is so much I would like to do and I only have so much capacity, and so much ability to change the world. Four years in a mandate goes by really quickly. I’m going to run again and not because I need the job, but because there is lots I would still like to accomplish. So I will put my name out there and if people think I’ve done a good job, or not, they’ll let me know at the ballot box.