A Community with a lot of heart
by Ray Hudson
MLA Bruce Ralston describes his Surrey Whalley riding as, “A community with a lot of heart, a few problems that we’re tackling, but a great place to live in general. I think incomes are average or below average and wouldn’t be regarded as one of the richest neighbourhoods in Surrey, but it’s strong in other ways.” He spoke with Ray Hudson.
Where is the economic strength?
Apart from the strong commercial centre in the city core along with the SFU Surrey Campus and head office of Fraser Health, the lower area of Bridgeview has lots of industrial land, including Fraser Surrey Docks, sawmills, trucking establishments, steel fabrication, a new craft brewery, I think the painters have a trade school there. One of the pulp mills has a warehouse on the waterfront in my riding all of which generate quite a few industrial jobs.
What are the challenges?
Access to health care, waits, delays and difficulties in getting what they regard as proper health care; transportation, both to Surrey and elsewhere and generally the cost and convenience of transportation; very direct and long-term concerns about public safety, in some parts of the riding, which I don’t think have been adequately addressed.
As well, BC has one of the slowest income growth rates across the Canadian provinces. I think there is a challenge in average people meeting their housing needs. People are feeling stretched and pinched.
How do you bridge the provincial focus as an MLA and the local focus of your constituents?
I was on the city council for five years, albeit some time ago, but I have a pretty good sense of how the city works or doesn’t work, and the challenges of running the city, given their sources of revenue and the demands that are placed on them. I always let the city council know what my constituents are thinking, and I’ll be meeting with some of the new city councillors fairly soon to get their views on some of the challenges and let them know what I think.
What are the major things you’d like to achieve for the riding?
A year ago, Sue Hammell, Harry Bains and I, put forward the ‘Surrey Accord’, looking for the social and public safety challenges that the city has experienced. We pointed out the need for a better focus on those who have mental health issues. We believe that a community court would be a valuable asset. We know that the previous mayor championed it, but the provincial government never really took it up. We also think there should be more police officers on the street in north Surrey. It was an issue in the municipal election. We’ll see whether that comes to pass or not. And finally, concerning housing availability, there is a role for some public investment that the federal and provincial governments could participate in. We think that should receive some attention.
I’m also concerned about the so-called, recovery houses. Liberal MLA, Gordon Plecas from Chilliwack, shared a report issued in December, where he basically echoed what we’d been saying in terms of better regulation. It’s a big issue here and the regulation has been loose to nonexistent and because the cost of housing is lower here there are many who have moved here.
There are good recovery houses of course, but there are a lot of ones that are essentially fleecing people and causing havoc in the neighbourhoods in which they are located. This is something where the provincial government left the field back in 2002. The city only has certain powers and resources and they do some inspections under the zoning bylaws. However, since a lot of these places have clients who receive provincial funding, there are some oversight mechanisms but it’s not a provincial inspection service that sets standards and makes sure that people meet them. It’s not that regulated.
How do you feel your riding fares in terms of provincial funding?
SFU Surrey in the downtown core has been a really powerful attractor of investment. Secondary investment in residential buildings is as well, because it’s very attractive to build a neighbourhood around a university. I meet regularly with the president, and the board of directors, of SFU, and their view is that there’s room for more investment in SFU Surrey. Surrey’s conversion rate, the number of high school graduates that go on to post-secondary institutions, especially among young men, tends to be lower than other parts of BC. One of the ways to get people into post-secondary is to have it closer to home so Kwantlen is expanding and there’s an opportunity for SFU Surry to expand beyond the current number of seats that it has funded. It could easily absorb more growth. The Government hasn’t met their commitment in terms of the number of seats, as I remind who ever is the Minister of Advance Education, once a year, when we debate the budget estimates. They always nod and say they’ll consider it, but the result doesn’t seem to come.