Peter Fassbender meets the Punjabi Press Club! Photos: Ray Hudson
Peter Fassbender meets the Punjabi Press Club! Photos: Ray Hudson

The Hon. Peter Fassbender, MLA for Surrey Fleetwood, Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development, and Minister for TransLink spent an hour answering a wide range of  questions on the issues of concern to the South Asian media.

Transportation led off with focusing on TransLink and Surrey’s LRT and why the government is focusing on Light Rail Transportation instead of SkyTrain. Fassbender responded that the LRT proposal has been the vision of the City of Surrey and its council for many years.

“The current mayor and council have continued to want that (LRT), because they want to build a community, not just move people,” said the Minister. “They believe firmly, and I accept their perspective, that LRT helps to build more hubs within the community. When we talk about the extension down the Fraser Highway that will be a different discussion, because it needs to tie into the regional system to move people around. I think we have to honour what the City of Surrey has done in talking with their constituents and although there are people who are opposed to “at-grade” rail, there are many people who are in favour of it, and definitely the City of Surrey’s decision to make.”

Snow/Transit: This winter the region’s problems were concerned with the record snow events, including why the buses aren’t equipped with snow tires?

“One of the challenges is the articulated buses” said Fassbender. “The longer ones have real difficulty in snow, not just here, but in every jurisdiction that uses them. As to using snow tires on buses, it doesn’t work because even snow tires aren’t necessarily effective on the hills around Vancouver, and using chains can result in more damage to the buses. The best solution is for local governments to keep the main roads clear.

DSC_9848Taxis and Ride Sharing: The government had promised a “made in BC plan” to deal with the issues around Ride Sharing and Taxis. The minister was asked when the policy details would be revealed, before or after the election?

“I made a commitment to the taxi companies and the drivers, that we were going to have a made in BC solution. We were going to deliver as level a playing field as we could to make sure that every driver who picks up passengers has a criminal record check, that they have adequate insurance, that their vehicle is inspected whether it’s a taxi or a different ride sourcing operation like Uber or Lift. We also wanted to make sure, as best we can, that the investments of the taxi drivers and companies, are protected. We’re looking at the whole regime. We’re not going to open our doors without ensuring we have as even a playing field as possible. The other thing we were not going to rush into opening the doors to other ride-sourcing companies without doing our homework.
We will make absolutely clear what we are planning before the election. We may not have time to bring in the legislation, but we do have a framework they are developing around passenger safety, fairness to the industry and the drivers and ensuring that proper insurance in in place.  The taxi industry has been looking at apps and dispatch systems using better technology. The taxi industry has to change but we’ve said we will work with them to ensure the industry is protected.

Hard Hats for Sikhs who wear turbans was raised, referring to a petition with over 5,000 names opposing the regulation.

“I took the petitions to the Premier’s office,” said Fassbender. “Minister Shirley Bond, sent a letter back to a number of people pushing for reconsideration of the legislation, saying the government looked at it and felt there were significant liability issues associated with it. I would be ready as a member to have us discuss it again, but we won’t do anything before the election. The UK and some jurisdictions in the US have made the change, and we made the change here with motorcycle helmets. I’ve also looked at the statistics and quite honestly, of the number of deaths in the workplace, wearing a hard hat didn’t save their life. If they’d had a turban on the result probably would have been the same. At this point though, government is not prepared to make a change, but it’s never forever.

DSC_9843The 15% foreign buyers tax may be why some people’s houses are not selling. What is the BC Government doing about it?

The houses that were affected, tended to be single family houses, more in the west end of Vancouver. The desired result was that activity did slow-down. But we have also invested close to a billion dollars for affordable and lower cost housing in communities working with community groups. Not only is it going to generate more construction and more redevelopment, the five-year mortgage helper that we just did for young people is going to generate more activity in the housing market, particularly in communities like Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford.  We’re going to see more affordable housing for young people. I also see the construction industry, once we get through the snow, will be starting to ramp up. I’m hearing from a lot of developers that they’re sensing the activity, and when I drive down Fraser Highway in Surrey and I see the number of town houses that are under construction, I don’t think the industry is going to be suffering at all.

Gang Violence: One reporter said it seemed that every time, just before an election, there’s a lot of gang related violence. He asked the Minister where the failure was?

“I think it’s society’s challenge because some young people feel that easy and fast money is a lifestyle that they want. We have to teach them that it’s a road to nowhere. We need to do more prevention work in schools with young people. For the people running the drug business it’s all about money. They don’t care about the people, and it’s not they who are shooting each other. They are recruiting and giving guns to young foot soldiers that they entice with fast money and cars. Government has recently invested another $23 million in the Gang Task Force throughout the province. It isn’t just here in Surrey. But there isn’t an easy answer. I think all of us in all governments, local community groups, parents and grand-parents need to be engaged in the lives of their young people. I challenge parents and grandparents; if their child has a brand new truck, and doesn’t have a job, they have to ask themselves what’s going on? They have a responsibility to talk to their kids.”

Fassbender said that more police patrolling the schools will not solve the problem. The issues don’t happen in the schools, they happen in community. Gangs are not centered in one particular area which is part of the problem. We need to have more resources for the police and gang task force to identify who the culprits are and to put on as much heat as we possibly can. The other thing is to collect the evidence so they can be charged and put away.

One of the reporters said the city needs more police patrolling in the high schools claiming that the gangsters are most active in the schools from 11 o’clock to noon selling and recruiting, and police should be there.

Fassbender said that just because police aren’t seen in the school doesn’t mean they aren’t there and observing. He reiterated that Surrey now has a full complement of officers, with extra resources for the Gang Task Force, and more money for the Wrap Programs.

In closing the Minister said, “The BC Liberal Government under the leadership of Christy Clark,  recognize and celebrate the diversity of our communities whose needs are many and varied.

“We know that the major issues are Crime, Transportation, Health Care and Education. I’m proud of the record that I have, and that we have as a government and will stand, not for what we say we’re going to do, but what we actually have done. Then we’ll build on that.”

Reporters also asked about the fact that the truckers dispute of two winters ago had still not been fully resolved. The Minister replied that he and Transportation and Infrastructure, Minister Todd stone had sent letters asking why the Federal Minister of Transportation, Marc Garneau, and the  Port of Vancouver CEO, Robin Silvester, had not acted on those issues, as quickly as we believe they should have. This is the subject for an extended stand-alone report in this edition of the Asian Journal.