(Tim Fitzgerald/THE NEWS) Former Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission Marc Dalton (left) introduces BC Liberal leadership hopeful Andrew Wilkinson at a luncheon Friday.

Wilkinson hopeful province wide tour lands him B.C. Liberal leadership job

B.C. Liberal leader candidate Andrew Wilkinson looks to drum up support in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

The race to replace former Premier Christy Clark made it’s way to Maple Ridge Friday as Andrew Wilkinson, MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, held a luncheon Friday in Maple Ridge in hopes of drumming up support for his bid to become the next leader of the B.C. Liberals.

Wilkinson, first elected in 2013, held a number of cabinet positions in his time in government under former premier Christy Clark, including a brief stint as Attorney General in 2017, as well as Minister of Advanced Education.

The Rhodes scholar is both a doctor and lawyer by trade, but for now his goal is to win the leadership race set for Feb.1 to 3, 2018 in Vancouver, then win the next general election against the current NDP-Green coalition government.

Wilkinson officially threw hit hat into the ring on Sept. 25 and since that time has been touring the province gauging support and reaching out to B.C. delegates.

Wilkinson stopped to talk about number of issues specific to Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Mission.

We asked Wilkinson what his approach would be to addressing a number of issues facing residents of the region.

Q: What is your approach to the current homelessness issue and opioid crisis in Maple Ridge?

A: “There are two big factors that are going on that affect Maple Ridge. Homelessness and addiction are closely related, most of us know that. But the story behind homelessness has at least three causes behind it.

First of all it’s how we’re treating mental illnesses, secondly is how were dealing with addictions, and thirdly is affordable housing. That doesn’t solve the whole world’s problems, but it certainly addresses a chunk of it. So the corner is, how do you address those things?

On affordable housing, we’re going to have to work really hard to increase the supply of housing so that people aren’t driven out of the lower-end housing because they can’t afford anything else.

On the second issue, the opioid crisis, which is in turn related to the death levels we are experiencing, but also contributes to homelessness. A large number of these folks are actually addicts, so we’ve got to get a much more comprehensive approach to that. I have a lot of ideas of that surrounding addiction, because of my medical background, beginning with the prescription monitoring program. When people are taking too many narcotics after an injury, somebody’s got to turn their mind to that and monitor and deal with that as opposed to watch it just go by.

We’ve had a 20-year period where we’ve had an increase in the use of narcotics in medical care, and that also has to be addressed. Now those are both things that affect the doctor’s office primarily, but we’ve also got to get back into all of the four pillars – so that it’s prevention, enforcement, treatment and not just harm reduction.

Harm reduction works in certain circumstances, but we need to get a wrap-around approach in our communities so that young people have options in terms of how they think about life rather than falling into the unfortunate trap of addiction.

We have to recognize that addiction affects our whole society. Most people in our community know somebody who’s been hit hard by addiction, so we know it can happen to anybody. So the sooner we approach it as a community problem as opposed to someone else’s, the better off we’ll be.”

Q: What are your solutions for housing the homeless?

A: “Well, there’s a tenancy to say, ‘Well, if there is a shortage of places to live, then just rapidly find places to live.’ And there’s this idea that you can put people in a modular box. You know there was a big movement in Britain and the United States after World War Two to say, ‘Let’s just build these giant concrete towers and that will house everybody.’ Well, it didn’t work.

You’ve got to find solutions that are going to be durable in the long run, basically places where people are going to be comfortable living and want to live because if we go the way they did in Britain and the U.S., we’re going to end up with some very unpleasant places to live that will turn into problems on their own.”

Q: What will you do to address affordable housing?

A: “The interesting thing about housing in Metro Vancouver, and most of the Fraser Valley, as well, is that people liked the idea that the value of their house goes up until their kids can’t afford to live anywhere nearby. Then they realize, as it’s happening in my own neighbourhood, that the population is dropping because nobody can afford to move in … That’s a demand driven thing and we have to make a huge effort on the supply side to make sure people can afford to find an affordable place to live.

That means in the denser areas like Vancouver, we’re probably looking at more townhouses and condo developments. Along the north shore of the Fraser in Mission, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, it probably means having a look at the housing stock and where we are developing and how. There’s still lots of room for single family homes, but how much of our life do we want to devote to cars and traffic? It’s going to take an overall approach to supply of housing and transit options that are realistic so that people will actually use them and get out of their cars. It takes a lot of will power. People have to turn their minds to it.

Q: How will the province pay for it?

A: “There will be different variables to how these things get financed. You go to Hong Kong, and they want to extend the transit line, then the developer who’s building all the housing in the new location pays for the station and pays for the line. So I think we’re going to have to open our minds a little bit and how we’re going to go about this in creative ways, because clearly it’s going to take a whole lot of investment and that needn’t all be out of the taxpayers pocket.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the removal of bridge tolls and transportation financing going forward?

A: “The story of the tolls is obviously one that’s already been completed. It’s pretty hard for anyone to back down now and say we’re going to bring them back, so the idea that someone in this leadership race is going to want to put tolls back on the bridges, I’d be very surprised to hear that.

But what we have to do is think of a better approach to this because we are where we are and the folks in the Interior are feeling kind of hard done by because they pay the same tax as the rest of us and we got the benefit of the reduced toll.

So this is going to take a lot of conversation in terms of how we’re going to pay for our transportation network — and it’s not just the tolls on bridges — it’s all the other needs we’re going to develop as the population gets bigger.

There’s also the who issue of what kind of transportation planning we do generally. Do we think the Fraser Valley is going to have the same reliance on road networks without significant transit or rail improvements in the future? I think that’s a short-sighted view. I think we are going to have to plan that in the long run and that’s where we are going to have to talk to people about where they expect to live and how are these communities going to develop. We’ve already seen that the communities north of the Fraser used to all be separated by farmland and green space and now they’ve kind of grown together. So now you can drive along the Lougheed Highway and not realize you are leaving one town and entering another. So that’s already a change in the last 20 years.”

Q: What what wrong for the Liberals in the last election and how will your approach be different?

A: ” … We lost the election because we were talking to people from 30,000 feet in the air, talking about credit ratings and debt to GDP ratios and all these things that don’t really mater to people in their daily lives.

What the NDP did was talk to people about their pocket book, by reducing tolls, and by promising cheaper daycare, which they have now failed to deliver. So my own approach to this is — I’ve had a lot of chances to live and learn around B.C., I’ve had the view of someone who’s lived and worked in the far north, in the Interior, and Vancouver Island and now live in the city, so I bring a whole breadth of experience to this that allows me to ask the right questions. I don’t pretend to have all the right answers. I have a few strong ideas on topics like opioids and business development, but there’s an awful lot of learning and listening that has to happen for both me and this party.

The first step in this leadership race is to make sure I engage with people all over this province and learning from them and making sure I’m getting across to the people what each of the candidates say are their strengths … That means learning in all these different communities what the real issues are — and what the community approach to those issue are — because we can not come at every issue at every corner of the province with a know-it-all answer. We’ve got to do a whole bunch of listening and show some humility and get out there and find out what makes people tick.”

Q: When you say humility, is it being in government for so long that you lost touch and the public saying we’re looking for a change?

A: “There’s always going to be that there’s that sense that there’s a time for a change after a government been in office for a long time. But at the same time, we’ve got to be careful about change for the sake of change, and I think we are seeing that now with the NDP taking a very high-handed approach with taxation and getting aggressive on changing our democracy without the mandate to do so.

We are going to keep a close eye on the NDP, hold them accountable, hold this leadership race and get out there and get ready to win the next election.”

Q: What is your approach to the Green Party and would you consider working with them in coalition government?

A: “Well, the Greens are in a funny spot, because they signed this deal which they think is going to last more than four years, where they support the NDP through everything. And there already figuring out that the NDP has an interest in getting rid of the Greens. So the tensions are going to build there. We are going to hold the NDP to account — and we’re going to hold the Greens to account — and that’s especially true about this proportional representation effort of theirs. The Greens are dependent on proportional representation to get the mandate to win more seats and we think it’s a fundamental change for our democracy that nobody is asking for. They are doing this behind closed doors with the NDP and try and guarantee themselves seats in the legislature. We think that’s just fundamentally wrong.”

Q: What would be your approach to improving health care?

A: “Two things are happening in regards to health care where you have a rising population like we do in the Lower Mainland.

First of all you get some degree of super specialization of services like the cancer agency sites. In other areas you need to have more community-based care in response to the local population growth. So when you see the population growth, basically east of Burnaby, the hospital inventory has to catch up with that. We’ve seen reconstruction in of hospitals in Comox, Campbell River, Vernon, Kelowna, Prince George, and so obviously when the population shifts and grows, and as people grow older and need more care, there’s a going to have to be the adjustments in the location and the services that are provided in various hospitals. This something I’ve dealt with for decades, I’m acutely aware of how it shifts and sometimes it means you concentrate services so you can have them 24-hours-a-day, like trauma care. Other times it means you decentralize service so they are more available everywhere, as in elder care.”

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