When Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster looks at his Christmas to-do and completion list, he sees community engagement as the key ingredient for his success.
The former forester and teacher has served his constituents in Victoria for two terms, and has announced his candidacy to run for the Liberals in the next election, scheduled for May.
“When people ask me about this job, I think of the people we help everyday. It’s not just about cutting ribbons and building highways. People don’t hear about those who call us, needing our help. A lot of those things go unnoticed, but at the end of the day, that’s the legacy of a job like this.”
The past few years have seen a surplus in the B.C. budget, which Foster attributes to the increase in employment translating in more income tax revenue.
“We’ve had a good couple of years in the B.C. economy,” said Foster. “This means that we can put more money towards social projects such as housing, which has been a challenge.
“We’ve also been smart with our investments putting money into post-secondary education, and looking into labour market predictions, seeing where the numbers are and trying to fill the gaps with sizeable investments.”
This past year has also been one of compromise, said Foster, adding few local issues have been more contentious than Vernon’s Stickle Road intersection, save for when the provincial government attempted to introduce the HST in 2010.
“I feel we have come to a satisfactory compromise addressing safety issues on both sides,” said Foster. “There was a lot of opinion and a significant letter writing campaign and I responded to all the letters. When the final decision was made, I said we are doing this for safety.”
Foster, along with most municipalities around B.C., has also been addressing the issue of homelessness and lack of low-income housing and rental units across the province.
He cites the Blair Apartments, which were just opened and will be operated by the John Howard Society in the former Journey’s Inn in downtown Vernon, as a positive step forwards.
“We have spent a lot of money on housing initiatives in Greater Vernon with $8 million going towards seniors, rentals and low-cost housing,” said Foster, adding the government’s rental assistance program has also helped families making $35,000 or less annually qualify for a rental subsidy.
The government has also funded the Gateway Shelter in providing 25 emergency shelter beds for men and women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
“If they tear (homeless) camps down, we need to find beds for these folks,” said Foster. “I’ve talked with the housing minster about making this an annual thing. When it’s -20 C, no one should be outside.”
Another government program Foster has been pleased to see implemented is the single parent employment initiative, which helps single parents on income and disability assistance attain up to 12 months of funded training or paid work experience. It includes tuition and books as well as child care and transportation costs and the health supplement coverage continues for a full year after those leave income assistance for employment, said Foster.
“This is what we can do when we have a balanced budget,” he said. “I’ve spoken to several people here who took advantage of the program and they are saying ‘my kids will get to see me go to work.’ That will carry on and break the cycle and will make more difference to people’s lives than anything else.”
Other projects in 2016 saw the top two floors of Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s Polson Tower completed.
“Between the province and Interior Health, more than $2 million was spent on the top two floors as well as for the new outpatient clinic and pharmacy for the use of hospital employees,” said Foster. “There is always more work to do. I am not the only guy in this province looking for money for its hospital.”