Keremeos Review editor and Black Press’ Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen reporter Tara Bowie’s year-end interview with Boundary Similkameen MLA Linda Larson.
TB: What are you personally most proud of that your government accomplished in 2016?
LL: We have achieved several consecutive balanced budgets which has put B.C. number one in Canada for the lowest personal income taxes and the lowest small business taxes. We have the lowest unemployment rate in Canada and have created the most new jobs, 85 per cent are full time and over 94 per cent of them are in the private sector or self-employed. We have been consistent in developing diverse foreign markets for our products and while Alberta relies 87 per cent on the U.S. Market, only 52 per cent of B.C.’s exports are to the U.S.
I am also proud of the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest and the recognition internationally that we have received for our environmental policies. We continue to work with Parks Canada on initiatives to preserve grasslands in the South Okanagan and will move forward with some policies in the early Spring.
TB: Locally, what items did you tick off your political to-do list this last year?
LL: The Boundary/Similkameen riding has 20 distinct communities, two regional districts and three school districts. It is incredibly diverse economically with forestry, mining, agriculture, and light manufacturing.
Each of the communities is unique with its own challenges and triumphs. Examples of which are: we were able to fence the airport in Princeton and get an elevator in the town hall to make it accessible, the Hedley Cemetery Society now has control of the cemetery and the funds necessary to do some general maintenance, and The Crossing near Keremeos will soon re-open to help young people recover from addictions.
Kaleden has a sidewalk on Lakehill Road and Okanagan Falls a controlled crosswalk to ensure the safety of pedestrians.
The wine regions have all benefited from the changes to the liquor legislation and the extra funding for the tree fruit replant program has kept our growers competitive.
In Rock Creek, a nurse practitioner now serves the community and repairs to their clinic are now complete.
The Midway fire department received extra funding to look at providing fire services to the Rock Creek area. We have supported funds to do work on the Greenwood Community Centre and are currently involved in a Historical restoration for the Greenwood court house to make it accessible to the public. In Grand Forks shovels will go in the ground this spring to build a new women’s transition house with supportive housing and Christina Lake will be moving forward on a seniors housing initiative. In addition to these projects, my staff work every day to help people who have social issues or who just need help accessing support or filling out applications.
TB: The funding for rural schools elicited some strong emotions this year. What do you think your government learned through that experience? How might potential school closures be handled differently in the future?
LL: As Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Schools I am currently working with the education minister and staff to develop some new guidelines and funding models for rural B.C. Part of that study involves looking at the economic impacts to communities who may lose a school due to low enrolment. There are many best practices already in use that will, I hope, be shared in the final report that will be out in early summer 2017.
TB: The fentanyl crisis is terrifying and tragically affecting people from all walks of life. Can you briefly summarize what your government has done (specifically within the Boundary-Similkameen riding) to help those affected with drug abuse problems? What other ways could the province help?
LL: The current crisis of drug related deaths is a serious concern across the country and we all grieve for those losses. The Joint Task Force on Overdose Response is providing expert leadership and advice on actions to prevent and respond to this crisis. All levels of government need to be engaged including all federal agencies (police, including border patrols) as well as research, training and investment through the new B.C. Centre on Substance Abuse.
More than $43 million has been committed so far to support all of the personnel who are facing this tragedy on the ground every day. We also recognize the need to change the treatment process for those who wish to change their lives. Jail cells and 30-day treatment beds are not the answer. We are firmly committed to providing better access to appropriate substance-use support through the creation of 500 new beds, 220 of which are already opened. There is no one solution fits all and it will take some time to come to terms with this current crisis.
TB: What is your favourite book that you read in 2016?
LL: I actually read by author and prefer a good action adventure with a historical twist. Wilbur Smith, Scott Mariani, Preston and Child, Cussler, as well as Jack Whyte and Rutherford, a bit of everything.
I am looking forward to 2017 and to continuing to work for the people of the Boundary/Similkameen. Have a happy and healthy New Year.