Having only sat eight days in the legislature over the past eight month, constituency work has been the focus of my work. I have met with dozens of constituents and community groups. I’m thankful for the opportunity to hear from the community and to advocate on your behalf.
The meetings have covered a wide range of topics. As a result, I have been able to meet with officials (or staff) in the Attorney General’s office and Ministries of Children and Family Development, Citizens Services, Public Safety and Solicitor General, and Transportation. In addition, I have met with the South Island Division of Family Practice and the Salt Spring Island Chapter of the Rural and Remote Division of Family Practice and the Board Chairs of school districts 63 and 64.
These meetings have offered important insight into the issues and concerns raised by constituents as well as helped me reconnect and re-establish relationships following the fall election.
Rural designation for Gulf Islands
For much of the last decade community leaders on the Southern Gulf Islands have been advocating to change their designation from urban to rural so as to not limit them from accessing important grant programs designed for rural communities.
In February, after a lot of coordination, consultation and advocacy the provincial government made the change and finally the Southern Gulf Islands and Salt Spring Island are designated rural! See my blog post here.
Primary Health Care
We continue to receive a large volume of emails about a lack of access to primary care on the Saanich Peninsula and Salt Spring Island.
It is the responsibility of the Divisions of Family Practice to proactively recruit doctors to the area and while there has been some success, unfortunately, family doctors continue to retire so the Divisions are finding it challenging to make meaningful progress on the number of overall unattached patients.
I continue to work with the Divisions for the recruitment of more primary health care providers in our riding.
The need for more housing for homeless and low-moderate income constituents is an ongoing area of concern for our office. We are working closely with Salt Spring Community Services to advocate for their emergency shelter and supportive housing programs.
In addition, I am connected with the elected leaders of the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula to ensure they have the support they need for homeless residents.
As there are several housing projects across the riding currently looking to BC Housing for financing, we have written Minister David Eby and met with BC Housing and Ministry officials to express our support to increase capacity for financing through the Housing Hub program that is currently undergoing review by the province. This has been a successful program that should continue!
Our advocacy continues for families who have been negatively affected by the closure of CHOICES Adoption Agency.
Unfortunately, because the province continued to license the operator even after learning of the financial troubles they were experiencing, many families in Greater Victoria have lost a substantial amount of money with no reimbursement.
This situation is unacceptable. I will continue my effort to ensure there is a just response from the Ministry of Children and Family Development for the negative impacts on affected families of the adoption program the Ministry licensed and regulated.
Following meetings with the Capital Regional District, Network BC, Citizens Services and CityWest & Strathcona Regional District, I am encouraged by the progress made in recent months on upgrading broadband services through the Southern Gulf Islands.
In broad strokes, the Connected Coast program continues to progress in landing fibre optic connections to139 coastal communities in British Columbia.
We have learned there is a process underway to apply for funding to include Mayne and Galiano Islands in this project. We have also learned that the next stage of the program is to apply through the provincial and federal governments for “last mile” funding to connect the landing locations to homes and businesses.
We understand how important this issue is for Gulf Island residents in our riding and we have will continue this important advocacy. More updates will follow soon.
Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act
I am honoured to have the opportunity to take part in the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. I recently wrote about the committee in my latest MLA column (see below). We have been given a broad mandate to look at policing and public safety in British Columbia and to develop recommendations for a new or improved act.
There has been a lot of media attention on this committee work and for good reason. With an increasing awareness of systemic discrimination, bias and racism in all our provincial institutions, policing has been one of the most publicly visible expressions of these issues.
During our committee meetings in January and February, we have heard information briefings from provincial ministries, government institutions and agencies. We are now beginning the next phase of the process and hearing from stakeholder panels including Indigenous and community stakeholder groups, academics and other experts.
We have heard several emerging themes so far. The most consistent message we have heard is that the provincial government is not collecting comprehensive data, specifically race-based information. This is problematic both in terms of understanding the problem as well as being able to inform the decision-making process.
Additionally, it is clear the province needs to increase funding for mental health services and supports and that those services and supports should not be delivered by police.
The tragic deaths of 1,716 British Columbians from illicit drug poisonings in 2020, is distressing evidence that we are falling short on supplying much needed resources and support. As the COVID-19 pandemic further worsens mental health issues due to increased isolation, the most vulnerable in our society need government to respond with the level of urgency the situation demands and with the people who have the proper training to address the problem.
The committee continues to meet and we welcome your participation.
There are always many transportation related issues in Saanich North and the Islands. I will highlight a few here.
We are coordinating closely with community leaders on Salt Spring to find innovative ways to ensure Fulford-Ganges Road is suitable for multi-modal transportation options.
I’ve met with Hon. Rob Fleming, the new Minister of Transportation, and he is aware of the importance of upgrades to this road for the Salt Spring Island community. He has assured me his staff are working on this project as a priority.
My team will continue to coordinate with the Salt Spring Transportation Commission and other groups until the province can provide a road that is safe for multi-modal transportation.
Transit on the Saanich Peninsula
I am grateful for the work of the three Saanich Peninsula Mayors who continue to raise the need for better transit on the Saanich Peninsula. This is an issue I have raised many times with both the former and current Minister of Transportation. Our advocacy on this issue will continue.
Currently, Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith is the Peninsula representative, and Dave Howe is the Gulf Islands representative, on the Capital Regional District Transportation Committee. My coordinated efforts with them will be focused on realizing all the opportunities outlined in the South Island Transportation Strategy published by the provincial government last summer.
This includes overall more accessible, convenient transit service (including HandyDart) while encouraging BC Transit, the CRD and provincial government move quickly to invest in a Rapid Bus service on the Pat Bay highway. This service should include transit priority lanes on all crossings of the highway from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal to Uptown.
This is a substantial project. However, as Saanich North and the Islands is the gateway to Southern Vancouver Island, with both the ferry terminal and Victoria International Airport, the economic, social and environmental benefits make these worthy investments.
According to the BC Transit website, they plan to develop a local area plan for the peninsula this year. I look forward to further discussions about increasing transit services on the Saanich Peninsula and will let you know when there is opportunity for engagement.
Keating X Road Flyover
After nearly 40 years of advocating for a safer exit off the Pat Bay highway at Keating, and funding commitments from the federal government and District of Central Saanich, the province has now opened a public engagement on the new Keating X Road flyover project.
The provincial contribution to the project will be determined when the full cost of the project is known.
Please take part in the consultation to let the planners know how this project will affect you.
** Public engagement is open until March 24, 2021 **
BC Ferries Southern Gulf Islands schedule consultation
With a third Salish class vessel in service on the Southern Gulf Islands, BC Ferries has opened a public engagement for a new schedule to better serve the communities in our riding.
I often hear about the inadequacies of the ferry service to the Southern Gulf Islands and the addition of this new vessel has the potential for a vast improvement. I hope you will take this opportunity to provide feedback as BC Ferries looks to design its new service.
Please take part in the consultation to let them know what your needs are.
** Phase one of the consultation will close on March 16, 2021. **
As we near one year since the first public health orders were issued in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we await mass vaccinations even as new and more aggressive variants begin to take hold in communities around the world.
Our team of constituent advocates continue to serve Saanich North and the Islands remotely. Unfortunately, we cannot provide in-person service or accept walk-in traffic in our current office.
With tenant improvements nearing completion in our new office in the Aranza building on Fourth Street in Sidney, I am hoping we will soon be able to provide limited access for the public. However, we will remain guided by public health orders.
Thank you for your patience as we work through these difficult times.
Preparing for the Spring legislative session
The 2021 Spring session restarted on Monday March 1, 2021. With a lack of clarity from the government about how the session will go ahead. We only know that the budget day has been moved from February to Tuesday April 20, 2021.
I, along with my BC Green Caucus colleague Sonia Furstenau, are ready for the session. After nearly two months away from the legislature and only eight sitting days in eight months, I am looking forward to the opportunity to hold the government accountable.