BY RATTAN MALL
ANDREW Wilkinson, Leader of the Official Opposition, told The VOICE on Thursday that the key issue is that the NDP said that they would reduce the cost of living for people and increase the amount of housing available – and they have failed on both.
The B.C. Liberal Leader added: “They have driven up taxes. I mean people have less money in their pocket at the end of the day. People tell us they have trouble saving and they are concerned about their future because without the chance to save and invest, people see a lifetime of struggling and that’s not acceptable.”
Wilkinson said: “And the other thing that John Horgan promised was 114,000 new housing units in British Columbia. So far we have seen stacks of trailers for homeless people and that`s it. So their housing policy is a complete shambles. Housing is not more affordable. They have piled on some taxes and we hear today in Surrey that framers, drywallers, plumbers, pipefitters, all looking for work because the amount of housing being built is shrinking.”
He then noted: “The whole emphasis that I am trying to bring to this organization is a renewed face based on opportunity for everyone in British Columbian and we cannot have a world in which some people feel left out because, sadly, the NDP are picking friends and enemies, winners and losers. We believe that is wrong because government should serve everybody in the province. Everyone is a citizen; everybody deserves to have a chance at success.”
In an extensive interview at The VOICE, Wilkinson answered a raft of questions
Here is the rest of the interview:
VOICE: You said you were going to rejuvenate the party. It became a big issue. The older people sent back messages saying that there was no way they were going to quit. So how are you going to deal with this?
WILKINSON: Well, we have at least three retirements coming up amongst our MLAs. We have an almost entirely new party executive and we have me as the new leader. And so I expect there’ll be a significantly new group of candidates for the next election including a good number of people who are currently serving as MLAs.
VOICE: How would this really make a difference? Just having different faces of young people is not good enough for anybody. Do you have a strategy in place?
WILKINSON: Yes, it’s a combination of the people that you bring to the party, and we’re seeing an excellent recruitment of candidates. We put out a candidate call about six weeks ago that had 200 fully qualified candidates come in. They are being reviewed for their resume and their social media history and so forth and it’s an excellent collection of people from all walks of life from all over BC. So I’m very pleased with that. The other thing, of course, is the different policy framework. So I am now talking very actively about big changes at ICBC, about focusing on opportunity, higher education, a strong private sector – so it’s a different emphasis; it’s a renewed approach to how British Columbia could be governed and that’s what we will be taking to the next election.
VOICE: There was a lot of resentment against Gordon Campbell and later against Christy Clark during her last years as Premier. How are you going to overcome this negativity? Right now people, at least in the South Asian community, are very excited about some of the things that the NDP has done. Campbell, for example, had promised he would honour union agreements but ended up doing away with contracts which basically affected South Asian workers. How are you going to overcome all this distrust?
WILKINSON: Well, any government collects some issues over time and the BC Liberals were in office for 16 years, during which time there was a massive increase in prosperity in British Columbia, taxes were reduced and an awful lot of infrastructure got built which is good for British Columbia. Now what we have to do is point out that the NDP are building almost nothing. It’s very difficult to point to anything they’ve actually done and they are spending a lot of time on union politics and not so much time on opportunity for regular British Columbians. That’s a big concern because the No. 1 issue that we run into anywhere in Greater Vancouver is the cost of living. And they are putting up taxes. We’ve seen no increase in affordability for housing. There housing strategy is basically stuck in the water. So we have to talk about a positive agenda for British Columbia and to make sure that opportunity is as strong in Surrey as it ever has been and the whole of the Metro Vancouver is a place that people will come to and be successful.
WILKINSON: Hmm, that’s not so true. Gordon Campbell reduced the taxes for people earning under $15,000 to zero. That’s a first in Canada.
VOICE: But what about the middle section?
WILKINSON: Well, what you have to do, of course, is to make sure that it’s affordable for everybody. So what happened is that there was a 25 per cent income tax reduction for everybody in 2001. And what we are going to have to look at is restoring the neutrality of the carbon tax so that people can get an income tax cut when their carbon tax goes up because the NDP have basically turned the carbon tax into a cash grab.
VOICE: But Campbell increased fees on a raft of things, which was okay for the people who were in the upper income bracket because they had the money to pay them.
WILKINSON: Well, I think the challenge in any government is to find the right distribution of scarce resources. Things happen like the autism support program where families got $9,000 to spend on their autistic child at their discretion. That was something that Gordon Campbell did. And so we have to continue that pathway of making sure that life gets easier for British Columbians and that they can afford to live here, because what we hear all of the time now is that the cost of living is out of control in British Columbia and people are having a very tough time making ends meet. What that means is that they take on more personal debt and people are very, very concerned in Metro Vancouver especially between the age of 25 and 40 that they cannot make it work here.
WILKINSON: We’ve talked a lot about insurance in the last few days. Auto insurance needs to be opened up to competition so that British Columbians have a choice in their auto insurance and don’t get these enormous ICBC bills. [Showing an owner’s certificate of insurance …] And I have here for you an invoice for 2019 and their bill has gone up to $8,040 on a Volkswagen. That’s almost a third of the cost of the vehicle spent on auto insurance. So this is a big problem. And British Columbians have been denied any kind of choice because the NDP insist on keeping ICBC [as a monopoly].
VOICE: What about other policies?
WILKINSON: We have to make sure that we have a very strong and affordable higher education which is something that I am very loyal to because that’s my family’s pathway to success in Canada … was good, strong, affordable higher education. And in Surrey there’s an increasing demand for that because there’s so many young people in Surrey and SFU Surrey expanded when I was the minister involved. KPU expanded when I was the minister involved. We need to keep doing that to make sure that people have access to the skills they need. Once they graduate, they need to have access to good, strong private sector employment because not everybody can work for the government – and that seems to be what the NDP are growing. They’ve just nationalized the home care sector with 4,000 people going on to the government payroll and that’s the path which you can’t go down forever; government can’t employ everyone.
VOICE: How are you going to make higher education affordable?
WILKINSON: Higher education is a very important thing and the provincial government spends a little over $2 billion a year on higher education to keep the tuition fees affordable. We will be coming out with a package of things that will make it even more affordable when the time comes closer to an election.
VOICE: How will you deal with this situation where people in BC and Canada are griping because institutions are getting more and more foreign students because they pay higher fees to keep the universities running?
WILKINSON: Well, the interesting thing about international students is they were a huge source of revenue and success … in Australia 10 years ago. British Columbia made an effort in that regard to make sure we are getting the revenue from students so that institutions like Selkirk College in Castlegar, which would be shrinking dramatically if it weren’t for international students, now has significant numbers of students from India which have revitalized the town because they can work up to 20 hours a week and they have revitalized the institution; it’s now thriving largely because of international students. Other institutions around the province have intake of a certain amount of international students who do not displace local students. They are not allowed into the faculties of medicine and the like in the professional schools. They come in as arts and science [students] for the most part, some in commerce, and they provide revenue which provides for further spaces for local students. And it also makes the institutions much richer and more interesting, adds a cultural mix that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Generally, the international students are very good for our higher education system.
VOICE: Do you have a strategy to reach out to the ethnic communities?
WILKINSON: Oh, yes. We are making a strong effort to recruit candidates from the full spectrum of ethnic communities in British Columbia. I am an immigrant myself. We all know that immigration is a major factor in the well-being of British Columbia; makes an exciting, interesting place because we have people from all over the world settled here. They settle here because they see opportunity for themselves and their children. We must make sure that opportunity is fully available to their children.
VOICE: What about the controversy over the George Massey Tunnel?
WILKINSON: The problem is that about $200 million was spent on the Massey Tunnel replacement and it was well underway – and the biggest traffic bottleneck in Western Canada – and the NDP cancelled it. They cancelled it because it connected two [B.C.] Liberal ridings and they took the money and they put it into the Pattullo Bridge which connects two NDP ridings and rather than getting increased capacity to seven or 10 lanes on the Massey Bridge, we are going to get another four-lane bridge on the Pattullo to replace the existing four-lane bridge which means no extra capacity.
VOICE: What about the controversy about the bridge tolls?
Yes, I think it’s pretty obvious to anybody in BC politics that the tolls are off the Port Mann Bridge for the foreseeable future. I don’t think anybody is planning to replace those tolls. So the issue is how you pay for further infrastructure. It has to be done with a joint federal-provincial input and for some reason the NDP decided not to bother asking the federal government to put money on the Pattullo Bridge.
An interesting personal fact
Wilkinson’s father was born in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India in 1919. Wilkinson’s grandfather had gone to India around 1910. He was a Church of England vicar. His father returned to England when he was about five years old.