BY RATTAN MALL
“But last week Mr. Wilkinson was saying that I was asleep at the switch and I am saying ‘sorry, dude, not true!’ … I am happy to work with you, but stop lying!’”
PREMIER John Horgan slammed BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson on Tuesday in an interview at The VOICE office when I asked him what he thought of the B.C. Legislature spending scandal where the BC Liberals seemed to be running for cover and he was going all out after them.
(A report written by Speaker Darryl Plecas on Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and released publicly by the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) on January 21, shocked British Columbians at the manner in which tax dollars had been misused under the previous Liberal governments that seemed to have turned a blind eye to what had been going on.)
Horgan said: “Well you know I wouldn’t have gone all out for them quite honestly. I mean this is shocking for people. My neighbours over Christmas were saying ‘what’s going on at the Legislature?’ and I said ‘I can’t tell you.’ They said ‘Oh, it’s a secret?’ I said ‘No, I just don’t know!’ – because I didn’t.
Horgan explained that though he is the Head of the government, he does not know what goes on in the Speaker’s Office day to day.
He pointed out: “We have a committee for that that has all parties on it and Mr. Plecas laid out this bombshell report that he said would sicken British Columbians and he was right. But Mr. Wilkinson shortly after Mr. Plecas made his revelations known to (Minister of Public Safety) Mike Farnworth and (BC Liberal MLA) Mary Polak, the two representatives from the two major political parties, we had the two individuals (Crag James and Gary Lenz) put on administrative leave as an investigation was done by the police and they’re still going on.
“And like literally a day after that Mr. Wilkinson was saying ‘Oh Darryl Plecas is out of control. He’s a rogue. He’s building his own empire and he went on for days and days, in fact, weeks condemning Mr. Plecas and … we spent three consecutive question periods for a whole half hour with them asking questions … they knew we couldn’t answer but making politics out of what Mr. Plecas had uncovered. We didn’t know at that time what it was – you’ll recall it was in November – and so for Mr. Wilkinson last week to say ‘well, we should stop the finger-pointing and all work together’ was disingenuous, I just didn’t want to let that stand.
“And what made it worse, he then proceeded to go on radio and say that I had an ability to affect this and I didn’t, which was again absolutely incorrect. I was on the committee in 2012 when the NDP voted against Mr. James getting the job – first time that’s ever happened that there wasn’t a unanimous selection. We said ‘he’s not the appropriate guy; we should have a competition.’ And the Liberals said ‘no, we don’t need a competition; he’s the best guy.’ And they appointed him without any regard for what we thought.” Horgan noted that not even then Independent MLA Vicki Huntington was consulted on this.
Horgan added: “So at a meeting of this committee, I identified this huge oversight that we weren’t able to hold the Clerk or the Sergeant-at-Arms accountable and it’s there to be read on Hansard … it was very plain and very obvious that I raised this issue six years ago. But last week Mr. Wilkinson was saying that I was asleep at the switch and I am saying ‘sorry, dude, not true!’ … I am happy to work with you, but stop lying!’ I would prefer not to be having a ‘he said, she said’ … I think the Liberals are quite happy about it because the public, your readers, are saying ‘well, they are kind of all the same. They are all just fighting among themselves. Why are we not getting to the bottom of how we could have these expenditures happen without any oversights?’ So I think the Liberal plan was to say ‘well, let’s just discredit everybody.’”
Horgan pointed out: “I mean they had 16 years to fix this and they didn’t!”
VOICE: You’ve been Premier for 18 months now. So what have you achieved during these 18 months?
HORGAN: Well we’ve done a great deal in that time. We established a universal accessible quality childcare for families – that’s putting money back into the pockets of young families so they can live in one of the more unaffordable parts of Canada. Here in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island and right across the Province, increased costs for families has been one of the Number 1 issues whether it’s about housing or about caring for children.
So we started with early childhood education and we’ve made investments in post-secondary education, we’ve made investments in K-12 education because I am a firm believer in making opportunities for yourself depends on your ability to attract skills and be able to contribute to the economy. So I think these are investments that make everyone stronger and so we are very proud of the work we’ve done there.
We’ve balanced the budget three times. Coming this February, we’ll be tabling another balanced budget and we are still making investments in key elements of the economy like schools and hospitals. We’ve eliminated the tolls from the Port Mann Bridge; again, putting money back in the people’s pockets. Because what I heard on the campaign trail was it costs too much to live here. People were talking of moving away, young people particularly. And if we are going to continue to be able to provide services for seniors we need young people to be the foundation of our economy. So I’m very proud of our focus on people from the time we were sworn in until today.
I’ve given three speeches this month to business groups: a natural resource forum up in Prince George, the truck loggers association – largely on the coast but significant forestry operations – and then [on Monday] to the mineral exploration conference down in Vancouver – some 5,000 people, not all there for the speech, but 5,000 people in this conference. And to all of them I was able to say that it was an NDP Government that delivered the largest private sector investment in Canadian history and that’s the LNG Canada project in Kitimat.
Now there are some challenges with respect to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples around that issue but I think we are in a very good place to deliver not just a massive private sector investment that will create jobs and opportunity, tax dollars to pay for hospitals and schools, but we are also at a place where we can have genuine reconciliation with Indigenous peoples which is an economic and a social question and just a basic human rights and social justice issue. So I am very proud of our ability to work across party lines with investors, with Indigenous people, with communities to make our economy grow and make it work for everybody, not just the people at the top.
VOICE: What about the housing problem?
HORGAN: I think we’ve seen a lot of change in the marketplace. … Cost of the higher end homes are starting to come down, which takes pressure off those middle end homes. But I said this the other day, if you are in the housing market, if you have a home, you want it to go up and down; and if you don’t have a home, you want them to come down in value. So there is always in the housing market going to be someone who’s unhappy.
But one of the two things we heard during the campaign – child care, here [in Surrey] was the bridge tolls – but then the number one issue overall was housing affordability mostly from people like you and I who were looking at kids and relatives who could not afford to find a place to live – not just buy a home, but in some cases, find a place to rent. So we brought in a 30-point plan, which is unprecedented in terms of investments and social and non-profit housing, re-establishing co-op housing in British Columbia, working with the development community to find ways to work with municipalities, to accelerate permitting processes to get more housing stock on to the market.
But while we were bringing on more housing stock, foreign investors, off-shore investors were bringing money raised in another economy and distorting the housing economy here. So we had to address that. Money laundering is something that we are looking at as well. It was obvious that there is money laundering in our casino sector but we now have a review underway to see what the extent of the money laundering issue has affected other parts of real estate.
So although many people would prefer us to do more, I think we have made some pretty significant progress in a short period of time. [There’s] much more to do, of course, but Selina Robinson particularly has been announcing new housing starts.
Homelessness, which is another component of what is a continuous housing challenge: the Whalley tent city – gone. Completely gone! Nanaimo – same thing. What was the largest tent city on Vancouver Island – that’s now gone.
Now it’s not just about putting many of these people in houses with a roof over their heads, you also need to provide services. Many of them have mental health and addiction issues. And we established a stand-alone ministry to make sure that we are not just [moving] that stuff to another corner of the community. If people need help, they need to get it. With opioid addiction … addicts oftentimes have only a moment of clarity when they say ‘I need to get off of this’ and then that clarity passes or they do another fix or whatever it might be. So when someone asks for help, you have to have the tools to help them and that means building more recovery, more treatment beds. It means having more frontline workers to identify those kids or adults or people who want the opportunity to clean themselves up and then you have to provide that service.
So all of that comes back to housing in a certain way. At the end of the day, everybody needs a roof over their head particularly when the rain comes and the cold sets in. We’ve done our level best to manage what was a problem that I personally feel was out of control.
The federal changes have also had an impact on stress testing and on mortgages and so on. That’s had an impact on people’s ability to get into the market place and the Prime Minister and I talk about these things quite regularly and we are both seized of the challenges that we face and we are going to work on it together.
VOICE: So you get along well with Justin Trudeau?
HORGAN: Save one issue – the Kinder Morgan pipeline … we disagree on that. But we both acknowledge – and I quite honestly tried very, very hard to establish a relationship with Ottawa because it’s critically important that if we are going to meet our Transit needs, if we are going to be able to deal with housing and to deal with addictions, we need to have federal partners and the Prime Minister has been open, receptive to my suggestions.
We work together on liquefied natural gas in the north, we are working together on climate change, we are one of the few provinces that support the Prime Minister’s initiatives; so he’s more likely to talk to me as a result of that. But we do have a pretty big issue that we disagree on, but beyond that we are frequently taking about how do we make positive changes in people’s lives and that’s what people expect from their governments.