Despite its history as an NDP stronghold, Burnaby hasn’t always been friendly territory for Premier John Horgan.
A trip to this city used to be an intimidating prospect as young lacrosse player, he told a sold-out breakfast gathering hosted by the Burnaby Board of Trade Wednesday, but the city has since become home to some of his earliest supporters.
“Knowing there’s a very very friendly, to me at least, council here, with His Worship Derek Corrigan one of the first adherents to Team Horgan going back many many years now, I find that Burnaby is a friendly place for me, and it’s a dynamic place to be,” Horgan said.
Along with the NDP-friendly mayor and council, the premier was joined by all four of Burnaby’s NDP MLAs: Raj Chouhan, Janet Routledge, Katrina Chen and Anne Kang.
Speaking to a full house at the Element Vancouver Metrotown Hotel, Horgan discussed three challenges he said business groups have raised with him (housing, childcare, skills training) and what his provincial government is doing about them.
The premier then fielded questions from the audience. Here are some of his comments.
On his government’s plan to spend $1 billion over three years on childcare:
“If we are going to say to half the population that when you choose to have a family that you’re going to be separated from your career and your workplace for extended periods of time, that’s going to have a negative impact on our success and that’s why childcare is so critically important.”
On people who think a November 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision in favour of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation fixed ongoing issues in the public education system:
“Those who’ve been unaware of that will think, ‘Well, the courts resolved that and now we’re moving forward.’ Well, it’s not that simple. The court was resolving an issue that began in the 1990s.”
On allowing SFU and BCIT to make their own decisions about building student housing.
“They’ll be able to borrow money. They’ll be able to build facilities, and they’ll be able to pay for those over the costs the students will incur to be students at SFU. That will free up housing stock in Burnaby and across the Lower Mainland so that more renters can get into the community and more students can get up onto the mountain.”
On his government’s changes to the proposed speculation tax after criticism:
“I think British Columbians will all benefit from a government that’s humble enough to recognize an error and quick enough to respond to it, and I believe we’ve done that with the speculation tax.
On when residents can expect to see the promised new hospital built in Burnaby:
“We’re working on that. … We committed to improving healthcare services in Burnaby, and we’re going to be doing that in the first term of an NDP government.”
On the arrival of ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber in B.C.:
“I think that I speak for all of the businesses here that you would prefer that your government didn’t institute competition for what you’re doing without having the opportunity to have a discussion about that. … I’m confident that ride hailing is coming to British Columbia. We campaigned on that as did the other parties in the legislature. It’s just a question of how we can manage that introduction without adversely affecting any existing industry.”
On the introduction of a payroll tax to fund the elimination of MSP premiums.
“I’m convinced that the way we’ve constructed the employer health tax will be manageable by the vast majority of people in this room, those that would disagree with that I’m confident will be able to find my email and send me your thoughts on that.”
On the potential impact of the payroll tax on school boards and large not-for-profit organizations:
“We don’t want to be giving with one hand and taking away with the other when it comes to delivery of public services.”
On the future of pipelines in B.C.:
“I’m confident that we can put in place measures to protect our environment, meet our greenhouse gas objectives and still have a modest increase in exports of natural gas to other markets.”
On his opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion:
“I respect those who are choosing to get in the way of activity at Burnaby Mountain and that they have every right to do that, but it’s my view as leader of the government of British Columbia that I should focus on those things that I can effectively bring to the debate: One, where does jurisdiction rest? And, two, did the federal government adequately assess the risks to British Columbia?”