During her visit to Maple Ridge on Thursday to announce a new ambulance, Premier Christy Clark answered questions about a new homeless shelter and several other issues important to local residents. (Answers have been edited for brevity.)
Question: Were you aware of the ambulance petition in Maple Ridge and did it impact on the decision to add another here?
Answer: Yes. I have always said, we’ve got to focus on communities. We’ve got to do everything we can to try and listen to people at a grassroots level. Sometimes we do that through web-style consultations and things like that. Petitions are helpful in guiding us.
The biggest deciders in this were your MLAs Marc Dalton and Doug Bing. A petition comes in once. MLAs like Marc and Doug come in as many times as absolutely necessary to get something done, and they did get this job done.
Q. Were overdoses a factor as well – the fentanyl epidemic?
A. No. We would have made this change anyway. We needed, as responsible stewards of the public purse, to make sure we had the data to support it. That’s why we took a little time, a couple of months, to measure the need, and that was how we came to the conclusion of one for Maple Ridge and one for the Tri-Cities.
The Tri-Cities ambulance need draws 25 per cent of the ambulance time out of Maple Ridge. So, if we look after Tri-Cities, we allow the ambulances here to stay in the region.
Q. The proposed homeless shelter is controversial. The government has come to the table with $15 million in funding, but the community is saying that it doesn’t like the low-barrier model. What is your comment on that? Does the low-barrier model work?
A. Different communities have different needs, and require different models. What the government wants to do is find the model and the location that are going to work for this community.
The last go-around on this, it was your MLAs who put a stop to it, because it wasn’t going in the right location and people weren’t comfortable with it.
I think people in Maple Ridge want housing, they want addictions treatment – no question, they want to deal with the issue of homelessness, but it has to be the right solution for Maple Ridge.
When Marc and Doug can support a proposal, that’s the one that we’re going to move on, because I think in this last go-around they really proved that they had an ear close to the community.
Q. Are you seeing this around the province – people not wanting a shelter in their neighbourhood, or cities having difficulty finding a suitable location for a shelter?
A. Not always. Some places have an obvious location, and in some places it’s not so obvious. Sometimes these things just require a little more imaginative thought, and I’m sure we can get there in Maple Ridge. We’re just going to have to decide to be open minded.
Yes. Shelter proposals do sometimes cause public concern, and sometimes that concern is well founded. If you do it right, though, I think you can make it work, and in Maple Ridge it’s just a question of how you do it right.
Q. From a provincial perspective, do you believe cities in the province are making progress on the issue of homelessness?
A. I think we’ve made more progress in British Columbia than anywhere else in North America. It’s not just me that thinks that, experts say that. We’re the only place where we’ve started to see, in some cities, homelessness go down.
Yes, we’ve made progress, but that doesn’t mean we’ve made the same kind of progress in every community. In Vancouver, we’ve made progress. In Maple Ridge, we need to make more. We’re not where we need to be in either community, but I think the problem is more urgent here right now.
Overall, in the province, the answer is yes. In this local community, the answer is, we’ve got to do way more. There’s a range of things we need to do. Most importantly, though, we need to think about homelessness and addiction and mental illness as problems that are often overlapping.
The first step to getting better if you’re mentally ill is a roof over your head. But it’s not just a roof, you’ve got to have treatment at the same time. We’ve really got to think about it holistically, and we are.
We have a big budget surplus and $500 million from budget surplus is going straight to housing. Part of that will be to deal with the issues you see in Maple Ridge.
Q. Riverview is mentioned often as a site that could be used to house the homeless population, for mental health and addictions treatment, is there any chance of that?
A. The laws have changed. There once was a day when the government and police could throw somebody into a mental health facility and not let them out, and thankfully those days are gone.
We have to make sure that we are finding a way to provide treatment to people when they are ready for it, and when it can be effective. We have to find a way to reduce waiting lists, which we are doing. We want 500 new recovery beds, and we’re about halfway there now, we’ve got an increase our investment in mental health treatment – so there is a whole range of things, and then the housing part of it.
Riverview … I know a lot of people talk about that as a quick solution. But I’m not sure that’s the best solution for people with mental illness in this modern day. And I’m not sure that given how much the legal landscape has changed that it would even be possible to go backward to that model.”
Q. The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District and the City of Maple Ridge are asking the province for funding for a new elementary school and learning centre in Albion. With the budget surplus, are there going to be more schools built, or is it a priority for government?
A. We have a big budget surplus. British Columbians produced that by working hard and growing the economy, so we want to share that with people. Investments in roads, transit, schools, ambulances like we did today, are all on the agenda.
Q. Is your government working with Metro on a funding agreement for TransLink?
A. We are working with them now. We have all approved the Phase 1 proposal that they had, which we are really proud of. It was the first of these agreements that the federal government has done with any province. So we’re really pleased that we got there. Phase 1` is done – that’s the next three years. Then Phase 2, which would start after that three years, we’re in negotiation now. I’m excited about it, because transit is a big issue for people.
Q. During the last election campaign you came to Maple Ridge four times. Is it an important riding for you, and will we see you more leading up to the May 2017 election?
A. Yes. Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows is an important community. When I think about the majority of people in British Columbia and the way they live their lives, I think about a single mom in Maple Ridge. Think about the transportation issues that she faces, the education questions, access to health care for her parents and her kids. You know, the life that she’s living is really a typical life of someone who is striving to get ahead, and many days finding it way too hard. When I think about what we can do as government, the thing I think about most is how do I make it a little bit easier for her.
That single mom in Maple Ridge, that family in Maple Ridge, they’re representative of a lot of British Columbians. That’s one of the reasons I like to come out here – because it keeps me in contact, I get to talk to people.
And also you’ve got two great MLAs and I really want them both to come back.