B.C. Premier John Horgan joined Cowichan Tribes elders and Cowichan Valley NDP candidate Rob Douglas for a spear fishing excursion on the Cowichan River on Sunday afternoon at the end of a day-long trek down Vancouver Island as the 2020 provincial election campaign nears its end.
The B.C. NDP leader said he was “very much” looking forward to the fishing opportunity.
“I’ve participated in the Indigenous food fishery before with a seine net on the San Juan River out in Port Renfrew a couple of times with the community, but I’ve never participated in spear fishing, I’ve only seen it in museums and I’m very excited about it and equally excited about getting home,” he said.
“The last two things I do today is to do something I’ve never done before after spending all day talking about salmon and then I get to go home. I’ve very happy. I’ve got a big smile on my face, which I normally do anyway but I’m particularly happy right now. I’m very excited about being with the Tribes elders and seeing and participating in something that’s been happening for thousands of years.”
Horgan made stops in Campbell River, Courtenay and Parksville during a busy day before his last stop in Duncan. Approaching the final week of the campaign, he once again told voters why they should support his party.
“The issues are pretty clear, the choices are obvious,” he said. We’ve been working hard to make investments in people and education, health care, seniors care, child care, focusing on making sure we’re lifting everyone up. The other team [B.C. Liberals] is focused on tax cuts and issues that affect the wealthy and the well-connected rather than the regular people and the Green caucus has long-term plans but here and now seems to be left for us to talk about and that’s what we want to do.”
That here and now, he explained, is the COVID-19 pandemic and getting the province through to the other side safely.
“Everywhere I go it’s pandemic, pandemic, pandemic and how can we work together and be safe, healthy and secure,” he said. “And that’s my focus and that’s what I hope to do if I’m successful on the 24th of October.”
Horgan noted that his government has already created a program for renters — which he says is the only one of its kind in the country — as well as working with municipalities, transit and ferries to keep them going during isolation.
“We’re, again, focusing on people, businesses, and communities,” he said. “In the campaign we’ve put forward a platform with $9 billion extra for bridges, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure and of course a $1,000 COVID benefit so people could have some dollars in their pocket as the pandemic winds along, rather than giving a tax cut, as the Liberals proposed, for everybody, to buy a new Lexus or yacht. We wanted to put money in people’s hands so that they could deal with the essentials.”
On a more permanent basis, the NDP have looked into guaranteed annual income for British Columbians, and a report is expected later this year.
“Without understating this, the pandemic has shone lights for all of us on challenges within communities when it comes to vulnerable populations that are not able to work, people with disabilities, for example, and others,” Horgan said. “Making some changes that will give certainty to the lives of those who are living often times month to month, I think is again something that we need to look harder at. We’ve put in place an emergency crisis increase for people with disabilities and people on income assistance and that additional $300 a month will last until Dec. 1 but we have to create the space in the budget for increases over the long term. That was an emergency grant and it will expire and the next government will have to look at the budget process and start to explore whether the recommendations about a basic annual income are the best way to go. Other jurisdictions are trying that, others are rejecting it so I want to see what the people we asked to look at this have to say and then we’ll go from there.”
Horgan is familiar with the situation in Duncan, where parents and other community members are concerned about the location of a new safe-injection site in a neighbourhood close to multiple schools, the Cowichan Community Centre and the Cowichan Sportsplex, and reiterated his vow to get involved with the situation if he is re-elected.
“I met with some parents early in the campaign with candidate Rob Douglas and I committed to them to return [to Duncan] if I’m successful after the election and to sit down with them and [Island Health] and work this out,” he said. “Their concerns are legitimate, but also the need for harm reduction and other therapies to make sure that we are helping those vulnerable populations is important and no one is disputing that. I was was quite comfortable that this wasn’t about not helping. This was about helping in a way that doesn’t put other people’s safety at risk. I think that that risk is sometimes overstated but I don’t want to diminish that concern I want to address that concern and I’ve committed to come back after the election and sit down with the community and figure this out.”
Horgan represented parts of the Cowichan Valley early in his political career as MLA for Malahat-Juan de Fuca, and still has ties to the region, he pointed out, so he is familiar with what is going on.
“I know the area well. I’ve got family in and around Duncan,” he said. “I know the issues, I know the area. This was a late-breaking issue as the campaign began and I understand those concerns and no one I’ve talked to have said they don’t want to help, they want to help in a way that makes everybody comfortable and that’s my objective in all areas, not just this one. These are reasonable requests and I’m happy to do my level best.”
Horgan’s NDP government was the first in the country to appoint a minister responsible for mental health and addictions, which is something he says other provinces are starting to look into as well.
“I believe it’s critical to have someone getting up every day, focusing on the challenges that people with mental health and people with addictions face and we were making progress until the COVID pandemic hit and then we’ve now seen an increase of overdose deaths,” he said. “We’ve been putting in place more treatment beds, we’ve been putting in place foundries for people to access services, for young people, for others vulnerable populations.
“We have much more to do. I think what we’ll see in a renewed NDP government is a recommitment to the ministry with more resources to provide the services that we have clearly identified as not yet there. We’ve made progress but there’s much more work to do.”