Economy, School in Portables and Public Safety, are the issues
Constituency Concerns: Sue Hammell, MLA for Surrey Green Timbers
Green Timbers riding is blessed with the Green Timbers forest, Bear Creek Park, and many smaller community parks. It’s the home of Surrey Memorial Hospital and the Pattison Outpatient Centre, much of the south Asian commercial and industrial development including the Payal Centre, and the home to people whose mother tongues number fifty, a microcosm of the world in the middle of Surrey. At the heart of it is MLA Sue Hammell, elected for the NDP in 1991 she served in the legislature until she lost the election of 2001. After one term away, she was sent back to Victoria as the area’s member and continues to serve. She spoke with Ray Hudson about the issues she lives with on a daily basis in her riding.
Sue Hammell: The number one concern for people of my constituency is getting through the month, getting through the year with enough money to do what they need to do for their kids and themselves. They are acutely impacted by the increases in food, hydro, health premiums and ICBC. Everything they do, or need, is going up. Their wages are not, and they have absolutely no control over their costs of living going up and up and up. Housing for the young families is major. It’s just gone completely out of control. It’s expensive, from a world-wide perspective yet we have the second lowest minimum wage in the country, soon to be the lowest. On a very profound level, it’s not fair. Many young people have made the sacrifice and got an education to now find themselves with significant debt for their education. Do you know that it now takes twenty-three years for young people to save up a down payment? And there are consequences. I think there are many, many couples not having children because they can’t afford them. What kind of madness is that? We know that from an economic perspective, if you don’t have the next generation to carry you while you’re in retirement, we have a serious problem. In our country we’ve tried to backfill that with immigration, which is fair enough, but our kids aren’t having kids which could result in cultural challenges.
Ray Hudson: What would your government do?
Sue Hammell: The fundamentals around government involve supporting economic growth. We don’t grow the economy per se, but we support the private sector to do that. We make sure that the education system is first class because that is building the capacity of your community, you make sure that your post secondary system is first class because that’s where you rely on ingenuity, innovation and expertise, and you deliver health care, transportation and those kinds of systems. In 1991 when we came in, there were 200 to 250 portables. Twentey-four years later we have 300 portables in our system here. That’s progress? We have seven thousand kids in portables, and we have portables at schools that have just been built. We have rapid, sustained growth, which fuels the economy, yet we’re not providing the infrastructure to support that growth. If you took those seven thousand kids who are in portables, and called them a school district, that would be the 24th largest school district in the province, just in our portables! People say being in portables won’t hurt the learning much, but the money needed to support those portables comes out of the district’s operating funds. Then the system turns its attention to managing overcrowding rather than managing the overall education of the kids, and putting an additional burden on parents to raise money for the shortfalls. You have some parents that are raising fifty or sixty thousand dollars per year in their PACs (Parent Advisory Council) just for basics. But you also have PACs in less wealthy neighbourhoods that couldn’t raise that much, so they may end up with no playground and possibly a huge imbalance in terms of resourcing across the district. We aren’t doing what we should be doing for our kids.
Ray Hudson: Your riding is the location of one of the region’s major health centres. That’s a good thing.
Sue Hammell: Yes of course it is. We have some important pieces, but you need a whole system. There are so many people without doctors, who are your first line of contact in the health system, so you go to Emergency instead.
About two weeks ago, we still had about 89 people who were stuck in either the hallways or in emergency because they couldn’t get admitted to acute care beds. I’m told it’s one of the highest incidents of that kind of thing. And it’s still about bed blockers, people who are occupying acute care beds when they should be in long-term beds or at home with the proper supports. Access remains a huge problem in the system notwithstanding the fancy new hospital.
Ray Hudson: Surrey-Green Timbers is located between City Centre and Newton, where a great deal of crime, including gang shootings continue. How is that impacting your riding?
Sure Hammell: I have lived in Surrey for a long time and I have never seen the situation like this, so I share my community’s concern. I live in my community and I’ve had a shooting out the back of our townhouse, so it’s up front and personal for all of us. We’ve had a huge number of shootings in the west side of the city, but there’s also been a huge number of these events between Whalley, Green Timbers and Newton. I think it’s out of control and I think the police are working very hard to bring it back in line. I know that they engage the community in forums, but I have some criticisms. I know that Bruce (Ralstron), Harry (Bains) and I, (the MLAs for Whalley, Newton and Green Timbers) have tried to meet with Chief Bill Fordy, so we would be up-to-speed and contribute to the discussions and make sure that our communities knew what the police were doing and how hard they were working at it. But to date, we’ve had no meeting on this point. Here we are, the three MLAs in the heart of the problem, and we can’t get an appointment to discuss the issue with the Chief Superintendent. We’ve asked again for a meeting so we’ll see what the results of that request are. Because of this violence, I’m much more anxious when I go out to walk my dogs, particularly at night. I am very cautious, very careful, and always alert to what may be going on around me. If you are trying to make your world circle around a budget, I get that, but we also need to have our world circle around prevention, which has been dropped. We have kids who need more attention than in a normal circumstance with attempts made to connect with these kids so they won’t go somewhere that isn’t healthy. Many of those programs were cut and have been replaced but not to the degree where they meet all the needs, which is what I feel we should be focused on. As a thinking society we need to be thinking how do we prevent this? It’s like the recent knife attack in that school in Toronto where there are indications that people were reportedly aware that the student, the alleged attacker, was upset the previous day before. We should be aware of young people who are distressed. Out here we’ve had counselling cut, again. Most kids with mental illness will display it during their school years. If you catch it early, through prevention, you have fewer incidents and those patterns are not entrenched. If you have someone who has had ten episodes of psychosis, that’s a pretty strong level of entrenchment to undo.
Ray Hudson: Finally, how do you view the impact of refugees on the riding?
Sure Hammell: We’ve always taken refugees and yes, I think that with more kids going into an already crowded system there will be an additional challenge to the school district. But I think the housing stock in this area is more able to accommodate the large families that are arriving. So I think it will be a challenge but one that the community is ready to meet. It’s an excellent example of how we can connect and help each other. It builds in us, that kind of capacity to reach out and help a neighbour. It’s a good exercise in compassion.
Sue Hammell, MLA for Surrey Green Timbers