Econ­omy, School in Porta­bles and Pub­lic Safety, are the is­sues

Con­stituency Con­cerns: Sue Ham­mell, MLA for Sur­rey Green Tim­bers

Asian Journal - - News -

Ray Hud­son

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.

Photo: Ray Hud­son

Sue Ham­mell, MLA for Sur­rey Green Tim­bers

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