Interview: Amrik Virk, MLA Surrey Tynehead
As the Asian Journal continues its series of speaking with the region’s MLAs about the issues in their constituencies, Amrik Virk, the MLA for Surrey Tynehead talks about his riding.
Ray Hudson: Several of the MLAs I’ve spoken with have expressed some concerns about crime in Surrey. You have a unique perspective coming from a long policing background. How do you view the issue at this time?
Amrik Virk: Crime rates on the whole are at a four year low. There are nefarious characters that do bad things and are blips that we did experience in the last year, and clearly there was a shortage of police officers which is now pretty much resolved. There have been tremendous improvements, and I have ongoing meetings with the local police chief and the Solicitor General’s office. Occasionally you see a spike, but I know, from my time on the street in Surrey that it’s generally one or two individuals. But overall most crime types are much lower than when I policed Surrey. In the broader picture, as the Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services, I’m involved in the $25 million project across the province to provide additional courthouse facilities, which will help alleviate the problem of trial delays. That’s something a lot of people don’t know, if it’s not a bridge or a hospital, it’s my ministry that is the builder of those kinds of infrastructure projects across the province. In Surrey there has been a tremendous opportunity for the expansion of the amount of room that the Crown Prosecutor Service had available to them as the Justice Campus has expanded into the former City Hall complex. I’ve been through that building and the reno- vation is allowing the operations to be more integrated and seamless, which will result in more efficiency in the prosecutions. That’s the sort of renovation that my ministry has been involved in.
Ray Hudson: Last year you said that many of your industrial constituents in Port Kells were expecting an increase in business from LNG activities, which have slowed considerably. The recent provincial budget presents an optimistic picture, so how does this translate to your riding?
Amrik Virk: It’s a symbiotic relationship between the north and the lower mainland. They are so connected with each other. Many of the companies in the Port Kells industrial area supply a lot of the heavy engines, truck tires and other parts and products that go north, so while there has been some slowdown in the commodities area, overall we are doing pretty well as a province. Our forecast is the highest in all of Canada. Last year alone there was almost fifty thousand full time jobs created in BC. No other province can boast that. We’ve had almost fifty thousand new people coming to BC, about thirteen thousand of them from other provinces. We’re repatriating British Columbians because many that left have seen the opportunity here, and are coming back. Still, we have to remain prudent. BC remains very, very strong, but there’s an instability around the world that we have to deal with. With respect to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), we still have a number of proponents who have put about seven billion dollars into BC to explore for LNG. Those companies are looking at a twenty-five to forty year window rather than the current low price trends. I’m very optimistic that LNG opportunities will continue to exist and companies will continue to build on those and continue to expand job creation in BC. I’m very bullish on it.
Ray Hudson: You are the Minister for Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services, what can you tell us about developments in the Innovation area, and particularly Surrey’s Innovation Boulevard project?
Amrik Virk: Recently we had the Tech Summit in BC with thirty-six hundred people from all over the world, one hundred and forty-four of those were investors. We showcased BC’s Tech Industry which, including that of Surrey, is the strongest job creator in the province, and growing at double the rate of everybody else. A major part of that is the ‘cleantech’ sector, which are companies seeking to increase performance, productivity and efficiency by minimizing negative effects on the environment. For example, we have the Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Centre, in Newton, where my ministry has provided the seed funding. In fact, 10% of the province’s cleantech companies are in Newton. Foresight is one of fourteen cleantech accelerators we run across the province with seed funding provided by my ministry. Their goal is to take cleantech companies that are in the early stages, teach them business acumen, teach them skills, introduce them to markets and then create jobs. Jumping to Surrey’s Health Innovation Boulevard, I was with Lark Development’s Larry Fisher and Kirk Fisher as they opened up the second health tech centre building (equipped with state of the art communications infrastructure and systems). That’s Phase Two of eight buildings with potentially 1.1 million square feet, to be built right next to the hospital and will draw health technology in the life sciences to Surrey. It will create opportunities for health technology companies and could create 5,600 jobs right here in the vicinity of Surrey Memorial Hospital, so the future looks very bright. All of this is supported by a highly educated workforce, and with respect to increased funding at the local campus of Simon Fraser and Kwantlen Polytechnic universities, that’s something that I’m going to push for, and I can tell you I’m hoping for some real positive news in that respect so we’ll talk again in about eight months and I’ll have some good news I hope.
Ray Hudson: I’d like to ask about the settlement of the Syrian refugees in the Tynehead riding. How are things going with the on that issue?
Amrik Virk: There was a lot of fear and trepidation and apprehension by some, but the good nature of Canadians, from the national to the local level was so impressive. When we were at the Fleetwood community meeting in January, we saw hundreds of people who spoke up to ask how they could help. There was such an outpouring of support, such as from Tony Singh of Fruiticana, who said he would provide fresh, healthy food to these people. There were condo owners who were offering free housing, and individuals asking how many they could take into their basement suites. I suggest that as our economy continues to grow we’re going to need people to fill the jobs. Some of those individuals are going to come from wartorn areas that need our help, like the Sudanese and Eritreans refugees we’ve taken, and the Chaldean Christians that came from the north of Iraq, and we’re going to continue to open our arms and welcome newcomers because that’s what makes the strength of Canada.
MLA Virk speaking to the Refugee Information Forum in Fleetwood