B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson talks with city councillor Ron Popoff during a Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday in Cranbrook. Trevor Crawley photo.

A Q&A with B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson

The Vancouver-Quilchena MLA stopped in Cranbrook to address Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday

B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson stopped in Cranbrook on Wednesday to address the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, using the majority of his time to address the upcoming proportional representation referendum.

The Vancouver-Quilchena MLA also met with local politicians from regional communities and hosted a party function in the evening at Western Financial Place.

The Cranbrook Townsman had a chance to sit down with Wilkinson and Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka on Wednesday morning to talk about issues pertinent to East Kootenay voters.

Q: What steps should the government take to address wildlife management issues in the region?

A: This is something that’s starting to affect the entire province. We’re hearing about rapidly declining moose populations west of the Fraser and the Chilcotin; they seem to be doing okay east of the Fraser. Moose, elk, deer have been, traditionally, for thousands of years, the food supply around here and they still form an important part of people’s diets. Of course, our hunting community likes to know that it’s a well managed resource, so there’s a really serious concern that we don’t actually have a good handle on what the actual wildlife numbers are, so the tag allocations are done somewhat arbitrarily. We hear a lot about that from people in the Kootenays, from the two MLAs and people in the community that people are seriously worried we are not managing the wildlife resource properly here.

Q: What would a potential solution look like?

A: Historically, we’ve done it on an ad-hoc basis, people get a sense of what the wildlife populations are and tag numbers are adjusted each year, and that has proven workable for quite a long time, but now it looks like it’s starting to hit a wall. We’ve seen predators come back in to most of British Columbia that weren’t there when I was a kid, and that changes the whole dynamic about the deer, moose and elk populations and we’re going to have to get a much better inventory. That’s going to take time and money.

Q: Where does the Trans-Mountain pipeline issue get solved between the federal government, the provincial government and the courts?

A: There are layers to this. First of all, the Federal Court of Appeal, on Aug. 30, set out a road map for the federal government which now owns the pipeline. So it’s up to the federal government to figure out how to meet the expectations of the courts in this file because there’s no other way. Secondly, we’ve got a serious problem in Canada and in British Columbia when we have a court system that changes the rules 10 years into the game, where we have very expensive legal system that bogs things down, so if you’re interested in investing in Canada, you’ve got to anticipate a very long timeline, a lot of uncertainty, and most importantly, we have an NDP government that is quite happy to block federally and provincially approved projects for political reasons, and that is probably the number one problem that’s going to scare people out of British Columbia.

Unfortunately, we as Canadian taxpayers now own a pipeline company that we don’t want, and we have the opportunity to build a pipeline expansion project that is in the national interest and we have a provincial government doing everything it can to block it and has laid down its body on the tracks to say they’ll do everything they can to stop it. So that’s a real problem for British Columbians because it sends a terrible message to the world about our interest in being open for business.

Q: Has the province done enough to prepare for the pending legalization of cannabis?

A: Tom [Shypitka] and I were both at the mayor’s meeting [Union of British Columbia Municipalities annual convention] in Whistler last week and there was a lot of concern all over the province about the lack of clarity from the provincial government. There’s going to be one marijuana store ready to open legally in mid-October and it’s a government-owned store in Kamloops. There’s demand out there, which the federal government has said is legitimate, and so municipalities are left carrying the can, trying to figure out what the rules are and nobody’s really clear what the rules are. So the provincial government needs to sort out its position on this and we are of the view that these stores need to be appropriately and tightly regulated, the ownership has to be entirely proper and clean, they cannot sell to children, and if they do, they should be prosecuted and lose their license.

Two perspectives — the City of Richmond wants to ban the sale of retail marijuana, and we say, ‘that’s just fine with us, follow what the city wants to do’. The other perspective is that retailers want to figure out what the rules are before they invest a whole bunch of time and money, and they can’t figure out what the rules will be, so they’re left in limbo.

So we’ve got municipalities and retailers left up in the air not knowing what’s going to happen in about four weeks, when it becomes legal to sell marijuana in Canada.

Q: How should the affordable housing issue be addressed?

A: When it comes to housing, we’ve got to stop talking about fault and blame and solve the problem. In a city like Cranbrook, where you’ve got a good-sized land base, we’ve got to be able to make it possible for the City of Cranbrook to get on with and provide for housing to be built. We also have a rental housing problem in British Columbia, where not enough has been built in the last 25 years. I lived in rental housing for 15 years and I know perfectly well there has to be a good supply of rental housing or renters get squeezed; either they can’t find anything at all or they have to pay too much. So we’ve got to increase the supply of rental housing. That’s probably through incentives like tax breaks for people building it and owning it rather than selling it off as condominiums. And secondly, we need to clear the pathway for municipalities so they can get on with clearing the possibility of building housing on available land. Some municipalities like Langley and Langford are pretty quick at this; others like Vancouver are incredibly slow with waits of three years, where you have to sit on the land and pay the mortgage, waiting to stamp your plans as okay.

Q: Why the opposition to proportional representation?

A: The Columbia Valley is a pretty special way of life. It’s not a big population, it’s a huge mountainous terrain, and that requires a bit of knowledge about the special way of life here. It is not the same as the West Kootenays and it is not the same as the Okanagan. If they all get lumped into one big proportional representation riding, and the elected representatives are in fact, chosen by the party bosses and not the people directly, there will be a huge loss of influence here in the valley because people will not be choosing their own representative. It will be done by somebody in another valley, and it may even be done by a party boss in Vancouver or Victoria, and that is wrong.

The three options offered up by the NDP are not workable in British Columbia because they refuse to show us maps of what the ridings would look like, so we don’t know who we’ll be lumped in with. They refuse to tell us whether it will be the party bosses choosing the MLAs or you’ll have any knowledge of who these options would be or not — whether it’s an open or closed list. They refuse to tell us what they’re going to do, so this is totally inappropriate for the NDP to be offering up this gobbledygook of acronyms and asking us just to pick one without knowing what they really mean.

Q: What’s your response to the criticism that any one particular party can have 100 per cent of the legislative power with less than 50 per cent of the eligible vote under First Past the Post?

A: Proportional representation invites complicated coalition governments where the people controlling the show, can have as little as six per cent of the vote. That is a serious problem. We also have the scenario where they talk about ‘everybody wins under PR’ — well that’s impossible. What happens, is that governments form with coalitions that get 50.1 per cent of the seats, not the vote, and they would form government. So there’s a whole bunch of mythology out there about absolute power. You just have to look at what the Federal Court of Appeal told the federal government about Kinder Morgan to realize that is complete nonsense.

Q: So FPTP remains the most palatable system to the B.C. Liberals, considering the alternatives?

A: For 150 years, Canada’s been pretty peaceful and prosperous under a system we inherited from the British, who have used it for about 300 years, and you don’t mess with things unless you’ve got a better solution. And having a proposal where two of them have never been used anywhere else in the world and one of them was invented by a graduate student at the University of Alberta, does not sound like a good approach to peace, order, and good government to me.

Q: While the NAFTA negotiations are the responsibility of the federal government, what issues should B.C. be concerned about?

A: All Canadians need to be concerned about these NAFTA negotiations because it affects our whole way of life, it affects how easily we cross the border, whether people can work in various trades and professions across the border and, of course, it has repercussions throughout the economy, in terms of finished goods and how things move. So British Columbia might not have a poster-child like the auto industry, but if the NAFTA negotiations go sideways, we will notice it within days, as things get more expensive, more difficult to access and people’s businesses start to suffer because they can’t move goods so easily.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

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