A track record of strategic investment and new approaches – By Ray Hudson

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Peter Fassbender, MLA Surrey Fleetwood

An interview with MLA Peter Fassbender

By Ray Hudson

Peter Fassbender, MLA Surrey Fleetwood
Peter Fassbender, MLA Surrey Fleetwood

Surrey: With the provincial election date of May 8, 2017 beginning to loom large on political calendars, the folks who are seeking election or re-election to office are gearing up to get your attention and favour and hopefully turn that into votes.

Recently the Asian Journal spoke at length with NDP leader John Horgan, and in this edition we go in depth with Peter Fassbender, MLA for Panorama, who served as Minister of Education until 2015, when he was appointed Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development & Minister Responsible for TransLink. Prior to seeking provincial office, he served as the Mayor of the City of Langley for three terms following an initial term as a Councillor.

MLA Fassbender spoke with the Asian Journal about the Clark Government’s record, and their approach to some of the major issues facing both the province and the south Fraser region.
Ray Hudson: What are some of the accomplishments you’d like to underscore from this past year?

Peter Fassbender: We’ve done a lot. We are moving ahead on transportation expansion, so the government put almost a quarter billion dollars on the table along with almost $270 million from the federal government. Now the mayors are out consulting to come up with their 17% share for phase one. This will mean more buses, upgrades of existing SkyTrain stations, another SeaBus and we’ll be opening the Evergreen Line before Christmas. People ask me what does it mean for the south of the Fraser? I say because we are creating jobs here, people who work in Surrey and live in the Northeast will be able to use transit to get to and from work much more easily. There will be more bus hours in Surrey and across the region to move people between home and work across lower mainland and downtown Vancouver.

We’ll also be doing the detailed engineering, business case and plan for the “L” line in Surrey, and although it’s still a few years away, the preliminary work toward the expansion of transit down the Fraser Highway and whether we go with at-grade rail or SkyTrain.

Ray Hudson: What does this mean with the opening of the Tsawwassen Mills mega mall, Tsawwassen Commons (a second big box mall) and the new Industrial Park adjacent? Is there a plan to deal with this transportation impact now, or are you waiting until the new Massey replacement bridge is in?

Peter Fassbender: No, I think it’s a combination of both increased service and construction the new bridge which starts next year. That’s going to be critical to move people around the region as well as for accessing Delta Port, which will continue to be a major hub for goods movement strategy.
We’re building the replacement for the tunnel because it’s not seismically sound. I’ve lived through two earthquakes. I was in Los Angeles on business when they had the big one, and the other I was in San Francisco. I drove over the (Oakland) Bay bridge just five minutes before the quake hit, and the bridge collapsed. When I go through the tunnel, if there’s no one in front of me, I step on the gas just a little more to get through it in case we have the big shake.

Notwithstanding the seismic issues however, it’s just too small and we’re building the Massey replacement as a bridge so we can add rapid transit at some point in the future. We’re thinking twenty or thirty years down the road.

Ray Hudson: What about the concern that the new bridge will negatively impact agricultural land?

Peter Fassbender: In fact there will be a small net increase to agricultural land, because the bridge is being built on the same alignment that the tunnel occupies. It will not have any structural components in the river, so it won’t affect the salmon runs. As to the disposition of the tunnel once decommissioned, I don’t know the details on that right now.

Ray Hudson: What is in store for transportation in the rest of the south Fraser region?

Peter Fassbender: There will be more buses to serve the corridors. With Campbell Heights and some of the other industrial parks that are being built, we need to look at transportation service so the people who work there don’t have to drive their vehicles to work. Whether or not you would have an at-grade rail spur, coming out on 192nd Ave in the future, is in the planning work that’s going on with the city of Surrey.

Ray Hudson: The Foreign Homebuyers Tax has certainly put the brakes on the market. How do you feel it impacts the area outside of Vancouver, such as Surrey, Delta, Langley ?

Peter Fassbender: There were people in Surrey that I talked with who had thought about selling their house but changed their mind because of a change in the market. I think that will stabilize.  The builders I talked to had some concerns, but I’ve told them that one of the jobs we need to do, as we build the transportation system, is to build more supply. The issue of affordability is to a large extent a function of a lack of supply. The demand is here, and will continue. Surrey is growing at approximately a thousand per month and we need to densify in all the transportation corridors, not just the SkyTrain lines, but the bus routes and all of the major transportation corridors.

Thirty years ago, knowing what I know today, we would have built this community a lot differently. But I don’t think anyone predicted the kind of growth and the pressures that we have today. We’re having to re-think and restructure community in order to deal with it. As a government, I think we have done a really good job trying to address those needs, but we still need more schools. It’s easy for people to say we need ‘x’ and we need it tomorrow but It’s not quite that simple. We are committed to working with both the school board and the city, to plan better. We need to look at other creative opportunities so developers can work with us to build schools as they’re building developments, so the schools are ready when the development is.

Ray Hudson: I’d like to ask about health services, specifically the number of hospitals available in the south Fraser. Is there anything in the works for another facility?

Peter Fassbender: I was co-chair of the Advisory Council of Fraser Health, when I was the Mayor of Langley, and I think the issue for us is not that we need more critical care facilities, but how they’re used. This means re-educating the public not to go to emergency for the flu or things like that.
Fraser Health is looking at where the population growth is happening. Surrey Memorial has a brand new ER and Critical Care Tower, over $500 million invested there, and the Jim Pattison Outpatient Centre nearby. There are Centres of Excellence such as the cancer clinics at Surrey and Abbotsford, and the regional hospitals Langley Memorial and Peace Arch. We need to consider where the service gaps are, and where will they be in five, ten or fifteen years. We’ve scheduled a significant expansion of Royal Columbian Hospital, one of the top cardiac facilities, and we’re going to be replacing the 120-year-old St. Paul’s Hospital with a specialized health campus on the False Creek flats. I think the public has to be prepared for the fact we’re going to change the way we deliver medical services.

As Langley Mayor, I also did some ambulance ‘ride-alongs’. We transported a Langley resident, who had a heart attack to Langley Memorial. After assessment, we then transported him to the Royal Columbian where they took him right into surgery and put in a stent. Twenty minutes later we were back on the road to Langley where he would recuperate closer to home. I happen to think that’s how a ‘Centre of Excellence’ system is an effective and efficient way to spend the money. I’m also a big believer in Nurse Practitioners who, because of their training, can do a lot of things that don’t require a physician. There has been pushback from some of the doctors, but I think the younger doctors and medical professionals are much more willing to look at a new approach.

Ray Hudson: Any further comments?

Peter Fassbender: I want to ask the people of this diverse community, including our Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities, to look at our track record, what we’ve done as a government. We’re not about talk, we’re about changing as change is required and investing where it’s needed. There will never be enough money to do everything that everybody wants, but we’re sure doing a lot better than a lot of other provinces in this country because we’ve had a sound fiscal policy. We’ve invested strategically where it’s needed and we’re going to continue to do that.