Constituency Concerns: Access to Government Programs Big Concern

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Sue Hammell, MLA Surrey Green Timbers

By Ray Hudson

Sue Hammell, MLA Surrey Green Timbers
Sue Hammell, MLA Surrey Green Timbers

Surrey: Sue Hammell is starting her fifth term as the MLA for Surrey Green Timbers. In a previous legislature, she was the Deputy Speaker. Currently she is the Opposition critic for Mental Health and Addictions.
She describes her riding as a residential constituency, largely single-family dwellings with some townhouses and a few mobile home parks. The major feature inside that is the Art Gallery and Performing Arts Centre, Bear Creek Park and Surrey Green Timbers park. There are some shopping centres; the Payal, Nordel and Cedar Hills as well as the industrial/commercial areas between 124th and 132nd Streets. According to Hammell it’s very multicultural, 70% non-caucasian, predominantly Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Indian, South East Asian, Filipino, Vietnamese, very multi-cultural”
“It’s very much solid, working class people,” the MLA said. “What’s important to them is education for their kids, health care, community safety. At the same time, the biggest concern to constituents is making a strong enough living to support their families in ways that are meaningful. They come for a better life and to give their kids the education to prepare for their futures.”
“The major issues here, like a number of other ridings are, crime and safety, health care, education and security of employment,” she said. “But if you talk about what comes in the door of my constituency office, it’s WCB, which is indicative of the working class population.”
“You can roll that all up under one heading and that’s Access,” said Hammel. Access to health care, access to education, access to a safe community and access to government systems.”
She described how, as government spending and program cuts have built up, access has become restricted in the sense that people have more trouble accessing the system on their own, or their family’s, behalf. She said that there’s not the person-to-person service, no entry or welcome to the system as before.
“When people experience problems accessing the system,” she said. “It’s ‘we don’t hear your problem,’ and if they don’t hear the problem, ‘there is no problem.’ This all stems from language deficiencies, limited or no knowledge of computers and online systems, and being unable to circumvent the technical roadblocks by talking to real people. People, who for the most part, have been replaced by the very access systems that people can’t access.”
“In health care in particular,” she described, “the problem is more of over-worked, under-resourced services, stressed to the point that, here too, access is a problem. People approaching the hospital Emergency Room, for example: unless they are dying, they are being sent home. The service doesn’t follow the patient. It’s ‘Home you go and if you can’t cope, we’ll see you again probably.’ There was a homeless man who was discharged after being in the hospital for a week, and sent to a rooming house in Surrey. He was completely unable to assist himself and had to return to care. You have to go and prove that the system failed, that you can’t cope. At what cost to him and to the economy?”
Social services barriers are just as large.

“Even our (MLA) offices have difficulty breaking through the barriers to get someone to talk to them about a problem that the constituent has tried to get help with, and as a last resort, come to us to help break down the barrier for them,” Hammell says. “Small problems are not being solved, and then they go on to become much bigger problems. If the problem is dealt with up front, hopefully it can be dealt with before it becomes serious.
“Of all of the problems that are brought to us, the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) seems the most intransigent. They seem unsympathetic position towards workers, and very few people get benefits that make them whole in any way. We see a lot of people who have tried to work through the WCB system who simply can’t penetrate the wall, and once they (WCB) has decided you’re done, you’re done.”
“I think this is a direct consequence of cuts being made before figuring out how to revamp the system or what the consequences will be,” said Hammell. “It’s not good.”
Addressing one of the areas of direct concern, as opposition critic on Mental Health and Addictions, she said, “Mental health, in my mind, is the health issue of the future.
Here particularly access plays a very large role in a severe shortage of services I our community and beyond. The problem? Lack of community and higher level support.
“The difference between the Liberal Government and us (the NDP) is that we did not promise fifteen to seventeen LNG plants, a trillion dollars in economic activity and 100 thousand jobs and a debt-free BC,” said Hammell. “Because of those promises, the focus of the government is on trying to deliver something that is almost impossible to do. We would not have been there. If you have people interested in LNG you facilitate that, but you don’t stake your whole economy on that pipe dream. Instead you stoke all the economic engines to build the economy. Look at Tourism. You don’t cut a ferry service that is part of an economy-building tourist circle route. Instead you figure out how to build and enhance that route. You look at all the key components of your economy. One such economy where they’ve done this brilliantly is the New Zealand economy where they figured out a plethora of strengths so if one industry drops they have fall-back positions.”
Calling the government cuts Draconian, she said “In the end you have to figure out your future. Never mind us who have been here a while. We have to make sure our kids have something. You have to build capacity.”
Asked if the province was ready for the next ten years she relied. “I don’t think so. We’ve not gone through a period of building. We’re not developing the skill-sets or areas of expertise, which would be seen as ‘amazing’ in a variety of places.”