Carole James, Rob Fleming and Mitzi Dean give Victoria and Esquimalt solid representation in the BC NDP government. They look ahead to some of the key issues in their local ridings for 2018. (Black Press files)

Victoria and Esquimalt MLAs look forward to addressing housing, schools in 2018

Two cabinet ministers, busy backbencher represent southwest portion of South Island

Heading into the new year, three Victoria-area MLAs have big plans in the works, including contributing to their government’s first full budget.

Victoria-Beacon Hill’s Carole James, who entered cabinet in July as both Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, told the News this term offers “an incredible opportunity to focus on people in this province.”

Rob Fleming, the Victoria-Swan Lake MLA who was given the Education Ministry portfolio after years in the opposition critic’s chair, joins James at the cabinet table, while Mitzi Dean, the rookie MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, has her own list of duties as a backbencher.

“I expect in 2018 we’ll be ramping up even more to deliver on the mandate of this government around investing in schools,” Fleming said. “It’s been tremendously enjoyable to work with education partners all across the province to make the most significant new investment in the public school system in, literally, generations.”

Part of the $681-million increase to the K-12 school system budget over the next three years will go toward recruitment and retention of teachers, he added.

“There’s work to do on recruiting certain types of teachers that are in high demand. Science, math and French language teachers are in short supply in certain school districts.”

Another update to B.C. schools, the redesigned Grade 10 curriculum, will roll out in September 2018, while the Grade 11 and 12 curriculum changes were recently pushed back a year to 2019. “It’s an extra year in draft form for teachers to get comfortable before we implement the changes,” Fleming said.

Victoria’s low vacancy rate means the MLAs have also their sights set on housing for 2018.

“I’ve spoken to a number of people raising the issue of lack of affordable housing,” James said. “It’s not a quick fix, but it’s a piece that needs to be addressed and [one] that we’ll be focusing on in the February budget.”

All three stress the importance of creating more housing options, including purpose-built rental housing.

“I’ve been talking with local municipalities and with BC Housing about how we can get people to work together more quickly to identify opportunities in relation to parcels of land,” Dean said. “We’re building partnerships so that we can get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.”

The Medical Services Plan premium reduction that goes into effect Jan. 1 will also help improve affordability for British Columbians, Dean added. The 50-per-cent reduction was promised by the BC Liberals in their pre-election budget last spring, and the NDP made good on that promise in their September interim budget. During this year’s election campaign, they also pledged to eliminate MSP payments entirely within four years.

Fleming is also excited about the prospect of new transportation options for Greater Victoria residents. “We’ve already made an announcement for phase one of a shoulder-paved transit lane to the West Shore down Highway 1,” he said. “We really need to improve and offer more transit services to the region. There will be more capital announcements in that regard.”

James pointed to climate change as an issue important to Victorians. “Standing up against Kinder-Morgan continues to be important,” she said.

And Dean wants to do more to commemorate what’s going on in her community.

“There are wonderful resources, leadership opportunities and milestones that are a privilege to be able to stand up in the house and talk about,” she said.

She pointed to Esquimalt’s Canada 150 celebrations and the recent recognition of the 60th anniversary of Lester B. Pearson winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Dean looks forward to recognizing more of these occasions in the new year.

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