Carole James MLA Report – February 2014

The last few months have been a busy time with outreach and activities at my Victoria-Beacon Hill community office. More than 100 people came out to mingle at our Holiday Open House in December, and it was wonderful to connect and chat about issues and concerns. Many took time to sign “Let’s tackle poverty!” postcards, which Opposition MLAs will present to the government once the Legislature resumes this month.

It’s a crisis that needs action now. First Call B.C.’s 2013 child report card, released in December, confirmed that our province had the highest rate of child poverty in the country at 18.6 percent – more than five percent higher than the national average. These are children in our neighbourhoods who are going to school hungry, living in unsecure housing, and making do without a winter coat.

The Opposition will once again call on the government to commit to a province-wide comprehensive poverty reduction plan, with clear, measurable targets and timelines. For the third time, we will table legislation outlining a positive way forward, and I am asking all MLAs, regardless of political party, for their support.

Affordability and housing remain significant issues in our community, and much more needs to be done to address them. As part of Homelessness Action Week, my community office hosted our annual ID clinic at Our Place, and helped more than 100 people to get their birth certificate and health card. Many of these folks haven’t had any ID in years, and will now be able to get photo ID and do many of the things we take for granted – like open a bank account, travel, or vote.

I was honoured to help serve holiday dinners at Our Place, Cool Aid, the Mustard Seed, and James Bay Community Centre. Before the holiday season, I was pleased to host a luncheon with representatives from the various neighbourhood associations and seniors centres in the riding to talk about local priorities. We had a great discussion on ways to address some of the pressing needs in our community.

Many of the pressures are being felt because of the rising cost of living. While this government talks about putting “families first,” it is actually making life less affordable for individuals and families. The Premier’s promises about jobs and prosperity ring hollow and empty for those having to pay the bills as prices only go up.

On January 1st, MSP premiums rose – for the fifth year in a row. BC Hydro rates are going up nine percent, ICBC rates were increased on November 1st, ferry fares are jumping yet again, and the seniors’ discount for ferry travel is being cut in half. As if a four percent fare hike in April wasn’t enough, BC Ferries users were also hit with a 3.5 percent fuel surcharge starting in January.

Our ferries are our coastal highways, essential to the province’s economy and critical to the health and viability of coastal communities. We need a long-term plan to support our ferries, and the Opposition will be bringing forward common sense ideas that I hope the government will consider and implement.

My community office staff works very hard to assist constituents, and I’m pleased to share two of the success stories from this fall. “Michael” is on disability assistance, and when his wheelchair battery completely died, he was stranded at home. Unable to get through to the ministry on the phone lines, he called a wheelchair store directly and had them deliver the battery. He had to put it on a credit card, but it was a debt he couldn’t afford. Normally the ministry doesn’t approve expenses retroactively, but with our help he was able to launch a successful appeal and get reimbursed for the expense.

“Hazel” contacted the office because she was having a hard time making ends meet on her very small pension. The office shared information about several programs, such as the SAFER rental assistance program for seniors, and the low-income senior’s bus pass. We were able to help her reduce her monthly expenses by several hundred dollars and make life a little easier.

My office is here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance with access to government services or any questions about provincial programs.