Things got political during the March meeting of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.
Conservative MP for Langley-Aldergrove Mark Warawa and John Aldag, Liberal MP, representing the new riding of Cloverdale-Langley City, joined Langley Township and City mayors Jack Froese and Ted Schaffer on the dais at Coast Hotel on Tuesday, as they presented Langley’s version of the state of the union.
Each man was given five minutes to speak on topics of their choice before the floor was thrown open to questions.
The four politicians were quizzed on transit and related infrastructure, crime and homelessness, legalization of marijuana and a push to extend hours at the Aldergrove border crossing.
During his five-minute talk, Warawa, who is opposition critic for seniors, spoke about the implications of an aging population, noting that currently one in six Canadians is a senior and by 2030, that ratio is expected to narrow to one in four.
“It’s a dramatic shift; we need to prepare for that day,” he said.
Warawa also told the gathering that he has urged Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale to expand the hours of the Aldergrove border crossing to round the clock (see related story, Page 7).
The Conservative MP used the last of his five minutes to lobby for a pipeline to move liquid natural gas (LNG) to the west coast, so that it can be shipped to China and replace coal as a cleaner burning option for manufacturing.
Offering a quick summary of his first five months in office, Aldag drew attention to a recent town hall meeting held in Langley to discuss physician assisted dying. He also noted the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada and highlighted an impending tax cut for middle-class workers, earning between $45,000 and $90,000.
Teasing the March 22 federal budget, Aldag indicated the current government plans to honour a commitment made by Warawa’s Conservatives last July to contribute $22.3 million toward a new 216 Street interchange.
Acknowledging the Liberals’ commitment to provide funding for that project, Froese said with funds to widen the nearby 208 Street overpass included in the Township’s budget, residents can also expect to see that construction take place over the next couple of years.
Questioned on whether he’d prefer to see at-grade light rail or SkyTrain connect Surrey and Langley, Froese said it didn’t matter to him as long as something gets built.
“I don’t care how they get it here, as long as they get it here. I’ll leave the design to the engineers.”
However, the answer to local transit problems includes more buses on Langley roads as well as rail service, Froese stressed.
Transportation is also a key priority for the City, said Mayor Ted Schaffer. He told the crowd that if he had his druthers, SkyTrain would one day make its way along Fraser Highway, connecting the existing line from King George station to the Abbotsford airport
Metro Vancouver is not the only region looking for transportation funding from the federal government, noted Aldag. The important thing, he said, is to have a solid proposal in place soon.
Currently, the proposal is for at-grade LRT, he said. If the region’s position changes and SkyTrain is chosen instead, “I’d have to sell that.”
While the Liberals have committed $20 billion for transit over the next 10 years, there are a lot of hands out, Aldag warned.
“If we don’t decide quickly and (if necessary) get a revised ask in quickly, lots of other communities are already asking for the money.”
Questioned on legalization of marijuana, Aldag said recreational and medical use need to be addressed separately.
A 2003 study estimated the value of recreational marijuana in B.C. alone amounted to about $6 billion. In the past 13 years that figure “has more than likely doubled,” he said.
Those proceeds go directly to organized crime and are used to pay for hard drugs and guns, Aldag added, noting that marijuana is easy for young people to get and is often laced with dangerous chemicals.
“This is about taking control and making it less accessible to youth.”
Concerning medical marijuana grow ops, Aldag said the goal is to find a balance, where it is available to people who need it, without creating problems for neighbours.
“We know it’s an issue that needs to be worked on sooner (rather) than later. I have no hard answers, but we’re aware the current program for medical marijuana is not working and needs to be revisited.”
The final question to the four candidates asked each to address the issue of homelessness.
Noting the previous federal government contributed to Langley’s Gateway of Hope shelter, Warawa said homelessness is primarily an issue for local and provincial governments.
Aldag said he believes there is a role for the government of Canada to play and noted that social infrastructure is one of three areas, including transit and green infrastructure, to which the feds have committed $20 billion each over the next 10 years.
The City is working to address the problem through its task force on homelessness, said Schaffer.
Among its recommendations — which will go next to a public safety committee — is a call for a multi-jursidictional approach
“It’s difficult as a small city. We only have so much tax money to go around, said Schaffer.
“That’s why we need provincial and federal help.
Homelessness is not an issue that just stops at the border, said Froese, but one that needs to be addressed at all levels of government.
Some people are not housed because they don’t want to be housed, he said.
“It’s a problem that will never go away . . . (so) we need to have meaningful services in place.
“I look at them as residents of the Township. They’re just as important as anyone else and we need to help them.
“There’s no quick fix.”