Just before her interview with The Times, Langley MLA Mary Polak was returning to Langley from Vancouver after using the new rapid bus over the Port Mann Bridge.
As Minister of Transportation, she is proud of those two projects, which her government made happen.
“The number one issue in Langley is transportation and it will continue to be the number one issue. We just don’t have the infrastructure Vancouver does.
“The express bus was packed, with half a dozen standing and the park and ride lot was full. We are tracking car travel since the Port Mann opened and we are seeing increased transit ridership.”
For those who drive, the expanded bridge and Highway One has changed their lives in commuting time, she has been told. The entire Highway One project will be complete by the end of December, she said.
“I’m hearing from a lot of people who want to see the HOV lanes extended further east than they are. But this all costs money,” said Polak.
This brings her to her proposal of bringing a referendum to the public asking them where and how they would like to spend on transportation improvements.
“I see the referendum having three of four different options on the ballot,” she said. She refutes claims from some mayors that a referendum would take too long to achieve anything.
“The referendum would be ready in the fall 2014. That is a pretty fast time line.”
Before that, she would like to see the options proposed go out to the public in numerous open houses as was done with the Port Mann Bridge expansion, with story boards and public input.
“People loathe giving more money. Mayors already used property tax, parking tax and a hydro levy. The mayors feel that’s all tapped out.
“Part of it is perception on how well TransLink is spending their money. We need to do better to explain that.”
Polak lives in Willoughby and is all too aware of the school overcrowding issue and says the area will need more schools, beyond the two currently under construction.
There are only three school districts that are growing and Langley is one of them.
“But there are pockets of heavy growth and areas of decline and it’s difficult to manage by adjusting boundaries and projecting enrolment.”
As a Surrey school trustee from 1996 to 2005, she said it was under the NDP that the biggest cuts took place. What has happened under the Liberals is there are simply less students enrolling and less need for teachers, librarians and special needs educators.
“The main thing is our student outcomes are phenomenal. Very rarely do I hear the Langley Teachers Association talk about that. Our Grade 4s are scoring well and are world leaders in reading and writing outcomes.”
ON THE BUDGET
“The books are there, there are no secrets,” said Polak to the NDP’s claim the Liberals aren’t being truthful about balancing the budget.
“Our credit rating has maintained in good standing even with the 2008 downturn in the economy. We always meet our targets.” She holds the party line that the Liberal party is the only one that will be fiscally responsible and keep the economy going.
ON THE PACIFIC CARBON TRUST
“It’s a different world now where the economy recognizes there is a price on carbon. Carbon offsets became a commodity. It’s a new field we are in, but overall I support it,” she said.
She said it has led several school districts to save more than they spend in paying carbon credits.