Minister of Advanced Education Melanie Mark was on the Sunshine Coast April 6, urging local NDP supporters to keep fighting for change and celebrate their accomplishments after just over a year-and-a-half in government.
Mark, the MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, was the keynote speaker at the Powell River-Sunshine Coast NDP constituency association’s AGM in Sechelt.
Mark said she got into provincial politics after working with the office of the Representative for Children and Youth, to fight for a “brighter and stronger” future for her daughter and the next generation.
“We have a raucous cabinet, we have a raucous caucus. We fight like brothers and sisters. We laugh with one another, we egg each other on, we back each other up.”
Mark, who became B.C.’s first Indigenous cabinet minister when she was appointed to the advanced education portfolio, talked about her ministry’s accomplishments, such as expanding free post-secondary tuition for former children in government care and waiving interest on student loans.
“You can imagine what it feels like to be the minister for advanced education, given all the damage that education [system] has done to Indigenous people. But it also gave us some tools to fight for our rights and stand up and make change.”
MLA Nicholas Simons, who also addressed supporters, faced questions from the local party faithful about a fight some think the NDP lost – ensuring any new long-term care facility on the Sunshine Coast was publicly owned and managed.
A Feb. 14 announcement that a deal had been struck to protect unionized workers marked the last significant hurdle to Trellis Seniors Services building the new facility, which it will own and operate under contract to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), on shíshálh Nation land in Wilson Creek.
Calls to cancel the VCH-Trellis contract have continued since the NDP formed a minority government in 2017.
When questioned about that by an audience member who said they were “quite distressed” by the compromises the government made, Simons said the costs of killing the contract were too great. “In other words, it wasn’t in the public interest to rip up that deal,” he said.
“When I recognize that a decision’s been made, to continue to publicly oppose a decision is detrimental to every party, including myself and my voice as a member of a team,” Simons said. “I don’t compromise any more than I have to, but as a social worker you also know where you need to get the wins, where you’ll find agreement without conflict.”
Simons also praised Health Minister Adrian Dix for being willing to come to the Sunshine Coast last year to face the heat.
Mark added that after 16 years in opposition, being in government and especially cabinet, means trying to meet “16 years of pent-up expectations.”
“What we inherited is not as it looks on the outside. That’s the privilege of being in cabinet is you actually have the power to look under the hood… Things have been gouged for so long over such a long period of time,” she said. “Minister Dix is doing so many innovative things to try to bring balance into a very neglected health care system.”
Simons also fielded a question about the future of Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge, and said, with a new board in place at VCH, “I don’t expect anything will be done to remove them from public ownership.”
After the public Q&A, Mark told Coast Reporter that her ministry is working to open up more options for people who want to pursue post-secondary education close to home, which was a focus for local government leaders after a recent Capilano University board meeting at the kálax-ay campus in Sechelt.
Mark said in terms of major capital expansion for the campus, nothing’s been proposed by Capilano U administration.
“They have told me they’re interested in student housing. Our government has invested $450 million in student housing across the province. That is their focus, but I don’t have any plans in front of me as minister for Sechelt,” she said.