Season’s greetings to everyone in Kootenay West! It’s time once again to reflect upon the past year, and it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with health care. It was a privilege to be able to start the year off with an announcement of $23.3 million for Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital. This money will help with a new ambulatory care area and expanded pharmacy, to better serve people in our area. The construction at the site will be worth it!
The Slocan Valley also had wonderful news of the addition of two great new doctors for the Slocan Community Health Centre, enabling Interior Health to maintain all current services there. And let’s not forget the biggest middle class tax cut in a generation: putting an end to MSP! As of Jan. 1, there will be no more struggling to keep up with MSP premiums, saving individuals up to $900 and families up to $1,800 per year.
CleanBC was introduced this year. This program is our government’s plan to reduce climate pollution and boost the economy. CleanBC makes clean energy options more affordable by providing rebates for home retrofits and electric vehicles. The plan also includes investing $30 million for new EV charging stations all over the province. It’s no coincidence that BC now leads North America in per capita EV sales! Locally, we’ve seen how the growing EV industry helps companies like eco-friendly Eagle Graphite Mine located in Passmore to thrive and create local jobs providing the raw materials for EV batteries.
On the roads, West Kootenay drivers were able to enjoy 20 km of resurfaced highway from Ootischenia to Playmor Junction this year. I can’t believe how fast that was completed! The Paulson Bridge was also resurfaced and upgraded to improve drainage and safety for travelers.
Travelers and residents had a welcome reprieve from major wildfires this year, but the Kootenays will be ready for next year, with help from an additional $907,000 government investment to promote community resiliency and help mitigate wildfire risks in our area.
As Minister of Children and Family Development, I’m so happy my work has been able to help families. West Kootenay families are now feeling the results of the almost $7.2 million we’ve invested in affordable, quality child care in the area. As of May 2019, local families have also had over $3 million put back into their pockets through the Affordable Child Care Benefit program. We now have 159 new child care spaces in Kootenay West — part of a total of 10,400 new, licensed child care spaces throughout B.C.
This year, our kids also benefitted from approximately $7.5 million for new school busses, over $5.1 million in funding for upgrades to schools, and brand new accessible playgrounds at Castlegar Primary and Winlaw Elementary.
I am also the minister responsible for “all things Columbia” (the Columbia River Treaty, Columbia Basin Trust, and Columbia Power Corporation). This fall, we held a series of 12 community meetings throughout the Columbia Basin to update residents on the current Canada-U.S. Columbia River Treaty negotiations, Indigenous Nations-led work on ecosystems, and progress made by the province to address treaty-related community interests.
In 2020 Canadian and American negotiating teams will be continuing the talks, with input from local communities, Indigenous Nations, and scientific experts, working towards agreement on a modernized treaty. This year marked a historic moment as representatives of Columbia Basin Indigenous Nations were present as observers at the Canada-U.S. negotiations for the first time.
Finally, one of the things that I am most proud of from the past year is our action on the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Last month, we passed legislation that will require B.C. to, over time, bring its laws into harmony with UNDRIP. We are the first province in Canada to take this significant step towards reconciliation.
There are so many more things to recall from 2019 than we have room for here, but I hope that this overview gives you a glimpse of what a positive and successful year it has been in our province and the Kootenay West constituency. Best wishes to everyone for the holidays!
Katrine Conroy is the New Democrat MLA for Kootenay West