By Dylan Hackett, News Editor
Last week I had a chance to talk with Hector Bremner, BC Liberal candidate for the New Westminster riding, and Allie Valiente, president of the Douglas Young Liberals club. Below is an excerpt of our discussion.
Thank you for meeting with me today. First I would like to ask you, for the sake of informing our readers, your background and personal history and how you became the BC Liberal candidate for the New Westminster riding.
HB: I was originally born in Alberta and I grew up in Saskatchewan. I came out here and finished school in the late ‘90s. About 10 years ago, we moved here. We decided New Westminster is where we wanted to raise our kids. It was through activity with various non-profits and local organizations that made me look at politics. I felt there was a gap there in terms of representation and I got talking to some folks who said, “Hey, you should do that” so I pursued it. It was a little bit of a race to get to the finish line and we came across first and I ended up being the candidate.
Do you think that would’ve been different perhaps if Dawn Black hadn’t dropped out of the NDP candidacy?
HB: Maybe. I think that very well could be true but I think that people feel that New Westminster is changing. New Westminster is an evolving city. It has had an era and seems to be verging onto a new one. I think a lot of folks feel now that there are people who’ve moved here over the past five or 10 years and I feel that it’s their shot, their chance to make their voice heard.
Gentrification is definitely active and it’s evident as ever looking at the SkyTrain station, the new developments…
HB: I wouldn’t call it gentrification.
Are you sure about that?
HB: I generally reject the term gentrification. I think that puts a negative connotation on something that’s really positive because when we talk about development, New Westminster has become a bedroom community—the jobs have been squeezed out of it. I would argue nobody has had their eye on how to make New Westminster truly liveable. New Westminster was always a great place to raise your kids, being relatively safe, but at one point our downtown became left alone. People would escape after five o’clock and it was left to whoever was left. I think it has been wonderful that the community has been reclaimed and that the community has said, “No, we’re not going to abandon our city and our downtown. We’re going to stake our claim here, we’re going to live here and care about this community, invest in this community and that’s a positive thing.”
I used to be the vice-chair on the committee for social issues at city hall and we were looking at some studies that showed 10 years ago, it was about a 70/30 split between seniors and young families and that is now inverted. Now you have a larger population of folks that are with family and are in midstride of their lives—they’ve got a lot of skin in the game, as they say. They have kids in the public education system, they’re paying taxes.
I think that success in the 21st century, for any government, is in having a three-pillared approach. You equally weigh the social impacts, the environment impacts. We’ve learned that if you neglect any of those legs of the stool, it all just falls over.
Why should students vote BC Liberal this spring, given that tuition fees have gone up heavily in the past decade?
AV: I think students should vote regardless, although I think they should vote BC Liberal. Voting gives you that opportunity to have your voice heard… rather than just standing by your computer screen, watching tuition rates go up and not having any say as to what happens. Voting BC Liberal, I feel as if this party has been very responsible, like Hector said, and we are making those changes to help us with tuition rates as well as having a job there for when you graduate. You put all this money into education and then you’re fearful that you’re not going to have a job to pay back your student loans. The BC government will give you that opportunity to get the job and pay back those student loans.
HB: When I was the age of the folks that are reading your paper, BC was run by the NDP. I came into a province that had the highest unemployment, the highest youth unemployment, one of the lowest growth rates for an economy in the entire North America. I was a pretty bright guy but I couldn’t afford to go to school because I came from a lower income family myself. I had to go to work and I ended up selling shoes.
Today, for kids coming out of this school, right now, there are companies up north that are willing to pay for you to live there, they will buy you a vehicle, they will do whatever it takes for you. They need you. There are six-figure jobs out there for you tomorrow if you’re willing to go get them. That’s the difference between the NDP and the BC Liberals. BC is one of the most thriving markets in North America, its future is so bright. We haven’t even come close to tapping our potential. Ontario is now going to be receiving provincial transfers—for the first time in Canadian federation history. That’s very substantial. There are jobs for you. You just got to be looking at the jobs that are there.
But tuition rates are going up and by the last account by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives say that they went up five per cent when inflation was only at two per cent. Can we be promised a lower tuition rate?
HB: No. And with all due respect to the CCPA, I don’t know if they’re the best source to quote, I don’t quote the Fraser Institute…
Tuition rates is a really hot topic and it always will be. If we look at what’s going on in Quebec, we have to say to ourselves, well here’s a province with the lowest tuition rates out there, they’re being asked a marginal, marginal increase, and all hell broke loose. We have to step back for a minute and say, “What are we fighting about here?” Tuition rates are increasing but our unemployment rate has been, consistently, far lower than under the previous government. Yes, people are paying more to go school but their income has increased. If you’re looking at your education as an investment, just like any business would, like “I’m going to invest x amount of dollars and expect to make my investment back plus a capital return.” That’s how folks going into post-secondary today need to be looking at it. Are you going to do that with a liberal arts degree today? It’s pushing it—it’s really pushing it. I have been looking at the state of post-secondary education and feel I’m well versed in education in North America and nobody disagrees with the statement that folks are out there training themselves for jobs that don’t exist.
I had a conversation with a friend earlier today and he had a conversation with his friend about who was going to get his doctorate in philosophy. Look, I enjoy philosophy as much as the next guy but I highly question, unless you’re one of the top one per cent of thinkers you probably will not be able to sell a book or teach at Harvard or wherever and make a real living. You’ll probably be one of the most fascinating bartenders out there to talk to. I don’t want to belittle people’s dreams and nobody does, but we must recognize that in BC, there is a gold mine standing in front of us. For every young person today, there is a job for you, right now; there are people starving for you, right now. There are six-figure incomes waiting for you, right now. Benefits, pension plans, forever! For your entire working life. But you have to seriously look at getting into trades right now.
Do you see Christy Clark as an effective leader of the BC Liberal party?
AV: I do. She is strong and every time I hear her say something, two months later, she’s done it or she’s putting the steps towards making that happen. She’s a delight to be around and I think that enthusiasm has captured the entire province.
HB: I think she’s grossly underappreciated. I think she’s taken over a government and a party in an extremely tumultuous time and she has done quite gracefully, despite the completely unwarranted personal attacks. As a communications guy, I’ve seen a war waged against her reputation—completely unjustified. She’s been quite stoic through all of this and a lot of other politic figures would’ve thrown their hands up in disgust, walked away, or had a conniption when they saw the absolutely unfair treatment she’s gotten. She’s kept her head down and got the job done.
Do you have cabinet ambitions?
HB: I have a sole, burning desire to be the voice of New Westminster. I’m not looking at anything beyond being the MLA for New Westminster. New Westminster needs a real voice in the halls of the legislative assembly and I think we’ve been woefully underrepresented for the past many years and it’s time we had a real voice.