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Q&A with MLA Jordan Sturdy

A year of policy behind, and an election ahead, outgoing Sea to Sky MLA chats politics
Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy.

British Columbians are now well within the 12-month window of a provincial election, to be held on or before Oct. 19 2024.

BC United MLA Jordan Sturdy has represented the riding since the 2013 election, having been re-elected in 2017, and again in 2020.

And now, it’s official: Sturdy will not seek re-election this year.

Pique caught up with the longtime local rep to get a read on his thoughts about the year that was, and the election year ahead.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Pique: What are your initial thoughts on where the BC United Party stands heading into an election year?

Jordan Sturdy: Well, to give it a little bit of context … in the month prior to the election in the spring of 2013, [BC Liberals] were down 20 points in the polls. I was told to expect to be one of eight or 10 members of the BC Liberal caucus. Clearly that's not the way 2013 worked out, and that was just weeks before the election. So, while polls have their place and have their value, we don't live our lives on the polling.

Do you think the Conservative Party of BC is having an impact on BC United?

[The Conservatives have] some new life as a result of a reflection of the federal scene. Clearly, there's been a resurgence of the federal conservatives and I think that's what's reflecting in the polls these days.

Are the Conservatives a threat to BC United, or could they be a flash in the pan?

Well, I think it's obviously a threat. How that materializes into outcomes at the end of the day will be hard to say. It's a bit of an illusion in many respects. And anybody who's studied politics in this province … realizes that when the centre and centre-right is split is when the NDP ends up in government. That's been history over time. Whether what was true historically will be true going forward, that remains to be seen. I would say that it's naive of the provincial Conservatives to believe that they’re going to be anything more than a spoiler … when the centre-right has a divide, it just hands government to the NDP.

The BC United Party switched names within the past 12 months ago. Do you think that that has had an impact on where the polling is?

I'd be pretty confident that that's the situation. But it does raise an interesting dilemma when it comes to the BC Liberals or BC United, in that there continues and always is a bit of confusion on the street. [Relating to the difference between the previous name of the party, the BC Liberals, and the Liberal Party of Canada].

I think we're not naive to the fact that rebranding is always a tremendous challenge, no matter what. If you look at how much money BC United has raised relative to the NDP, relative to the Conservatives—that is in stark contrast to polling.

[The last quarter of fundraising numbers will not be available for some time. The third quarter numbers showed a large gap between BC United and the NC NDP, and a similarly large gap between BC United and the Conservatives. The BC NDP raised $867,611.92  between July and September 2023, while BC United raised $399,209.70, and the Conservatives raised $52,562.19. The Conservatives only achieved party status in the B.C. Legislature in mid-September when they gained a second MLA following a BC United defection.]

BC United has ramped up its announcements of late, with blueprint policies released on the drug crisis, living costs, and wildfire responses. How do you see the party’s proposed wildfire reforms benefiting not just the Sea to Sky, but also B.C. as a whole?

Over the years, we have seen our share of [wildfires] and recognize that there are some policy issues around firefighting that are up for discussion and debate. It's a big province, and especially where we live, it's a pretty aggressive landscape. So it's difficult to do the kind of level of fuel management that is necessary to protect communities. But, it needs a solid commitment to making an effort over a longer period of time. The pendulum has moved to a place where now we recognize that wildfire has a place on the landscape. Yet that has had some issues for communities—that can have significant and negative consequences on communities when things don't go quite according to plan.

That will remain a challenge, to find the place where we can let things burn in the right situations and let fire do its work on the landscape, but not put communities at risk … And I think that it's not clear where we're going to land on what the right approach is.

There has been some increase in the number of full-time people in the service, but it's not to the level that we need to have. Hopefully that will be embraced and we will have a more robust service to react [to wildfire].

Looking at evacuation of communities, the approach that the province has taken until now—which I think needs to be reviewed and probably amended—is that these emergencies are community emergencies and they're community-led, which has a nice ring to it. But it's a bit disingenuous when we think about a place like Whistler … how is it Whistler's job to get the 50,000 people that are in the community on any given day out of the community on one road? Why is the province not acting to coordinate some of these responses? They, to some degree, have abdicated that responsibility, or at least not embraced it.

Another of the policies Leader Kevin Falcon has spent a lot of time talking about is cost of living. BC United released a raft of policy ideas to tackle cost of living challenges, such as removing the provincial fuel tax and changing how the carbon tax is applied. How might these policies apply in the Sea to Sky?

I have long supported the carbon tax. It was a good idea that has its place, and we were obviously early adopters back in 2008, and we led the way. But that carbon tax has changed, and now it's a tax grab, and it's growing constantly, and it is not changing behaviours, it is just taking money out of people's pockets.

One of the real challenges associated with this tax is that we are alone in many respects in terms of the impact of that tax. And I say that as a farmer. I grow 45 acres on a 55-acre property of vegetables and berries in the Pemberton Valley. I, from a competitive perspective, have to compete against American and Mexican growers who are growing the same crops as I am, but they don't have a carbon tax to deal with. They also have lower land prices, for the most part. They have lower labour prices. They have lower taxes. It puts me as a farmer at a competitive disadvantage.

I don't have an option to go to some other energy source for agriculture. And I just use that as an example—there's many people who don't have a choice, it just costs them more money. I don't think there's any evidence that the carbon tax is working in the way we had hoped it was going to work originally. It had been frozen for a number of years, but since the NDP have come in, it has increased significantly, yet carbon emissions in this province have never been higher … Certainly carbon tax revenues have never been higher either.

Some more policy announcements were to do with housing and short-term renters. What are your thoughts on how the government's moving in that space?

In Squamish, I think it's going to have very little impact. Squamish has already been densifying significantly. I think it'll give Squamish council cover to do what they've been intending to do anyway, things like at Garibaldi Estates. That whole lower part of the area, there was all single-family, and Squamish council had intended to allow for duplexes or triplexes, I believe, in that area, and that got quite a few people upset. And now, as long as it's in the OCP, that will be permitted without any public hearings. And I think that's the direction council is going anyway, so I'm not sure that that's going to really change anything.

The big impact is going to be in Whistler. So, a default allowance to put a fourplex or a sixplex on any single-family lot in Whistler is a game changer for the community, and not necessarily in a positive way. It's one of the few places in the province where there's no doubt that you can buy a single-family home or an older home for a couple million dollars in Whistler and rip it down and put four $2 million homes in, and the economics of that will work.

That's not necessarily true everywhere across the province, but certainly it's true in Whistler. And that will be the default allowance—council has nothing to say about it. The neighbours have nothing to say about it, you're just going to be allowed to do it.

Well, the question is, who's going to actually live in those houses? And if you pull down a single-family and put a fourplex in there and sell them for $2 million apiece, that won't be accessible to any employees or virtually any employees in the municipality. What you're going to end up with is a whole bunch of investors.

Wrapping up, what are you hearing from residents in the Sea to Sky about what they want the government to focus on after the election?

Clearly housing affordability. Everybody's feeling the pressure. Costs are going up, be it for homeowners or renters. Fuel prices, food prices, property taxes. Utility prices are all going up, yet wages have not gone up in the same way. So we have to do whatever we can do to try and control the cost of living.

As a function of that, clearly housing is a major contributor. There's just so much housing uncertainty and people being under-housed, and then just lack of ability to access the market.