Looking back on 2017, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu acknowledges that it has been a difficult year in this part of the riding.
“I was shocked and stunned when I heard about the loss of fire chief Clayton Cassidy,” he says. “I was thankful to be given the opportunity to stand in the House and speak about him. I have a lot of respect for men and women in uniform, and serve on the police board in my town. I hate to see people like that lost.
“And then there was the fire that started near Ashcroft. Thank God we didn’t lose any life with any of these huge wildfires.” Sidhu says that he was able to take an aerial tour of the region and visited Boston Flats and the Ashcroft Reserve. He adds that the federal government has recently come out with an additional $100 million in funding to assist with wildfire relief, in addition to initial funding of $27 million.
“We’ve seen a lot of disasters, but the government is there to help. The B.C. government really stepped up to the plate, and congratulations to [Ashcroft Indian Band chief] Greg Blain for taking the bull by the horns. My office has been in touch with Indigeous and Northern Affairs Canada to get the ball rolling. It’s been a collective effort.”
Sidhu met with Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes and a council member to get an update on what was going on within the Village, and was also able to announce federal grant money for projects such as upgrades at the Drylands Arena, the Ashcroft Museum, and the sewage treatment plant. “I’m always here for anything I can do within my limits.”
Sidhu attended a packed town hall meeting in Spences Bridge in November, to hear concerns about used railway ties being piled by the railway tracks and left there. “It’s an issue there. I’ve spoken with [federal transport minister] Marc Garneau about it, and will push as hard as I can to get used ties out of town. They’re a fire hazard, and there’s no need for them in town.”
Water concerns were also raised, and Sidhu says that while water is a provincial matter, he is working with provincial partners. “I’m on it.”
Looking ahead to 2018, Sidhu says he thinks the federal government is going in the right direction on the issue of the legalization of cannabis. “We’re pretty optimistic that we’ll be taking money away from criminals on this. And young people being criminalized for life for carrying a joint is not acceptable.”
He points out that even though cannabis is illegal, Canada has the most cannabis users per capita in the world. “People are getting it through unfair, illegal channels. Why not make it legal so people know what they’re getting, and they can buy it from legitimate sellers?”
Sidhu admits that he was not initially sold on the part of the proposed legislation that will make it legal for households to grow up to four pot plants in their own homes, and spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his concerns. “If parents aren’t home, children might be vulnerable. The Prime Minister said ‘Let’s give this a shot, so people understand it’s not a sin.’ Then he asked me how many times I had made moonshine or brewed my own beer, and I said ‘Never.’
“He replied that that was because it takes time and energy, and people are busy; and I can buy liquor at a store, where I know it’s safe and has a label. If people can have good access to cannabis at a good price they won’t grow it.”
Sidhu feels that education around the issue is crucial, and at the right age. “I’m a strong believer that anything we put out has to be dealt with at the Grade 4/5 level. If you leave it until Grade 10 it’s too late.”
He is very pleased with the new housing strategy the federal government has come out with, which will see new homes built over the next five years, as well as co-op housing and the continuance of the strategy of helping people in assisted living who can’t pay the full rental cost.
“We’re still trying to help the middle class. We’ll tax the rich to give a break to the middle class. And I will continue to try to reach out to every community. I love to help the area.”