Doug Routley has been in office since 2005. (Photo submitted)

Doug Routley reflects on 2019, and his career in government

Exclusive year-end interview with Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA, Doug Routley has been in office since 2005. In 2017, the NDP formed government with support from the Greens – which means Routley has spent only two years of his career in government. Routley spoke with the Chronicle to reflect on his 2019 accomplishments, and his time as an MLA.

In 2019, the NDP has spent $17.5 million to build the health science centre at Vancouver Island University (VIU), $5 million to expand the marine, auto, and trades complex, $4.9 million into new trades seats for plumbing, electrical, and power engineering. For other education funding, the NDP has put forth $7.4 million in school upgrades in Nanaimo-North Cowichan, $210,000 in playground funding, and $65,000 to fund new Indigenous teaching spaces.

In housing for the Nanaimo-North Cowichan region, Routley said the NDP has either built or begun construction on 550 new affordable housing units.

Some major construction projects have started, like the Crofton Road upgrade which will see the entire road repaved and widened.

The NDP reversed cuts to ferry service from Nanaimo to Gabriola Island, and Crofton to Vesuvius, and reduced fares on those routes by 15 percent.

Routley helped secure funding for the Morden mines in Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park. The government committed $1.4 million to restoring the park and preserving history of the area.

In childcare, the NDP has announced 400 new child care spaces. Routley said the government has put ‘$6.7 million back in to parent’s pockets’ with the Affordable Childcare Benefit. The NDP also gave $815,000 to the First Nations early childhood program for Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

The NDP has announced a new hospital in Cowichan, a new ICU in Nanaimo, and an urgent care clinic in Nanaimo. $5.5 million was invested for new MRI machines at Nanaimo General Regional Hospital, (NRGD) to run MRIs 24 hours a day. Routley said that has resulted in 2,000 more MRIs performed at NRGH in 2019. The NDP has put $7.5 million into upgrading electrical at NRGH, hired 30 new paramedics for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, and purchased three new ambulances for Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

“I’m really happy with those riding specific pieces,” Routley said. “I have to say that after 12 years in opposition, running around the province listening to the challenges people face, and essentially promising to address those, it’s so satisfying to actually see it happen.”

With his 14 years of experience as an MLA, Routley said he has much more freedom as an individual, and a greater appreciation of the political process.

“It has given me a much freer voice. When you start out, you’re learning, and everything’s overwhelming. You’re also cautious because you don’t know what the ramifications are. Experience in dealing with challenging environments like that gives you the ability to navigate clearly, and not be afraid of standing up,” Routley said. “… With the perspective I have now, I know how hard it is to drive change, how long it takes to get something done – it’s a long process. It’s absolutely amazing how much does get done, and how many people it takes to get things done.”

Routley’s riding is quite diverse. His riding boundaries have changed in 2009, and 2015. The big change was 2009, when his boundary expanded by 50 percent. He is now responsible for Crofton, Chemainus, Ladysmith, south Nanaimo, Cedar, Yellow Point, Cassidy, Gabriola, Thetis, Penelakut, and Valdes Islands. There are six First Nations in Nanaimo-North Cowichan, six local governments, and two school districts.

“I look at it almost neighbourhood by neighbourhood with each place having a separate identity,” Routley said.

Beyond regional diversity, Nanaimo-North Cowichan has the second lowest number of English second language speakers in B.C., and double the provincial average of self-identified Indigenous people. Routley said he feels the strongest possible sense of duty to advance truth and reconciliation in the riding.

Routley is also prioritizing climate change through his work. He views climate action in two ways – in a larger scale sense with NDP decisions that impact the province, and in a practical sense.

“I can say a lot of things that sound really good about [climate change], but what can I actually do? I think a strong part of the achievable for me is, I have a responsibility as a representative to do what I can to contribute to solutions, but more immediately I have a high duty to help mitigate the consequences for our community,” Routley said.

Routley said all public officials have a duty to acknowledge the world is in a climate crisis, and that they must have a ‘laser like focus’ on solutions that will help people get through the worst impacts of climate change.

Although Routley has been the MLA of the area for over a decade, he said he doesn’t look at Nanaimo-North Cowichan as ‘his’ riding.

“40 percent of people love you without knowing you, 40 percent of people can’t stand you without knowing you, and 20 percent are kind of in the middle… I feel like it’s not personal. If somebody is upset and I take heat, it’s fine. They must have the freedom to express anger… I have to be prepared for that, and everybody who takes office has to be prepared for that – and welcome it.”

Over the years, Routley became well known in the B.C. legislature for expressing anger. He’s been called one of the NDP’s ‘regular hecklers’, and received Andrew Weaver’s bronze medal heckle in 2015. Now that Routley is in government, he heckles far less than he did in opposition.

“I’m very collegial. My reputation as a chair of committees is that I go out of my way to accommodate people. But there’s a place called Question Period… I struggle to explain why it is that way, until I took a high school student on job shadow with me to meet George McMinn, and he was 53 years in the B.C. Legislature. He sat this kid down, and he explains to him that at home, at school, and in the community we teach you to work in a civil way, show respect, and not interrupt. The kid agrees, and [George] says, Question Period isn’t like that. He said Question Period is a place where you and your family can bring your grievances to government. He said, ‘we have anger in passion in the chamber so we don’t have blood in our streets’. It was the most brilliant explanation of it,” Routley said.

Routley said that the NDP once tried a question period without heckling. Without heckling, they were able to ask more questions, but at the end of Question Period, constituents accused them of not caring enough about issues.

“It is the embodiment of the idea that you can complain about your government and not fear a knock on the door at night, and that – to me – is vital.”

In 2020, Routley wants to focus on ‘better change in forest policy’. He said that working on forest policy is the biggest challenge in front of the NDP government currently. He also wants to see a general push to improve institutions like ICBC and BC Hydro. Another priority is improving access to childcare spaces to ensure that parents – mothers in particular – have an opportunity to advance their careers. Overall, he said the NDP is focused on lowering the cost of living across the province.

Routley will run for office again in the 2021 provincial election. He’s not committed to running for office again beyond the 2021 election. If he is reelected in 2021 and ends his career in 2025, he will have served the Nanaimo-North Cowichan area for 20 years.

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