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Kootenay East MLA Shypitka reflects on the year that was

MLA Tom Shypitka in Victoria May 17, 2018. Photography by John Lehmann

It was another eventful year in B.C. politics, with a number of East Kootenay issues making it’s way to the provincial stage over the last 12 months.

Whether rural health care challenges, regional wildfires or a seismic shift in ownership of the Elk Valley coal mines, the East Kootenay had it’s fair share of challenges.

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka reflected on the year that was during an interview at his office on Dec. 20.

In terms of his influence on government decisions, Shypitka — who sits as opposition with BC United — noted a few examples, particularly with the $156.5 million expansion of the F.W. Green Home that was announced in September.

Shypitka served as deputy chair for the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and was part of the 2024 budget consultation effort that saw the all-party group tour 11 B.C. communities, taking in hundreds of submissions from individuals and organizations interested in shaping the upcoming budget.

The committee’s efforts culminated in 166 recommendations, one of which was the approval of the F.W. Green Home expansion project, something that the Kootenay East Regional Hospital Board had been waiting on for a few years.

“After the finance committee and the advocacy work that I did — and David Wilks [KERHD board chair] needs some credit as well — that’s been pushed over the goal line,” Shypitka said.

The F.W. Green Home was originally an apartment that opened in the 1970s and later converted into a long-term care facility with 60 beds. The expansion project will double that up to 148 beds, with a four storey structure built on adjacent vacant land, while the current facility will undergo a significant renovation after the residents are moved into the new building.

The new facility will also include a 37-space daycare, while other amenities will include a hair salon, a sacred space and a 25-space adult day program for people living more independently in the community.

Procurement is underway now, with construction expected to begin in 2025.

The Shelter for Ukrainians Society has done incredible bringing families to Cranbrook and the East Kootenay that are fleeing the war in their homelands following Russia’s military invasion in February 2021.

However, there were challenges for those families once they arrived in B.C., said Shypitka.

“Part of that transition was to get a drivers licence, and so unfortunately the only option for Ukrainians to get a drivers license months ago was to take the drivers license [test] in Russian,” he said. “A bit of a slap to the face.”

Shypitka said raised the issue and was able to successfully lobby the provincial government to get drivers license testing in Ukrainian for those families who have relocated to Cranbrook or elsewhere across the province.

Over the course of the year, some federal politics slipped into the provincial realm, namely through health care and the carbon tax.

Carbon tax politics became a talking point in the B.C. legislature, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that home oil heating would be exempt from the federal carbon tax program.

However, B.C. has it’s own provincial carbon tax framework, and calls from BC United and the BC Conservative Party soon arose to follow the federal direction to exempt the carbon tax on other forms of home heating, as well as on fuel, or mothballing the policy entirely.

Fully killing the carbon tax is not an option due to federal legislation that will implement a carbon tax program provinces that don’t have their own provincial frameworks, said Shypitka.

“Either you do it — the provinces do it — or the federal government will do it for you,” Shypitka said. “Federally speaking, if the federal government removed the carbon tax…B.C. could still have a carbon tax — it’s up to them — but I would say and our party, B.C. United would say no, we would follow the federal lead, because we’re not going to leave British Columbia at an unfair competitive advantage.”

As the shadow critic for mining, one of the biggest stories of the year in the Kootenays was the ownership shakeup of the Elk Valley coal mines, as Teck Resources Ltd recently announced a plan to sell its coal assets to Glencore.

Glencore first attempted to wrest control of the entirety of Teck Resources through a so-called ‘hostile takeover’ in April by making an offer directly to Teck shareholders, during Teck’s attempt to consolidate its metals portfolio and spin off its coal business into Elk Valley Resources.

However, in November, Glencore announced the acquisition of Teck’s coal assets via Elk Valley Resources, making a number of commitments that weren’t a part of the initial takeover effort.

Some of those commitments include maintaining a head office in Vancouver, and regional offices in Calgary and Sparwood, along with maintaining significant employment levels and no net reduction of employees as a result of the transaction.

Shypitka said Teck has been a good corporate partner, noting the 28 commitments that were a part of the sale conditions to Glencore.

“Teck exited, or is about to exit, very classy,” said Shypitka. “Glencore, on the other side, has picked up those 28 recommendations. I’ve talked to Glencore’s head brass — this is [Gary] Nagle, the head guy — and he’s confirmed that yes, we will make sure that those recommendations are in place.

“So it’s trust right now, we’ll see what the coming months and years bring us, but I am optimistic from the meetings I’ve had with Glencore and Teck and I think there’s a partnership there and I think we’ll have continued success.”

Looking ahead to the New Year, Shypitka reiterated that British Columbia continues to face challenges as political parties and voters stare down an election campaign.

Affordability will be a key theme, whether it be fore housing, the cost of living, access to health care, along with other issues such as community safety and the toxic drug crisis, Shypitka said.

“Quite honestly, and everybody can ask this question of themselves, are you better off now than you were seven years ago, as far as affordability, as far as crime goes, as far as access to health care?” Shypitka asked. “The list is unfortunately long, and if people can honestly answer and look themselves in the mirror and say we’re heading in the right direction, then lets continue with the status quo.”

“But after two terms, seven years, I think we’ve seen the results and they’re not favourable.”

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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