Public safety concerns over the stabbing death of a teenager in Surrey on Tuesday morning (April 18) sparked a fierce battle between the ruling New Democrats and official opposition parties in and around the main chamber of the legislature over the cause of the crime.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said during questioning that his government is trying to undo BC United’s 16-year rule of the province in response to allegations that the current government is weak on crime.
“The last time (BC United) was in government, they cut health care and mental health services,” he said. “They’ve cut mental health services. They’ve cut spending on sexual assault centers. They’ve done irreparable damage to social services, which provided the support they want to see now.”
His comments came after BC United’s Shirley Bond, shadow minister for health, senior services and long-term care, and Prince George-Valemount’s MLA questioned the government’s focus on public safety.
“When will the Premier end his verbal commitment to admit that there is chaos in British Columbia and that he has a heavy burden on his shoulders as former Attorney General and current Premier of British Columbia? When will he step up and do something?”
When Black Press Media asked Farnworth if he accused BC United of responding to change that narrative, Farnworth said he answered questions posed to him by the opposition.
“(When) opposition (members) ask questions about the root causes of crime and they have a record of what they did, where they made cuts that had an impact on the social services network … then the price you pay goes down the road, “He said. “So when they ask these kinds of questions, you’re right, I’m going to fight back.”
Farnworth also accused BC United of making specific recommendations to address public safety concerns.
“The border crossing is safe,” he said. “There were important security procedures during the transport,” he added, noting increased patrols and other security measures following the teen’s death.
Farnworth said Premier David Eby will join other Canadian premiers on April 21 to discuss public safety with police chiefs across the country, who are also addressing public safety issues.
“So we’re committed to taking additional steps,” he said.
He also pointed to promised changes to federal bail legislation and provincial measures announced in Nanaimo last week to create 12 regional centers for repeat offenders.
Moments later, Surrey-South MLA MLA Elenore Sturko, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Addiction, Rehabilitation and Education and one of the government’s sharpest critics, rejected the arguments.
“He (Farnworth) could stand up during the question period and yell at me all he wanted,” she said. “(But) the reality is that this is a two-term government, they’ve been governing the province for almost six years, we’ve had a public health emergency in the province related to drug toxicity for seven years.”
She added that health care spending has actually increased every year during BC United’s administration. “There is no excuse for this administration’s failure to act and address the root causes of the problems we see on the streets day in and day out.”
Sturko acknowledges that social change does not happen overnight. “But we’ve never seen (public safety) as bad as what we’ve seen so far,” she said.
She also dismissed Farnworth’s lament about BC United’s lack of concrete policy advice to address public safety concerns, and accused the government of “standing in place” when it talked about talks with Ottawa.
“Quite frankly, it’s time for this government to recognize their soft policy on crime, their revolving door justice that goes beyond the courts,” she said. “We’re talking about unaddressed root causes that the criminal law can’t address.”
While BC United made public safety a central issue of the question period around the recent Easter break, often using prominent NDP figures like Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Kroger as witnesses, the issue has since gained more traction. Pay attention.
BC United opened Tuesday’s question period with comments from Metro Vancouver Transit Police Chief Dave Jones, who has said the justice system needs to be “reset” and that it has been ignoring victims.
Farnworth countered that argument by quoting Jones, who said traffic was safe and crime was down. Transit police recorded 1,572 “crimes against people” in 2022, down from a high of 2,056 in 2016 but up from 1,376 in 2021 and 1,456 in 2020, according to published data. The reported crime rate per 100,000 transit passengers decreased between 2021 and 2022, but passenger boardings increased by 45%.
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