Aaron Sumexheltza, NDP candidate for Fraser Nicola, 2020 (Submitted photo)

Fraser-Nicola candidate Q&A: Aaron Sumexheltza

Learn more about BC NDP candidate Aaron Sumexheltza

Tell us, briefly, about your background, where you call home, your political experience and why you decided to run this year?

I was born and raised in Merritt, in a ranching family. Saying this is my home doesn’t fully describe it, but I love the valley and the people who live here. I have a long history of involvement in helping the communities of this region grow and thrive. I am a councillor and served as Chief with the Lower Nicola Indian Band. As a lawyer of fourteen years I fought to ensure Residential School survivors got the support they needed. People in our region are struggling. Not only are they dealing with the economic impacts of COVID-19, but even before the pandemic hit, the mill closures in rural BC and the decades of inaction from the Liberals have meant that people face the tough choice between either leaving their communities or staying with limited employment opportunities. I am running for the NDP because we need to have a government that fights for everyone, not just those at the top.

What do you see as the top three issues facing Hope and area currently and over the next decade?

Over the next decade we are going to be dealing with many challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. To be successful we will have to ensure that the recovery works for everyone and not just the wealthy and the well connected. British Columbians deserve better healthcare, faster. Where the BC Liberals gave tax breaks to the rich and made healthcare worse for people, John Horgan has expanded a whole range of health care services in rural BC to ensure that we receive the kind of care all British Columbians deserve. As we turn to economic recovery it is important that we provide support for people and small business, especially the tourism sector. Where Andrew Wilkinson and the BC Liberals support tax cuts for the wealthy, the NDP government brought forward a $8-billion plan to invest in the economy, including a 15 per cent tax credit for hiring new employees and grants to support 15,000 hard hit small and medium businesses.

How do you balance Hope’s needs with the needs of the more economically depressed communities in the district?

Whether you live in Hope, Merritt, Boston Bar or Gold Bridge I am committed to working hard to make life more affordable for you and your family. After 16 years of BC Liberal service cuts and neglect the BC NDP government has been improving health care, creating jobs and opportunities, and making life more affordable in every corner of the riding.

A re-elected BC NDP government will provide direct support through the pandemic with a one-time $1,000 recovery benefit for families and $500 for individuals. We will improve public health care by hiring more doctors, nurses and health care professionals. To make life more affordable we will help families with kids by expanding $10 a day childcare. In addition we’ll create jobs and rebuild BC with a new Recovery Investment Fund to provide an additional $3 billion a year over three years to build new hospitals, schools and more, creating over 18,000 new jobs a year.

BC Housing is planning for a 52-unit supportive housing building in Hope. How do you see this proposed build filling the need in the community and what other, if any, housing investments would you advocate for if elected?

Living in BC is expensive, that’s one of the reasons many of us have chosen to live and raise our families in Hope, Merritt or other communities in Fraser-Nicola. The cost of living isn’t as high as Vancouver, but people are still being squeezed. Homlessness skyrocketed under the BC Liberal watch but the BC NDP are not shying away from the challenge. This supportive housing project in Hope is one of the commitments from the BC NDP Government to help address housing affordability by filling gaps left by years of Liberal inaction and neglect.

The NDP government has invested historic amounts in housing for low- and middle-income earners, including seniors, and has committed to the largest investment in housing affordability in B.C.’s history – more than $7 billion over 10 years. We’re seeing the benefits of these investments in Hope but there is more work to do.

What kind of a relationship do you think an MLA should have with First Nations in the district and, if elected, what are concrete steps you would take to build this relationship?

I believe that we are all stronger when everyone in our community succeeds. During my two terms as the Chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band we worked in collaboration with indigenous and non indigenous communities to put a moratorium on harmful biosolids entering the Nicola Valley, established British Columbia’s largest community solar power system, and worked hard to build economic development opportunities for everyone.

As MLA I will continue to build on the BC NDP approach of making reconciliation a priority. We are proud to be the first province to pass legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but there is more to do to ensure the Province’s relationship with Indigenous peoples will continue to move from short-term transactional arrangements to long-term agreements that recognize and support reconciliation, self-determination, and economic independence.

Tell us one surprising or unique thing about yourself.

I recently changed my last name from Sam to my ancestral name Sumexheltza. Sumexheltza, pronounced Shoo muh-hetsa, was a chief in the 1800s in a community near Ashcroft. Recently there has been a movement for indigenous people to show their pride in their heritage and taking on my ancestral name which means “breath of life” follows that growing tradition.

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