A year removed from being re-elected to a second term as a Member of Parliament, Mark Strahl says he’s been able to spend more time in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope this time around, and he’s seeing drastic changes.
Strahl says the housing affordability issue hasn’t just affected people in the Metro Vancouver or Vancouver Island regions, but also in small towns like Hope. He believes soaring housing prices and a tightening rental supply have caused an uptick in homelessness and crime.
“People are finding it more difficult getting into a new home or staying in the rental property they’ve been in,” he said. “With the rapid change there hasn’t been a lot of time for adjustment there.”
According to the Canadian Real Estate Association — the average price of a home sold in Chilliwack and Hope was $417,242 in October, an increase of 25 per cent year-over-year. Strahl notes there is a rising amount of crime within the community and that has been exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing for people.
Although Chilliwack has seen a massive increase in its homeless population, Hope hasn’t been immune to it either. A 2015 report on homelessness shows that despite Hope representing only two per cent of the population in the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), it contains eight per cent of the homeless population. Many of the homeless are on income assistance as well, the report found.
“It has been such a big issue locally, and we have to work with other levels of government and the community to address not just getting people into homes but also address things like mental health and addiction treatment,” Strahl said.
A familiarity with the House of Commons that wasn’t there when Strahl was first elected in 2011 means he’s spending more time in the Chilliwack-Hope riding. The riding was new for the 2015 federal election, a fraction of the sprawling former riding that covered much of the upper Fraser Valley.
It was a riding Strahl’s father Chuck dominated for 18 years until Mark won comfortably in 2011, garnering 57 per cent of the vote. Strahl does admit he had to get used to not being in the government of power, but the change has also allowed him to see how Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is operating.
“There are still significant concerns in terms of the Ottawa part of the job,” he said. “But I’ve been getting out and seeing people in Hope as much as I can, and it’s been great because it means I can spend more time here then I could before.”
At the time of the interview, Trudeau’s government had not made a decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline, which has since been denied.
Strahl said then that it’s an excellent opportunity to begin churning out jobs in energy and natural resources again, something he says a town like Hope could benefit from.
The Northern Gateway pipeline was originally given the green light under former prime minister Stephen Harper, but was shot down by the Supreme Court of Canada for not adequately consulting Indigenous people that would be affected by its implementation.
But Strahl says that there are First Nations groups that see its economical benefits, and they are also being inadequately consulted by the Liberals.
“I think they are doing a political calculation. if they say no to Northern Gateway and then say yes to Trans Mountain — then they will have somehow appeased both sides of the pipeline debate.” he said.
“Turning this into a political football will do more to damage the integrity of the process.”