Ferries issues top of mind for Holman

Gary Holman reflects on his first few weeks as a new MLA after narrow electoral win

Holman at an all candidates forum during the May 2013 provincial election.

Gary Holman has been toured through the B.C. legislative building many times so he could get his bearings, been invited to meeting after meeting, given a closet-sized office and an assistant he shares with four other people and has already been heckled by members of the government.

It’s all in a few weeks’ work for a brand new Member of the Legislative Assembly. Holman, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, sat down with the News Review recently, to reflect on his early days in Victoria. Holman was elected during last May’s provincial election — the first New Democrat elected in the riding. He did it the hard way, scoring a narrow, 163-vote victory over B.C. Liberal candidate Stephen Roberts in an Elections B.C. recount.

Prior to that, Holman had been runner-up in the riding for the better part of a decade, always steps behind Murray Coell, who held the riding for the B.C. Liberals for more than a dozen years.

Now, Holman finds himself in the capital, in territory at times unfamiliar but working on issues he knows very well. Holman was appointed by party leader Adrian Dix as deputy critic for B.C. Ferries and Environment and is the opposition critic for democratic reform.

For six years of his political career, Holman was on the Salt Spring Island ferry committee.

‘I think I understand this issue better than most,” he said. “The two main issues for people on B.C. Ferries is affordability and level of service.”

Holman said the B.C. Liberals were clear during the election that fares will continue to rise four per cent per year, while at the same time, service levels would see reductions. Holman has spoken out most recently on the plan by B.C. Ferries to replace three vessels, raising the issue of where they would be built. Holman said he favours a local option, but even if a contract goes to a non-B.C. builder, there are ways to maintain local jobs and local content in the work.

“We need to look at local content as part of the bid process,” he explained. “There has to be an incentive to us local suppliers and partners.”

Getting the opportunity to speak during a recent legislative session in Victoria, Holman raised the idea and was promptly heckled by the government about the NDP’s track record on ferries, including their failed Fast Cat ferries gambit.

“I feel like I’ve truly arrived,” Holman quipped. “But that history doesn’t mean that you should stop asking questions.”

Holman said that even if a local company doesn’t win the contract to build the new vessels for B.C. Ferries, international builders should still be asked to look for local suppliers. To date, however, the idea is only getting pushback from government.

The new MLA said while Question Period is fast and furious, with both sides looking to score political points and earn precious media attention, he finds the government’s estimates sessions far more rewarding. Estimates sessions take place during the provincial budget process. It’s a chance for each department’s budget to be reviewed by the opposition and questions asked in a more subdued environment.

“The critics lead the sessions,” Holman explained. “It’s a more thoughtful process and information actually gets exchanged.”

It’s here where Holman said he had his most rewarding exchange with government ministers — out of the charged atmosphere of Question Period.

“They are not evil people,” he said the B.C. Liberals. “Well, maybe just a little evil. But they are people like us. They still want to serve their community and the province. Of course, we have different views on how to do that.”

Holman is still in search of a location for a constituency office in Sidney. He has two constituency assistants — Leah Squance and Debra Hartung — and $119,000 to run the office (including wages). Holman said they are hoping to close a deal soon for accessible office space in town. In the meantime people can reach him through the NDP caucus (250 387-3655) or via email: gary.holman.mla@leg.bc.ca.

“People are already finding us, believe it or not,” he said, “asking about issues both personal and public.”