Rookie MLA Ravi Kahlon was sworn in at the legislature just over two weeks ago, becoming one of the 41 NDP MLAs that make up the bulk of the opposition against BC Liberal premier Christy Clark’s minority government.
The Reporter sat down with Kahlon in his North Delta home to talk about his first experiences in the legislature, the lessons he’s learned from the campaign and what he’s planning to do for North Delta.
North Delta Reporter: To start off, how have your first few weeks as an MLA been?
Ravi Kahlon: You know, it’s been a hurry-up-and-wait kind of a first few weeks. Normally a government has this process — I’ll give you an example. The UK election happened a month after ours, and they’re already in the house debating issues. So we’ve been sitting now for seven weeks in limbo just waiting for the house to be called, which it finally has been.
So it was excitement, and then it was kind of like, ‘Okay. When is this thing going to start?’ So it’s been a mixed bag of emotions.
NDR: You’ve been over to Victoria now, right?
RK: I have, yes. I went over twice.
I went over the first time for the historic agreement signing with the Green party on issues that we could find agreement on, which was a great ceremony. It was nice to be there. And then I went over this last week to get ready for the throne speech. And next week will be the first full week when we debate the throne speech and then have a vote of confidence on the government.
NDR: Okay. So have you been to your new office?
RK: So I don’t have an office that’s permanent. I think everything’s kind of, we don’t where things are going to go.
We’ve got one office that’s split between Katrina Chen, who’s the MLA for Burnaby, and myself. And so we kind of share the space and work it out.
I just got a computer and some basics, but really no office, no staff, nothing. It’s just kind of waiting.
NDR: Where do you stay when you’re in Victoria?
RK: I’ve been staying with my family, because my parents live there. But the days that it’s very busy I’ve been staying at a hotel. So I’ve been kind of doing a mix of things.
But it’s nice to stay with family just because you have a home-cooked meal and a chance to see my mom. So it’s nice.
NDR: One of the things that we’ve been talking about is what your role is going to be in the legislature. Have you had a chance to talk to John Horgan about what issues you might be working on?
RK: No. I haven’t had any chance to talk to him about it — and I probably won’t. It’s always a difficult decision for any leader to make, because they have to balance geography, demographics. So many things are in the mix of decision making. We have a very strong team, so I’m confident whoever makes it will be very capable.
So I haven’t had that discussion with him, but the people around the caucus table know the issues I’m very passionate about. So I’ll do that regardless of if I’m on a committee or not. I’ll be raising those issues.
NDR: What are those issues?
RK: Well, locally the big commitment I made in the election was I was going to fight for a new track at … North Delta [Secondary] School. I know that it wasn’t on the capital plan of the municipality, but I’m hoping — and I know that Minister Qualtrough is very interested in sports infrastructure, so I’m hoping to really push that issue and get it onto the radar of the municipality. I know the school board has expressed some interest in it.
So my pet project, and the one I committed to in the election, was to get that track replaced with a new track and a soccer field in the middle. I think it will really revitalize our community and give young people an opportunity to participate in sport, and also the opportunity to be active in their community. So that is the number one issue that I will be pushing, both with the local government and the federal government, but also in the legislature.
The second is around the transition home. You know, before the election they made an announcement that they were going to have a transition home, but the truth is they bought a home but they didn’t announce any funding for the actual transition home. So it was a cover up announcement in my opinion, it didn’t actually address what people wanted and it just got them past the election.
So, I’m going to be reengaging with all the women, mostly from South Delta, who led this initiative, and figure out how we can push to get this house up and running, staffed, so women can have a safe place to go. … So that’s another issue that I’m going to be pushing aggressively, as well as highlighting the important things like improving transit options here and helping ease congestion.
So those are kind of the three local things I’ll be pushing for.
NDR: We reached out on social media to get people to ask their questions, and three of the main things that were brought up by residents were public transit, like you mentioned, but also housing affordability in Delta and education.
RK: So those are the themes that we campaigned on, so those are broader issues that’s not localized to North Delta.
Housing is a major issue, I would say one of the most major issues in the election. So I would say we need to get at that right away.
The highest increase of homelessness is amongst seniors, so we need to start addressing opportunities for seniors to start living closer to North Delta. Because a lot of seniors I talked to on the doorstep were saying, ‘Yeah, I’m coming close to retirement, I can’t manage this house, but I don’t want to leave this community. And the only options are Langley, Mission, way out in Surrey, further in Surrey.’
So we need to start thinking about how we can build affordable places for seniors to stay in our community. Also mixed housing. So we need to look at everything.
And I support density along transit corridors. But we need transit first. So one of the biggest committments we made in the election platform that I’m excited about is proper funding for transit. That means more 312 and 316 busses running through our community. Having transit that goes to Annacis Island, so people that work over there can take a bus as opposed to waiting in traffic to get there.
So housing and transit is interlinked, and that’s something we’ve made a committment to in our platform that I’m excited to actually get going on.
And education. I mean, our education system has been in crisis. We’re lucky that, for the most part, our school board trustees have done a pretty good job of managing the difficult situation. They get handed a budget and its their responsibility to go ahead and try to make it work, and they’ve done a decent job. But they’re forced to be making difficult decisions that I don’t think we should be making.
Long answer, sorry.
NDR: That’s okay. Was this your first time doing some sort of campaign?
RK: Yes, this was my first campaign. And it was exciting, we had lots of fun.
The comments I’ve been getting everywhere in the legislature, everywhere I go is that your campaign looked like it was so much fun. And the truth was, it was. … We really took a different approach in our campaign. We believed in empowering people that came in.
Our theme of the campaign was respect, include and empower. So our focus was to have people come in and have a meaningful role in the campaign. So when people came up with ideas, we let them just do them. And we felt that really worked. We had 400 volunteers, which is a huge, huge number, and I’m hoping to keep them engaged.
Lots of young people, a lot of people came from high school. And that leaves me with hope that people actually care about the community, they care about the issues and they want to make North Delta a better place.
NDR: So what lessons from your campaign are you going to bring forward to your new position as an MLA?
RK: I think that, hands down, it’s not about me. It’s not about politicians. It’s about people.
The lesson I learned in the campaign, because I spent seven months door knocking, and it was my favourite part of the job actually, was the surprise of who opens the door and what they’re going to say. Before the campaign started I was dreading that the most. So the lesson I learned from it was it was about people. It’s about the issues that matter to people in our community; my position doesn’t matter, government doesn’t matter. It’s what people care about.
So what I’ve learned from the campaign is I need to continually engage with people, continually go out there and knock on doors, listen to people throughout the process. Because that’s what people want. They want to be heard.
NDR: What got you into politics in the first place?
RK: It was a mixed bag of things. Over some time, I just felt the government was straying the wrong direction.
You know, consistently I heard from Christy Clark and the governement that either you’re pro-business or you’re pro-environment. Or you’re pro-economic development or you’re with First Nations. All these divisions was an opportunity for them to stay in power, in my opinion. But I don’t believe that’s where people are.
So I didn’t see my values reflected in the government. And I wanted to do it, and I’m a very ‘let’s just do it’ type of person. So I sat down with my partner and said, ‘Either you’re going to run or I’m going to run.’
And she said, ‘I’m not running.’ So I said, ‘Okay, well that’s me.’
But I believe that [in] government, everyone should work together. I believe in cooperation. I’m looking forward to working with Minister Qualtrough, the municipal government, the school board, because I think that that’s what people want.
NDR: Are you nervous?
RK: I wasn’t nervous at all until I got into legislature for the swearing in, and then I realized the history and the responsibility that comes from literally sitting in that seat. So that made me feel a little nervous.
But I’m pretty sure on what I believe, and I know why I’m doing this. Again, I always thank my parents because I believe they raised me with pretty solid values. So I’m not nervous on the issues. I feel pretty solid on the issues.
But, you know, sometimes you get people who find it easy to hate on you on social media, so that kind of stuff is a little hard. And I’m always concerned about my family and being away from my family, and the pressures of the job. But I’m so excited and looking forward to it.
NDR: How are you going to handle being away from your family?
RK: Yeah. [He laughed] It’s going to be a challenge. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, so I’m looking to figure out how I’m going to be able to manage it.
My son will be coming to a lot of events with me, so people in the community might see that, just because it’s an opportunity for me to have him with me. And also I want him to learn about his communtity and learn about all the things that are happening. He’s young, but it’s an opportunity I wish I had had when I was a kid. And so that will be probably one of the ways of managing it. But it will be a challenge.
I look at Minister Qualtrough and I just can’t believe how she’s doing it with her kids, having to fly to Ottawa. People don’t have a true understanding of the pressure and the stresses of being away from your family, so hats off to her because I think she’s pretty amazing at what she’s doing right now. But if she can do it, I can do it. So that’s my view on it.