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Politics and life after: retiring Island MLA Doug Routley reflects

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA announced earlier this year that he would not be seeking re-election
After nearly 20 years serving Ladysmith and area residents, Doug Routley will be calling it a day at the end of the day on Oct. 19, the next provincial election, when a new MLA is elected.

After almost 20 years, long-serving mid-Island member of the legislature (MLA) Doug Routley has participated in his last question period.

Routley, who announced earlier this year that he would not be seeking re-election after serving the area continuously since 2005, said he feels he’s leaving on a high note.

Freelance writer Duck Paterson (who ran against Routley in the 2020) sat down with the retiring MLA to find out what he feels are issues that are still affecting local residents as well as the province. Here is their Q&A.

Q: How long have you been MLA and why did you run in the first place?

A: I’ve been in the legislature for 19 years. I used to joke and say I ran because of two words, Gordon Campbell. I honestly have a lot of respect for Gordon, but at the time it was two words and those were public service. Not my own public service but public services. At the time we in B.C. enjoyed great public based health services and education services, amongst others. All these services allows us to enjoy a thriving free-market economy. We have great investment in these services and in doing so people thrive and the province will thrive; there was a balance. I do feel, back then, that Gordon Campbell took that balance away from where it needed to be. At that time he took the balance towards privatization and that’s really what motivated me.

Q: What made your decision to retire from politics?

A: I guess looking at possibly doing another four years when I’m now 63, I had to really think if I was up to that. Also I’ve had health issues, I’ve got arrhythmia in my heart and I’ve had numerous procedures over the years to fix that, and we’re hoping that it is. Those situations kinda remind one of how short life is and there are still things we would like to do. I also feel that I’ve had my time, 12 years in opposition and seven years as government. I feel like we promised a lot, in opposition, and thank goodness we have carried through a lot once we made government. I feel really, really good about all that, child care, housing, reconciliation, reforming the forest industry but it’s time now for someone with more energy than I have.

Q: So at 63 will this be retirement or is there something else in the future?

A: At this time I’m not certain about that. My life has been sort of follow your nose plan so I haven’t really had a plan, and I don’t have a plan. Right now I’d like to study Spanish and I’d also like to work on my model railway. Maybe in a bit I’d like to work with local First Nations on projects. There are projects there, that I would have liked to have seen completed but aren’t yet so that could be a possibility, but at this point … no plans.

Q: Would you consider going into municipal or regional politics?

A: Never!

Q: Hobbies, activities, farm, etc.?

A: Leanne and I live in Shawnigan. We have a small one acre property so it’s not a real farm but at times it feels like it is. We have two horses, a couple of cats, couple of dogs, couple of bunnies, a whole bunch of fish so there is enough there to keep us busy.

Q: What do you think would be an accomplishment, while MLA, that you were part of?

A: You know this might sound immodest, but there have been so many. When we work together, as community, with people that care, even in opposition we could help get groups and projects financed and supported. So now that we’re in government there are even more, and a lot have touched Ladysmith and area.
There’s been great improvements to child care, housing that is greatly needed, so much that I feel good about. Reconciliation has been a goal and the one thing that I can feel really proud about, and it’s just happened, is the agreement with the Lyackson First Nation on getting their community land on which they can create their own space. The Lyackson original territory is Valdez Island with no services, no transportation, no community centre or hub. The members that have passed, the elders and others, are buried in neighbouring nations. There is no opportunity for housing there and no potential for economic growth. Now in partnership with Cowichan Tribes and the provincial government Chief Richard Thomas and the Lyackson have acquired almost 80 acres in the Skutz Falls area of the Cowichan River. I feel that I have been a small part of that and I am so proud to even know Chief Thomas. He’s taught me so much about the notions of just working together.

Q: Have there been any disappointments for you while MLA?

A: Not really, I’m trying to think of any, but it’s hard because I’m proud of what has been done in the area and the province. OK, well there is one, we haven’t yet completed the resolution of the Island Corridor Foundation and the railway. I really think that having a reliable railway service back is a viable and advantageous effort. Led by the local First Nations and communities affected by rail, and the people, there are a lot of opportunities but the Island needs to get behind it. It doesn’t have to be ‘rail versus trail’ or ‘trail versus rail’, both can exist together. In Langford with the Galloping Goose and also in Nanaimo with their bike/walking trail alongside the existing freight rails they have. On the Island there is over 800,000 people living within a 15 minute drive of the railway. It’s a unique circumstance — almost all of our communities are tied together by that line. I feel that if we are going to preserve our quality of life, in the face of rapid growth of population, rail is really a no brainer, except that it is very expensive.

Q: The Island Corridor, how do you see it happening, whose decision would it be?

A: It would have to be a public decision and the government, in a case like this, needs to follow the will of the people. It’s kind of like the forest industry, right now, if we believe what we say about reconciliation, opening up to a new partnership, then we can’t pre-determine what that will look like. That’s why we funded the exploratory exercise, local communities and First Nations examine the potential and determine for themselves which path works best for them. I feel good about that.

Q: The homeless and opioid situation, is the province’s direction working?  

A: Firstly we need to examine the context. We have a global, certainly North America wide, opioid crisis, that is compounded by the COVID crisis so we had a dual health care crisis at the same time for the past six years! On top of those issues we’ve added 550,000 people to the public health care rolls in the province in three years. Those all together has created challenges. We’ve tried to increase hospitals, but that takes time. People are troubled, in so many ways, by this crisis in terms of empathy for the souls in their community that they see suffering on the street. The situation tears at people and it even angers some people. We’re using every tool available to us to address that in terms of treatment, in terms of the ability to control what’s happening. A lot of it is determined by the courts and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We do try and influence that and to give the police all the tools that they need.

Q: What about institutionalizing those who need it?

A: It’s a subject that really tears at me, whether or not we demand people receive involuntary care. Number one, that way has proven that it is not successful. The most effective way is to get them off the street and get them help, professional help. We are exploring, under the Mental Health Act, measures where we can apprehend people for their own safety and the safety of others. We are also looking at conditions that can be imposed on persons, for their own safety. That is a very testy area and in the past has been ruled unconstitutional. Services need to be there and we are definitely challenged on supplying those services. Over 80 per cent of the people that called the Help Line for service were connected to services, but there is still a significant number of people that haven’t been.

Q: What about people needing medical care?

A: On Vancouver Island, in the past year, we have increased the numbers of family doctors by 21 per cent, that is a significant number. It is still an issue, and another way we have helped is by increasing the compensation for family doctors by 40 per cent and by opening more training spaces. Our government has been providing a streamlined path for foreign trained doctors. So we are trying but it’s a complex problem, even my own daughter is trying to find a family doctor right now. We have established a digital program that connects unattached patients with doctors that have a less than full agenda.

Q: Businesses that are being hurt by homeless campers in front of their store?  

A: I see an improvement there. In Nanaimo there still are issues but since we formed government we have built over 1,500 supportive housing units in Nanaimo. Those aren’t empty, they are all full. The people in those units are getting support. The fact is that crime around those purpose built units, people are getting the help and crime is not increasing.

Q: What is going on with the BC United party?

A: Far be it from me to to talk about their issues. There is an election coming up so I don’t want to say anything that could be wrongly interpreted, so move on to the next questions.

Q: Do you have any predictions on the Oct. 19 provincial election?

A: I really feel that we are going to be successful. I believe that our government’s track record speaks volumes on what and how we can govern. Along with the issues the other two parties are having will also have some benefit for us, but that’s a wait and see. I personally believe that when you invest in people they thrive, when people thrive communities thrive and when communities thrive the province thrives. That’s not to say there aren’t problems and people are looking for solutions but it all takes time. It takes time to build housing and we realize that and when re-elected we will continue working and making inroads into the issues that really affect the province. As far as candidates for the NDP in the new riding of Ladysmith/Oceanside, there is a nomination meeting coming up soon and at this time there are two candidates vying for the position. The new riding, with a varied demographics, is going to be very interesting and one that we’ll need to watch.

Q: In closing, do you want to add anything?

A: I am very grateful to all the people of the area for supporting me for so long. I have had the honour of working with so many good people so that has been an hounour to be a “sidecar to their motorcycle of change.” I’ve learned that the only time that things really get done is when people, of divergent world views, get together, put their heads together and work on the issues together. We can’t accomplish anything if we’re constantly fighting. Togetherness is the basics and it’s a beautiful thing.