Meet your candidate: Aaron Sumexheltza, running for the BC NDP in Fraser-Nicola

Aaron Sumexheltza: 1 on 1

As part of Castanet's 2020 election coverage, candidates in Kamloops-South Thompson, Kamloops-North Thompson and Fraser-Nicola were emailed a Q&A. Below is the completed questionnaire, along with an on-camera interview recorded earlier this month at the Castanet Kamloops office. Due to the distance of travel, Fraser-Nicola candidates were not asked to participate in an on-camera interview.

Name: Aaron Sumexheltza 

Age: 46

Profession: I am a lawyer at the Indigenous Justice Centre in Merritt and a councillor at Lower Nicola Indian Band.

Neighbourhood you live in: I live in beautiful downtown Merritt 

Political party: BC NDP 

Riding: Fraser-Nicola

Previous political experience (please include years active): 

I was born and raised in Merritt, from 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 with the Lower Nicola Indian Band (2007-09, 2019- present)  and I was honoured to serve as Chief for two terms (2013-19). 

In three sentences or less, what inspired you to enter the election race?

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 B.C. 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 is the top local issue at the provincial level?

I see health care the number one issue in our riding. For too long, we've seen our family, friends, and neighbours have to wait for quality health care, or to travel to larger centres to get it. Not only is this disruptive to families and bad for patient care, it is simply not fair. That's why we have made commitments to expanding a whole range of health-care services in rural B.C. After years of BC Liberal underfunding and failure, John Horgan, and his health minister Adrian Dix, have taken concrete steps to deliver the kind of care British Columbians need. They have set up urgent primary care centres in places across the province — with more to come — so people can finally see a doctor when they need to. The BC NDP platform includes more tangible examples of quality care coming to rural B.C. I’m particularly excited about the promise to build a cancer treatment centre in Kamloops. This means our friends and family are closer to the care they need, and will save them time and money. The BC NDP plan also includes a new focus on rural communities, so that rural, remote and Indigenous communities benefit under a rural collaborative framework, to deliver safe and culturally appropriate care closer to home.

What local project or service would you advocate for more provincial spending? Where would that money come from?

For years, when housing related revenues were soaring, BC Liberal government investments in affordable public housing fell short. The resulting lack of affordable housing has hurt people, communities, and our economy. This was particularly the case for seniors.

I would advocate for the construction of seniors focused affordable housing in all corners of Fraser-Nicola. This would build on the good work already underway by the BC NDP. This year, the BC NDP government announced the largest investment in affordable housing in B.C.’s history — $7 billion over 10 years — to build 114,000 affordable homes. Our new community housing fund is creating homes for growing families, people on low-to-moderate incomes, and seniors. 

How could B.C. improve its response to COVID-19? 

Moving forward, John Horgan’s NDP government will expand its COVID-19 Action Plan to cover four key areas that will help create more security for everyone in British Columbia

Keeping people healthy and safe: In August, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned that even with a vaccine, COVID-19 may well be around for years to come. Our Action Plan will stay in place, as we leverage the progress we’ve made in improving health services with new ideas to help keep people safe.

Getting B.C. ready for fall and winter: To make sure B.C. is ready for further phases of COVID-19 while also battling a new flu season, our $1.6-billion preparedness plan will deliver: 7,000 new frontline health care workers in long-term care and assisted living; two million doses of flu vaccines; and, a new hospital at home program so patients can get safe care while in the comfort of their homes, and taking pressure off hospitals.

A long-term economic recovery plan: People have told us that to move forward, our province can’t go back to the way things were under the BC Liberals – where tax cuts for those at the top left everyone else behind. That’s why our economic recovery plan is built around people, communities, workers, and our province’s small businesses.

Preparing British Columbia for the next one: COVID-19 has shown us what can happen when an unexpected and overwhelming health crisis occurs. Our job is to make B.C. ready for the next one. As part of our Action Plan, we’re going to continue developing a pandemic prevention plan that brings to B.C. state-of-the-art testing, contact tracing, and hospital management procedures and technology.

What is the best way for B.C. to deal with climate change?

The next few years are critical in moving B.C. to cleaner energy and reduced climate pollution through our CleanBC plan — while taking new steps to protect more of B.C.’s unique natural heritage.

In the coming years, moving forward ambitiously with the next stages of CleanBC is equally as critical. 

We’ll provide a new income-tested incentive on new and used zero-emission vehicles to get more people into the electric vehicle rebate program, regardless of their income.

We will expand home and workplace charging through increased incentives and 'right-to-charge' legislation that gets charging infrastructure into more strata and apartment buildings.

To help more people make the switch to active transportation, we will remove the PST on e-bikes.

Beyond the Fraser-Nicola, what is the number one issue facing B.C. (besides COVID-19)?

Living in B.C. is expensive, that's one of the reasons many of us have chosen to live and raise our families in Hope, Merritt, Ashcroft or other communities in Fraser-Nicola. The cost of living isn’t as high as Vancouver, but people are still being squeezed. (A) BC NDP government (will) 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 around the riding but there is more work to do. 

Younger voters typically vote less than older voters. How will you engage and encourage young voters to participate in democracy this election?

I was first elected as a councilor in my community at the age of 33. I got involved  because I wanted to work with my community to solve the pressing issues we faced. I believe more young people will vote when governments focus on the issues that matter the most to them. That's why I’m proud that the BC NDP have an ambitious climate plan to reduce carbon emissions, have passed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act to make sure we are making reconciliation is at the centre of everything we do, and that we are focusing on making life more affordable, especially childcare and housing. 

What hobby/activity have you picked up during the pandemic?

My partner Ariel and I recently welcomed our newborn son Anand into our family. During the pandemic I've taken the opportunity to spend lots of quality time with our new addition and learn the joys of being a father.

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