Police reforms, rebuilding forest sector prominent in Morris's re-election bid

Mike Morris can see the writing on the wall with all the recent spending announcements unveiled by the NDP government and he’s expecting Premier John Horgan to call a snap election sometime in the next week.

If and when that happens, Morris says his campaign to win a third consecutive term as MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie will be ready to launch.

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“Some are speculating that he’s probably going to announce it on Thursday when he makes his speech to the UBCM folks and others are saying he might do it today or Monday, but regardless of what he does, I still don’t think they should be holding an election, but we’ll  be ready to go,” said Morris.

“The pandemic should be front and centre and we’re seeing the numbers increasing. There’s a lot of apprehension amongst the people about increasing their social activities and an election just increases the odds of coming into contact with it. But at the same time, the economy’s in a tailspin and this is a good time for a government to come out and say we’re going to rebuild the economy again.

“The economic plan they developed (which was announced on Thursday) is basically an empty document.”

Morris became a politician in 2013 after a 42-year career in the RCMP. He has two sons currently serving in the force and as a former Solicitor General he’s developed an thorough understanding of the problems faced by frontline officers working in the province’s 64 RCMP detachments and 11 independent municipal police forces. He spent nearly six years mapping out a strategy to reform the system to take some of the social work/health care burdens off police so they can focus on fighting crime and looks forward to his chance to putting that plan into action as part of the government.

He envisions an integrated public safety agency that utilizes the resources of health authorities, social services, and housing agencies in a combined effort to work with challenged individuals to help them tackle the problems of poverty, addictions and mental issues to keep them out of the criminal justice system.

“My issue is the fact the police have taken over the role of social worker, of heathcare worker, of counselor, and it impacts on the ability to investigate criminal offences,” he said. “When you have a very busy detachment like Prince George you have some police officer who has 100 criminal files in his folder and he’s trying to investigate properly and he’s also responding to social justice issues which take up about 70 per cent of a police department’s file load.

“I think we need to separate the criminal part from the social justice part so they can concentrate on technically elegant criminal investigations, getting 100 per cent charge approval and 100 per cent convictions. We can address the mental health and addictions issues in a different way. Right now, the filter for all that is in the justice system once they’re charged and they go to court and I think we need to put that filter in right at the start to stop those 9-1-1 calls from coming in in the first place.”

Morris has prioritized his interest in biodiversity management and sustainable resource development and helping the hard-hit forest sector struggling with diminished fibre supply to recover its strength.

“We have 52 million hectares of forested land in British Columbia and just about all of it has been logged in the last 100 years, and that’s had a massive effect on our wildlife populations - all fauna and flora for that matter – and it’s had impacts on water quality and air quality,” he said.

“B.C. adopted a sustainable yield philosophy 75 years ago after the 1945 Royal Commission and we haven’t changed from that. At that time, everybody thought we had trees for lifetimes and we’d never run out. But with technology we’ve developed mills that can consume two million cubic metres of wood a year and we’ve got equipment that can harvest what it took 200 men to do 25 years ago, we can do that in a day with three or four pieces of equipment.”

The 67-year-old former RCMP officer has had three years in his role as opposition critic on Public Safety and Solicitor General since the Liberals lost their grip on government in a non-confidence vote, weeks after winning a slim minority in the 2017 provincial election. Morris won 57.12 per cent of the Prince George-Mackenzie vote in 2017, defeating NDP candidate Bobby Depak (31.65 per cent) and he’s confident he can hold his seat.

“I’ll never take anything for granted but I have people contacting me all the time indicating their support and we’ll put our best foot forward and see what happens,” Morris said. “I haven’t heard any inkling of who might be running for the NDP or Greens or anybody else, they’ve been quite absent throughout the riding in the last three years.

“(Sitting in opposition) does give you time to reflect and time to see what they’re doing or not doing. It’s easy to criticize but it’s really tough to come up with an alternative. I’ll do my job as a critic but I’m also looking at alternatives so that come election time we’ve got alternatives to put on the plate in front of British Columbians to see whether they like that or not. I’ve had lots of time to do that, particularly with COVID.”

Morris is looking forward to Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson getting a chance to lead the province as premier. Wilkinson won the leadership race in 2018 to replace Christy Clark, having worked as a medical doctor and lawyer before he entered politics in 2013.

“I think as a premier he’ll be outstanding and a force to be reckoned with,” said Morris. “He’s probably one of the most strategic individuals I’ve ever met. He’s cautious but very strategic in his thinking and when you’re speaking to him his mind is going a thousand miles an hour faster than anybody else. He’s a very bright, intelligent, forward-thinking individual and I think he’ll be a tremendous premier for the province.”

 

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