Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo candidate profile: Bill Sundhu, NDP

Get to know Bill Sundhu

This week, Castanet Kamloops is going to help you get to know the six candidates looking to represent the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding in Ottawa. We will be posting a video and a Q&A for each of the six local hopefuls running in the Sept. 20 federal election. Each candidate is asked the same questions and their answers are published in full.

Here is the lineup for this week's special election coverage: Monday: Bill Sundhu, NDP; Tuesday: Bob O'Brien, independent; Wednesday: Jesse Mccormick, Liberal; Thursday: Corally Delwo, People's Party of Canada; Friday: Iain Currie, Green; and Saturday: Frank Caputo, Conservative.

Castanet Kamloops: Who are you and why do you want to be MP? Tell us about yourself — where are you from, what do you do and what will you bring to the table?

Bill Sundhu: “I have very deep roots in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo. I grew up in the Cariboo, my parents chose to raise their family there. When I was a young boy, my father was disabled, my mother washed floors and dishes to support my family. Those were very hard times. But I had a dream, a hope and a dream of becoming a lawyer. I worked through, I got scholarships, I worked in a lumber mill to pay my way. I've been practicing law for 37 years, 10 of them as a judge.

"For the past 25 years, here in Kamloops, where I've raised my own two children, I am very proud to call this my home. It's my family, my community and my friends.

"I have a master's degree from Oxford University in international human rights law, and I do human rights and criminal justice work in Canada, locally in the trenches, nationally and internationally. I've dedicated my life to standing up for human rights and justice, fundamental freedoms. It's an integral part of who I am. And my life experiences informed my political values and my commitment. My family had to struggle through poverty, my mother was an uneducated woman who washed floors and dishes, and I saw her struggles and my father's disability. I got a chance to get ahead because of the sacrifices and choices of previous generations, which created a public education system that allowed a boy like me to get a good education. Tommy Douglas and the NDP created Medicare, which meant my family didn't go into debt for health care. I feel that I have been given an enormous gift and I owe a debt of gratitude to Canada.

"But I'm concerned that we are at a watershed moment, where we have extreme inequality, climate crisis, families struggling to make ends meet. And even before the pandemic, half of all Canadian families were less than $200 away from being unable to pay their bills. We've seen through the pandemic the huge gaps in our society, in our health and economic system and social system, homelessness, housing affordability, people can't afford to buy meds, dental care, and we've seen seniors suffer in long term care. So we are at a crucial moment, and that's why I'm in the battle for a fairer and more just equal Canada.”

What experience do you have that makes you qualified to represent this riding in Ottawa?

Sundhu: “I was called to the bar as a lawyer 37 years ago. In all my career, I have dealt with the most serious kinds of problems that can confront people. I'm a problem solver, and I'm a fighter. I intend to use my skills, my life experiences which informed my values, my political values, my values for justice and equality, to fight for everyone.

"You know, we have to ask, 20 years we've had Conservative representation here, we have to ask, who are the Conservatives working for? An MP that votes for cutbacks to health and social services, privatization and tax cuts for the wealthy are not working for us. Too many people are being left behind. It is a disgrace that we have child poverty in Canada and homelessness. That's not my vision of my country. Those are the kinds of things that I intend to fight for. And when I'm MP — if I have the honour of being the MP for this riding — I will be a voice for everyone and not just the few.”

What local issues do you think you would be able to tackle as MP?

Sundhu: “I’m mindful that Canada is a complicated country, we have municipal jurisdiction, provincial jurisdiction, federal jurisdiction. But the federal government has the largest taxing power. I think that addressing the affordability crisis, housing affordability, that would be one of the top issues.

"I intend to fight for universal pharmacare and dental care, mental health care and eyewear care. Head to toe, that was Tommy Douglas's vision, we can do it, it's affordable, it's the right thing to do.

"Also, we know our communities in this region have been devastated by wildfires. It has health impacts, economic impacts, and so I'm determined to address the crisis of climate change, and we need to take urgent action.

"I'm proud that the New Democrats have a doable, viable plan that fights for a clean economy, but better jobs and wages because we have to take care of workers and their families as we transition to a greener economy, a clean energy economy.

"And Indigenous reconciliation, this is very real in our community. I have spent all of my career actively working with Indigenous communities, representing Indigenous clients for human rights. I and Jagmeet Singh, he's the first federal leader to come here, the only federal leader to come here, have been to Tk'emlups, we paid our respects and we intend to stand shoulder to shoulder with Indigenous people to see that justice is done and the spirits of those young children are brought home and justice and reconciliation is done. It's one of my prime commitments, because I'm a human rights lawyer and that's who I am.”

What are your thoughts on vaccine passports, as introduced last week by the B.C. government?

Sundhu: “Firstly, I don't pretend to tell the provincial government, I don't pretend to know the experts, the epidemiologists, the provincial health officer, who gather information based on science and data, I don't pretend to tell them what to do. As a lawyer, I believe in evidence-based policy, and I will always govern myself by evidence base. Any politician or budding politician who says they have the answers on these questions is not telling the truth. But I'm always determined to look at the evidence, hear the informed voices and make policy determinations.

"Here we are in the fourth wave, we know that the vaccines are saving lives. Those that are dying in hospitals, and are hospitalized, are overwhelmingly unvaccinated. So I think logic and science speaks there, and you know what, if we adopt the proper policies, and we can have a quicker recovery, businesses can get back up and running, and we can get back to some sense of normalcy and a healthy way of living through this pandemic. So I defer to the experts, and I have an open mind about this.”

Are you double vaccinated for COVID-19? If not, why not?

Sundhu: “I am double vaccinated and I was eager to get vaccinated as fast as possible. As soon as my demographic or my age opened up, I immediately registered, and I did it both times.”

What do you think needs to be done to combat the social issues plaguing Kamloops streets and, if elected, what would you do about it?

Sundhu: “This is a reflection of nearly 40 years of Conservative, Liberal, Reagan-Thatcher cutback, trickle-down economics. When Paul Martin and the Liberals said that we need to tackle the deficit, he promised that he would restore funding for housing and social services, the Canada Health transfer, and health for students. He broke his promise. What we've had for the last 25 to 30 years is a succession of tax cuts, which have eroded public services.

"What we have in this community is a complex set of civic problems that require a number of pieces of the puzzle to be addressed to fix this. Homelessness, we need wraparound services, people are suffering from mental health and addiction. We need to address the opioid crisis, I'll come back to that in a second. We need to make sure that people have sustainable, decent income so they can live with dignity, so they can feed themselves and clothe themselves. Those problems, I believe what you're referring to is the street level crime and the frustrations in the community. But there's a whole segment of our society that are working poor, they're working, and they can't make ends meet and they're struggling as well. So these are complex problems. But they're both political values and choices.

"Justin Trudeau and Erin O'Toole have continually, they and the Conservative Party, cut back services, privatized, and they have brought in massive tax cuts that have shifted enormous wealth, billions to the wealthy, while everyday folks, we pay the price. We intend to bring in a wealth tax, reform the tax laws in this country so it's fairer to what it once was. In order to provide vital services, to address the housing shortage, and that includes up to 1.7 million houses, refurbished, fixing up houses, and creating 500,000 social housing units, mixed housing for people and that will put people to work.

"We also know that we could have to address the crisis of mental health. We also know that the opioid crisis is destroying lives. I and Jagmeet Singh, we are lawyers, we work in the courts every day, nearly four decades in the courts I can tell you the war on drugs is a colossal loss and failure. I do believe in decriminalization of simple possession, providing clean supply to people and I want to emphasize that people that are dying are not necessarily addicts. There are a lot of people that are working people who are recreational users and have died in their homes. This is a serious, serious issue, particularly to British Columbia. This mixture of social and economic problems are due to poor political choices over the decades, and I intend to fight for changes that make for safer, healthier communities.”

What are your thoughts on climate change in general?

Sundhu: “Climate crisis is upon us. I think that we're seeing that the harms or adverse effects of climate change are accelerating even faster than the experts warned us about. This is an existential crisis. We've seen the reality of it here now for several summers in our own Cariboo, Kamloops and Thompson regions. We've seen what the impacts are, they have economic impacts, environmental impacts, our land, water and air. We are absolutely determined to tackle climate change.

"Let me be clear, only the Conservatives could come up with a carbon tax that doesn't reduce carbon. They have resisted genuine, meaningful climate action, and just a lot of talk. They're not credible. The majority of delegates to Erin O'Toole's convention this year voted that climate change isn't real, so Conservatives are not going to solve it. Justin Trudeau says all the right things, but in six years, greenhouse gas emissions have gone up in Canada.

"Justin Trudeau says a lot of nice things, including two years ago, taking his knee in Montreal at a massive rally, and even in that time, greenhouse gases have gone up. So the Liberals do not have a credible action on climate change, and they've allowed, negligently under their watch, the adverse effects to increase. We have a viable plan, we will reduce greenhouse gases by 50 per cent by 2030. We will meet our targets for 2050, but the key thing is this, you have to have a viable plan to transition workers for a just transition, and we're committed to that.

"I view this as one of the most important priorities for our government, for Canadians and globally and for myself as the MP for this riding, if I have that honour, to fight for active climate change and meaningful measures and there's several things in there from infrastructure to retrofits to investing in clean energy, to domestic manufacturing, in EV's [electric vehicles] and in battery production. We have minerals in this country, we should be exploring the development of those minerals and resources, but they should be supporting Canadian workers and not shipped over as raw materials to other countries.”

The Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding area is routinely impacted by wildfire. If elected, would you endeavour to take any steps to prevent or better fight wildfires? If yes, what would they be?

Sundhu: “This is a no brainer, this is intimately tied in with climate change. But we also need a vigorous wildfire mitigation plan and management of our lands. We have to work with the province, because the province is responsible for things like forestry and land management. But federal government has a huge role to play in supporting this. I think that what we need to do is we need to take massive wildfire mitigation, make sure our communities and our lands are safer. We should be incorporating active Indigenous-led, Indigenous involvement in management of the lands because Indigenous people know the lands, they have a traditional long standing attachment to the land and values to preserve the land, the air and water. This requires investments and training, year-round mitigation.

"But we also need to look at things like how are we going to address our reforestation? What's the healthiest sustainable way to do it? We have to manage our waters. And then the other thing as well, is that we need to have, as I said, an active, credible, urgent plan to address the adverse impacts of climate change. And there are economic benefits. These are jobs that are going to be good paying jobs, better wages, in the clean energy economy, and I'm absolutely committed to doing that. That has to be one of the top most priorities.”

If elected, what would your first priority be for the riding?

Sundhu: “My first priority is to ensure that I'm a voice for everyone and not just the few. We have had a history here, where there seems to be a stronger voice for partisan supporters and far too many people are left out. Not only that, but the Conservatives, as I've said, Conservatives have a history of cutting back, privatization, joining Justin Trudeau and the Liberals for basically giving a free ride to the billionaires, while most people are suffering and struggling to make ends meet.

"So my priority would be to be accessible, to listen. Everyone gets a fair hearing, and to be an honest, vigorous fighter for people of our region. People nowhere else are going to vote for me, only people in this riding. This is my first priority and my commitment, it's my home. I care deeply for my home, I care for my neighbours, my communities, and I care for young people and their future, my Indigenous friends, we have to take care of each other. We have lost that kind of sense of unity and responsibility.

"People know that I'm a fighter, and that I care deeply for this region. I have deep roots, I'm a son of the Cariboo and I've lived here for a big part of my life. I'm very proud to call it my home. I think people that know me know that I am sincere, that I do it thoughtfully and fairly, and I'm a strong advocate. I will fight for the people of this region to make sure that we have a fair, just, equal, hopeful, future together.”

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