Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, speaks with North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold during a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday, March 2 at Eatology. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, speaks with North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold during a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday, March 2 at Eatology. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

‘We need to do more,’: Minister on middle-class squeeze in Vernon

Quality of life and well-being at the top of new minister’s mandate

The head of a new ministry created to examine quality of life and well-being in Canada made her first B.C. stop in Vernon.

Mona Fortier is Minister of Middle Class Prosperity of Canada, and also the association minister of finance and development.

On the job since just November, the minister’s mandate is to develop a plan to place quality of life and well-being at the heart of government policy making.

“We know that too many Canadians are feeling that financial squeeze at the end of the month,” Fortier told approximately 20 Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce members at Eatology Monday, March 2.

To understand what it means to have a good quality of life, Fortier is working with Canadians to understand what they need. That includes visiting various communities, such as Vernon, which was followed by Kelowna Monday, then Surrey and Victoria.

The minister, and Ottawa-Vanier MP, said the government has done a good job of lifting many out of poverty, particularly through the Canada Child Benefit.

In the North Okanagan-Shuswap, 11,390 families receive the Canada Child Benefit, reaching 20,080 children.

That works out to an average yearly payment of $6,800 per family.

“We can do more to help Canadians,” she said. “We need to do more.”

One local business owner said the government actually needs to step back from helping in some areas.

“The government tends to want to build housing for people, which is completely wrong, you need to stimulate investors,” Okanagan Spirits president Tony Dyck said. “Free enterprise will build the buildings if the tax system is set up right.

“I’d rather you do it direct and help individuals who need help than building housing.”

Another businessperson suggested the government support the struggling forestry industry, which is shutting down mills and cutting jobs.

The government is also dedicated to getting resources where they are needed, the minister said.

“The Trans Mountain project is exactly why we are focused on moving our commodities,” Fortier said.

CP Rail blockades have also prevented resources from moving in recent weeks, which is why she says the government is dedicated to resolving the issues.

“Having blockades is not the solution and at some point it has to stop,” said Fortier, noting there’s been movement in the past few days. “One thing is making sure our commodities and resources get to places they need to be.”

North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold said the blockades have been the No. 1 issue on constituents’ minds.

“We haven’t had that many calls on one issue in the last five years,” said Arnold, who spoke in the House recently about a Salmon Arm farmer who had an order for two rail cars of feed for his 300,000 chickens and couldn’t get it because of the blockades.

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Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, speaks with Tony Dyck, an Okanagan business owner, during a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce breakfast event Monday, March 2 at Eatology. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, speaks with Tony Dyck, an Okanagan business owner, during a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce breakfast event Monday, March 2 at Eatology. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)