Welcome to “Cloverdale In Conversation,” a regular feature with a notable newsmaker.
This month, Mike Starchuk is our guest. The new MLA for Surrey Cloverdale had a virtual sit down with Malin Jordan to talk about his new job.
Mike talks about what drove him into politics, about what he wants to work on for the people in the riding of Surrey Cloverdale, and he offers his thoughts on both the Surrey policing transition and Cloverdale’s elusive new arena.
Malin Jordan: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and what steered you into a career as a firefighter?
Mike Starchuk: I was born in Vancouver and came out to Surrey in the ’60s when my dad built our first house. Right on the backside of where the Surrey Drive-In used to be, which was about 82nd and King George. I went to Sinclair, then Newton Elementary, off to Beagle, then Princess Margaret, then Douglas college. I played baseball with Newton Baseball in the Kennedy-Surrey Little League. Played football with North Surrey Minor Football.
My interest in the fire service came forward because the guy who lived across the street from me was a captain with the fire service. I first signed up as a volunteer, that’s what they were referred to back then in 1980. I worked in the Guildford Fire Hall and the Newton Fire Hall. I liked what I was seeing.
I’ll never ever forget the very first fire that I went inside. I was told by an officer to go up and search a room to see if we were missing somebody. I’ll never ever forget the fact that I couldn’t see very well and I was scared to death that I’d actually find somebody that was in a closet or under a bed. And that’s what pretty much set the tone. As much as it scared the crap out of me—apparently I like to have the crap scared out of me—it was the career for me.
I stayed in the Newton area for awhile. Then I moved to the Fleetwood area, where I resided for probably 25 years, and then I moved to Cloverdale a couple of years ago.
MJ: What drove you into politics, first municipal and then provincial?
MS: Drove me into politics? Madness. (Laughs). I’d always been involved politically, helping out with [NDP politicians] Jagrup Brar and Harry Bains and being involved with the fire department, union-wise. Health and safety has always been first and foremost on my mind. Going around in the early 2000s when they rewrote the regs for WCB, I followed them around like a dog-and-pony show, just to make sure they were hearing the items that were there from the firefighters’ point of view.
That started the political lobbies that we would have in Victoria, meeting the people that were over there, and then just thinking, “you know, this is kind of an interesting thing that’s going on.” So my last position [with the SFD] was as the city’s chief fire prevention office. I started working with City Hall far more—working with council, working with the city manager, working with the general managers, and working with business.
I started seeing (things) from a different light. If I wanted to change something, if I wanted to provide input at a level where somebody would listen to me … I needed to step up.
MJ: How did you make the jump to provincial politics?
MS: Back in the beginning of 2020, I got a call from a person in the Ministry of Agriculture. They wanted me to call a guy from the Mexican Consulate that was looking at the temporary farm-worker housing aspects and what was going on. That’s when I started thinking, “I really like this bigger picture thing that helps out just a little more than a barking dog at pothole.”
One thing led to another and I put my name in a hat and worked my tail off—literally—to get out there and talk to the people. When we started this whole thing off, the term was “winnable.” I didn’t think it was mine, we just just referred to it as winnable. I had a tonne of support and when the dust all settled, there was a great margin of victory and a little bit of pride and joy in the sense that, of the MLAs that we have in the city, I achieved the most amount of votes cast for a candidate.
MJ: What are some of the things you want to work on for the people in the riding of Surrey Cloverdale?
MS: I want to make sure that the promises that we talked about with the hospital, the regional cancer centre, and with Skytrain and the added commitment to school spaces comes forward. As a [city] councillor, we often had developers coming forward with great ideas … they would have really good projects—all the things we’d ask for—but they didn’t have a school. As the person that’s elected and part of the government, now we have a better way into saying, “really, take a look into what’s going on.” It will be my goal to make sure that the message is heard and that the school boards are working in conjunction with the government—a little bit closer, maybe. For me, that’s first and foremost.
The other thing … what I heard during the campaign, there was a lot of people that didn’t connect with the former MLA [Marvin Hunt]. I have a completely different take on community outreach than other people. I know as a councillor, one of the first people I met, they were so happy to see me on their property because they said it’d been 11 years since anybody had ever reached out to them. And I thought, “That’s a patient person.”
When we get through this COVID side of things, I want to make sure the community outreach is there.
MJ: You’ve lived in Cloverdale for two years now. Have you heard about the on-again, off-again arena project?
MS: Oh yeah.
MJ: There’s a rec. centre here that doesn’t have a pool, but there’s a pool in Fleetwood and another one in Grandview Heights. So most people I’ve talked to don’t get as worked up over Cloverdale’s lack of an indoor pool as they do about the old, dilapidated arena. It seems to cause an inordinate amount of grief to an inordinate amount of people. Is there any political will on your part to start advocating for a new arena? And I’ve also heard from numerous people that they are uninterested in twinning the current arena, which was something the mayor bandied late in 2019.
MS: I’m not sure about how provincial money comes into play with city projects. That is truly a city project. I was on council when the architectural drawings were stamped and it was ready to go. It was the current council, in 2018, that killed it. I was there the day they did the big rally. All the pre-works that were done—I want to say there was $3.2 million worth of pre-construction work that was done.
The rink that is there, I liken it to having a 1972 pickup of some sort that’s all rusted out. Somebody says, “The transmission needs to be replaced.” And you replace that and they say, “Now the engine needs to be replaced.” At a certain point you have think, this rust bucket has to be completely redone. That building, and its’ life span, I believe is living on borrowed time.
I’m not sure exactly where my role provincially will be, but as an MLA in Cloverdale, I want one. If it becomes an issue around funding, then I’ll find out what the provincial mandate is for civic facilities, if there is a provincial mandate for civic facilities.
I know that when we built that red barn [field house a Cloverdale Athletic Park], it was federal money, city money, and private money. So I’m not sure whether provincial funding is there, but as an advocate, 100 per cent. The land is there. They have an address. There was a lot of planning. So, I’m just getting my feet wet, Malin, with the sense that, what kind of funding is available for partnerships with civic facilities. There is also another project people are talking about inside of Cloverdale Athletic Park and that’s putting a roof of some sort over the lacrosse box.
MJ: Really? I hadn’t heard about that.
MS: Yes, it wasn’t too long after my email service finally came up that there was an invite to have some discussions to see whether or not there is funding for that. Councillor Locke is attached to that as well. I’m going to get my feet wet in a hurry finding out about ways to get (projects) done.
MJ: What are your thoughts on the Surrey policing transition?
MS: What I did learn on the campaign trail was that the issue around getting their own police force was very up front. As a Surrey First candidate, we said we wound’t make a decision on policing, we would provide the facts and then have it go to referendum on the election in 2022. But the people that were elected, they followed through on the mandate that was there.
It’s a very polarizing topic in our city. When I take a look at what’s there, I just want to make sure it’s transparent. I want to make sure the people really know what it is that they’re getting. There’s a tonne of pushback by part of council. There’s pushback from some groups that are out there. But what we found out during the election [campaign] was that it wasn’t the issue that everybody else was talking about. When I was talking to people, it was all about the economic recovery of the city and policing wasn’t on that list of things to talk about. At the end of the day, will it make the city safer? That’s the question that I’ve never seen the answer to.
MJ: Changing speeds, how has COVID affected you in a personal way?
MS: Just the fact that you’re stuck to a household and there is no gathering. I’m unable to go to the gym to workout. I guess the flipside of all of this is that I’ve pedalled almost 2,800 kms through the streets of Cloverdale. I’ve gotten to know certain potholes. I’ve only laid my bike down once, and it was actually a couple of weeks ago. It was pouring rain on a Sunday. I hit some slippery leaves alongside the curb. I’ve got intimate knowledge of how the roads are.
I think I have more empathy for those people that are on their own. The seniors out there.
MJ: I hear a lot about people binge-watching shows because, as you say, they’re “stuck to a household.” Have you binge-watched anything interesting?
MS: I binged-watched Sons of Anarchy. I hadn’t heard of the show—I’m not a big TV guy. If it’s not a sporting event or news, I tend not to watch (TV). That was the one and only thing I binged-watched and I did that in about four weeks.
MJ: Is your favourite movie still Field of Dreams?
MS: I think so.
MJ: What do you like about it?
MS: Oh, “build it, you will come.” I think that has connotations that run all over the place. When I think about “build it and they will come,” it applies to everything. It really comes into play whether or not you have a group of people and you put them on a ball field, or you put them on a soccer field—good things will come to them. The things that are there that the city grows on. You build it and the people will come. I think it has that metaphor that comes into play for so many other things.