It was a pleasure to rise in the legislature today to speak in favour of the budget update presented by the NDP government. I shared my vision for collaboration using examples from our region and across the province, and I emphasized the value of all members in the house working together in the best interest of all British Columbians.
I will begin by acknowledging that we are on the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, and I would also like to commend the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for his statement yesterday on the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This is a noteworthy budget, and it comes at a noteworthy time in BC politics.
Members on both sides of this House are coming to terms with new responsibilities – there has been a significant shift in BC politics that presents new opportunities and challenges for all MLAs. At the same time, our esteemed press gallery are figuring out how to understand and report on the new decision making processes of a minority government – processes that have been unchanged and unchallenged for decades. All of us as British Columbians are witnessing how government can and should work when one party cannot simply ram an agenda through, but is instead learning to work with other parties to build a broader more inclusive vision for this province.
Few predicted that British Columbians would elect a slim minority government in May – an election result that meant that we in the Legislature would need to start talking with each other, rather than at each other.
As a teacher and historian, my first impulse was to look to the past to find a precedent for this new political reality we find ourselves in.
Federally, there have been 13 minority governments in Canada’s history. Every province except Alberta has had at least one, and this is BC’s third minority government – the last one was in 1952.
As our caucus and staff began to explore how other jurisdictions made these arrangements work, one thing became clear. If we could overcome the antagonism that had come to characterize BC politics before this election, we would have a historic opportunity to bring positive change to BC.
I believe that this budget update truly is a step in this direction. We have before us a document whose foundation was first introduced by the BC Liberals earlier this year, with the values and priorities of two other parties added to it in the months after the election.
The BC Greens ran on a platform that advocated government leadership in the face of a changing planet and changing economy.
We believe we have an opportunity to capture the imagination of British Columbians with a candid, innovative and forward thinking vision for the future. Ours isn’t a narrow vision for one part of the province, but instead a call for a new path forward for all communities across BC.
In my home, the Cowichan Valley, there is an enormous appetite to see the provincial government step up and invest in what really matters in our lives.
Our hospital turned 50 this year, and it is desperately in need of replacing. And Cowichan High is on its last legs – it was built in 1949, and it is not holding up as well as the honourable members in this house who were born before that same year.
Our watersheds and riparian areas suffer from the benign neglect and blind faith that was built into the Professional Reliance system. We have a heartbreaking child poverty rate, and like so many communities in BC, we are suffering the impacts of the opioid crisis.
And yet Cowichan is extraordinary in its resilience, its strong and inter-connected communities, and the determination of the people to work together so that all in the community may thrive. The Cowichan District Hospital Foundation and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have worked to create the conditions for a new hospital – the land is purchased, and the concept plan is underway, having been given the go-ahead by the previous Liberal government. School District 79 is working with Vancouver Island University, Cowichan Tribes, the Municipalities of North Cowichan and Duncan, and the Cowichan Valley Regional District to create a new model of education – one that connects high school students to post-secondary opportunities in a way that ensures a successful transition.
The Cowichan Watershed Board, co-chaired by Chief Seymour of Cowichan Tribes and Chair John Lefebure of the CVRD, is a model of cooperation and collaboration, and creates the foundation for watershed governance. There are many extraordinary initiatives and an abundance of committed citizens who are making Cowichan Valley an incredible place to live – our hope is that this budget update signals a commitment from the provincial government to come to be a true partner in these initiatives.
Too often, we speak in broad categories in BC: the south, the north, rural, resource based, high tech – These labels divide us rather than unite us, and the categories over-simplify the rich and interconnected fabric of our province.
This past summer I travelled through northern BC, meeting with First Nations, municipal representatives, and community leaders to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing their communities.
What I learned, in no uncertain terms, was that there is far more that unites us across BC than divides us.
In every community, I heard from people the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations for their communities that we have in the Cowichan Valley: their desire to see thriving and safe schools, their hopes to have efficient hospitals that deliver timely care, their aspirations to see support for seniors who want to stay in their homes and close to their families. I heard across all communities a strong desire to see stewardship and protection of natural resources – for many people, the lack of compliance and enforcement in the resource sectors has undermined trust in both industry and government. I aso heard of the benefits in investment in post-secondary education, and a strong desire in all communities to see an innovative and diversified approach to economic development.
The notion that economic investment in this province only counts when it’s an investment in the resource sector is reflected neither in the current reality, nor in the emerging economy. An analysis of employment by occupation in the north west, based on data from BC Statistics and Stats Can, tells a story that we all need to be paying attention to: education, professional services, health services, small business, finances, sciences, tourism, and manufacturing account for the vast majority of jobs – while the resource sector accounts for less than 10% of employment.
Investment in communities – in schools, in hospitals, in infrastructure, in government services, in post-secondary education- these investments not only create long-term, stable employment, they create the kinds of communities that attract further investment. When companies are looking for investment opportunities, schools, hospitals, and services matter. We all want to live and work in vibrant, thriving communities – and I would also suggest that we ideally want stable, well-paid, meaningful employment in our communities, rather than in far-flung work camps away from our families and friends.
One councillor in Terrace had a great idea that would bring together innovation, education, and economic development: a renewable energy Institute of the North West. Imagine – a higher learning facility located in the heart of the land where we have the greatest potential for geothermal energy, where students not only learn the skills to work in a new energy economy, but also become the leaders in developing the technology that will move us beyond fossil fuels, a task that is our moral obligation to future generations.
We are united across this province – and I believe, across both sides of this Legislature – by a belief that we need to ensure opportunities not just for right now, but also for future generations, that we need to sustainably manage and protect our resources and our ecological systems, and that in this changing economy, government needs to be taking a greater leadership role in preparing for the changes that are already upon us.
We have heard from Members on both sides of this house of the devastating toll of the wildfires this summer – and we are hearing daily of the toll of hurricanes, of droughts, of floods. As elected representatives – as leaders – we all share a responsibility to future generations. And a part of our responsibility today is to acknowledge the impacts of climate change, and recognize the debt we owe to our children, and their grandchildren. The increase in the carbon tax announced in this budget update is one small step – and a necessary signal that helps us move back towards climate leadership.
Whether it’s the changes affecting our workforce and employment, or the changes in our climate that will reshape the economic and social fabric of our communities, we must not stick our head in the sand. We must be bold to call out challenges and create new opportunities. We must embrace a vision for the future of our province that is hopeful, that brings new opportunities, and that rejects the premise that we are divided.
This is the BC Green vision.
Opportunity for change
Each party in this house ran on a different vision for our province and put an emphasis on different priorities.
In a minority government these different visions can be brought together to create policies for this province that represent more people and are greater than the sum of their parts.
The platform commitments each of us made offer us a starting point from which we can begin to work together to craft a greater vision that can ensure more British Columbians have the opportunity to thrive.
How we compose ourselves as elected representatives matters. Only in the legislature, it seems to me, is compromise considered a bad thing. Three years ago, I brought my high school students to the Legislature to see Question Period.
At the end of a typically raucous session, one student who was from Denmark expressed his incredulity. “Elected leaders are allowed to behave like that?” he lamented. His reaction has stayed with me – is this really how we want to demonstrate leadership? Can we do better? Do our words in this chamber always need to be about scoring points, wounding our opponents – or can we find new paths, new approaches – particularly given the extraordinary challenges we face not just in our province, but globally.
Liberal MP Arnold Chan, who passed away today, in his final address to Parliament said, “I know we are all honourable members, but to treat this institution honourably, I would ask all us us to elevate our debate, to elevate our practice.”
I want to express my deepest condolences to the Chan family for their loss, and my gratitude to Arnold Chan for his words..
This is what we have done in our agreement with the NDP, which was predicated on 5 words: “good faith and no surprises”. Within these 5 words is a path forward for all of us in this new environment. As we have learned over the past few months, consultation and collaboration are not always easy.
But we have also learned that if we agree on shared values – that government should serve the people, that building trust in government matters, that we have a responsibility not just to the people of BC today, but to the future generations of BC – than we can find ways to work through disagreement and even discord.
At the root of every strong relationship are two simple concepts: trust and communication. We will build more trust with better communication. We need to build trust between each other so that the people of BC can feel more trust in their government, and more trust that all MLAs are working together to achieve the best we can for this province.
This minority government offers us the opportunity to genuinely reach across party lines and craft policy that incorporates the best of all our ideas. If we spend less time attacking each other, and more time listening and communicating with each other, we just might be able to start to trust one another.
This is an exciting story to tell because it does not fit into the old framework of conflict and adversarial relationships. We invite everyone – the press and the public – to challenge us, and ask the hard questions – and also to recognize that we are in a different landscape, in new territory, and that the old narrative of hyper-partisan BC politics no longer needs to always be the defining framework in this House.
I have many times in my life, believed in outcomes that others have told me were impossible – and yet I have held fast to my beliefs, which have been rooted in my values and my true conviction that we will always do better when we find ways to work together.
This is my hope and belief for this House as we move forward in this new, and noteworthy, time in BC politics.