BC NDP Throne Speech is a squandered opportunity to lay out a vision

Apr 15, 2021 | 42-1, Blog, Response to the Speech from the Throne, Video | 0 comments

When the BC NDP called a snap election in the Fall 2020, they spoke publicly about wanting a majority government so they can implement their agenda.

The Speech from the Throne is the opportunity for the BC NDP government to lay out for British Columbians their agenda. Unfortunately, the 2021 Throne Speech did not lay out a coherent, thoughtful vision for British Columbia.

In my response I outline the areas that I support as well as the significant challenges I have with what the BC NDP government has provided now that they have their majority.

[Transcript]

I’m thankful for the opportunity to stand in the chamber here and speak to the speech from the throne.

There is a theme that I’m hearing from this government and from responses to the speech from the throne that, I think, has a problematic sense of exceptionalism at its core. I will challenge the notion that this B.C. NDP government is exceptional, starting with this throne speech that is at best mediocre.

The attempt to perpetuate the idea of B.C. NDP exceptionalism is established, immediately, in the narrative, that because we were the first jurisdiction to legislate the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, we are now the shining beacon of decolonization and reconciliation. This is the story that I fear many members of the B.C. NDP are telling themselves, even as they use the levers of this Crown government, empowered by the pomp and protocol of this chamber, to divide Indigenous People and turn us against ourselves — so those same members can satisfy their need for complete and total control.

It would be incorrect for me to suggest that nothing has changed. As I’ve said many times, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is an important step forward. But just because we have taken a step forward, it’s incorrect to assume that all is well. This is a journey with no end.

I’m thankful that this government opened this throne speech by acknowledging the Indigenous People who have survived this exceptional colonial experiment that we call British Columbia. As I hear SENĆOŦEN, the language of my ancestors, reawakened at ȽÁU,WELṈEW school, the place of refuge for our W̱SÁNEĆ children, I’m grateful for the investments of this government to support Indigenous language revitalization. Although, I remain deeply disappointed with how little action has been taken by this government to help Indigenous People rescue those ancestors who still lie in museum basements and the countless sacred ceremonial items that sleep in the drawers and cupboards or have become spectacles of display for undiscerning eyes.

So as the government opens this edition of the throne speech with a land acknowledgment and grounds it in the actions they have taken toward reconciliation, they paint an incomplete picture. The Crown mistreatment and overt manipulation of Indigenous People in this province continues daily. The Crown is now represented by this B.C. NDP government. This institution was not established to benefit all British Columbians equally.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This institution was established to liquidate the natural assets of the territories that we acknowledge in this place, on behalf of that Crown. As a result, the decisions that have been made in this chamber reflect that purpose. The bias, discrimination and racism are deeply rooted in the foundation of this government. That’s why I will not accept empty platitudes.

As I see the current actors in this legislative theatre reading from scripts of the first governors of the colony, and later the province, I recognize the great distance that we have yet to travel. When the lawyers of our province continue to make archaic and disturbing arguments, still framed in the doctrine of discovery and terra nullius, like they are with Nuchatlaht, or when they continue to drag Douglas treaty-protected hunters before the courts in an attempt to win past losses, let’s not get too lost in these celebrations.

What brings me the greatest sadness in my spirit, is when I see the actions of the people in this chamber exploit their authority to agitate Indigenous People to turn against each other. The divide and conquer tactics should be remnants of the past and should not be perpetrated by a government claiming to have turned a page on reconciliation, or who have staked a claim progressive position on the high moral ground.

When the people in this chamber, who have all the power and access to all the financial resources, will only negotiate with a colonial governance construct created in the Indian Act, ignoring the legitimate, ancient, Indigenous governance bodies that have evolved over centuries, so they can continue the colonial project painted on the panels of the rotunda just outside the doors of this chamber, I am reminded to judge actions, not words.
The acts we must reconcile are those of the people who sat in the seats here in the past that unilaterally moved Indigenous families from one community to another to deliberately sow seeds of discontent, cut land allocations into fractions, removed children from their parents, forcing them to go to residential and day school and turned a blind eye to the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.

All of this is to say only the few steps the government has taken so far to reconcile with Indigenous People should be applauded. However, that applause should not be misconstrued as a free pass or that we have accomplished much. Indeed, they have set even higher expectations of the Crown than we had before.

Unfortunately, from my experience working with this administration, I’m at conflict. Either I’m witnessing an unwillingness to learn and change from one land and governance dispute to the next, or we have an administration who feels empowered to say one thing and do another.

This notion of B.C. NDP exceptionalism is further entrenched in the stories being told about our response to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, whereby a series of fortunate circumstances elevated British Columbia to rock star status. Despite the third wave exposing us as rather ordinary, we still hear in most answers to questions about our COVID-19 response a desire to cast back to when people thought British Columbia was exceptional.

I understand the challenge this government is facing with respect to the COVID-19 global pandemic. It has disrupted all aspects of our lives, including the regular work that we do in this chamber. I find the government communications plan over the past year confusing. Frankly, this government embraced that first-wave-exceptionalism storyline for much longer than it should have.

I understand that there was no playbook. But for the past year, we’ve been building a playbook, and it feels like this government is unwilling to use the plays that have proven to work in other jurisdictions.

We saw in the throne speech a weak attempt at a sports analogy. I don’t agree that we should compare what we are facing with COVID-19 to a marathon. I get it. Marathons are difficult, and they’re exhausting. But that’s about as far as you can go with that analogy.

For example, marathoners train. They compete within very clear parameters. The course and the distance have been determined. The finish line is clearly marked. With all of those parameters established, a marathoner manages their energy supply. They plan when and how much to expend and conserve. They know the final push is the final push, and they also have the certainty that the finish line is not going to move with little or no notice or that a previously unforeseen hill will pop up in the middle of the final stretch. Success for a marathoner doesn’t rely on unreliable external forces like vaccine suppliers and federal or foreign governments.

It’s premature to suggest to British Columbians that we are near the end. We are where we are and not one step ahead of that. In fact, I’d hoped the government communications had learned the lesson of suggesting we are further ahead than we are, when the Premier talked about seeing the end just in sight. One week later our public health officials began implementing new restrictions, because we were clearly in a third wave.
Yes, we all need hope.

When we see unmasked New Zealanders enjoying America’s Cup on the beach, we envy them. We wish we had the opportunities that they had. The concept of B.C. NDP exceptionalism is now embedded in how they market British Columbia to the world — “come visit super, natural British Columbia” — even as they allow for the continued degradation of ecosystems and the incredible natural spaces that make B.C. special.

The waters of the Salish Sea once bubbled with salmon waiting for their run up the Fraser. Where biodiversity once thrived, we now see species going extinct due to a pockmarked landscape from runaway resource extraction. While the B.C. NDP were claiming to change the approach, they ramped up the status quo. There is no mention in this throne speech of biodiversity, of endangered species or of any commitment to take action to reverse the decline. When asked about our mandate to protect the last remaining intact, monumental, high-productivity old-growth ecosystems, the Minister of Forests relies on talking points from another generation, uses spin to frustrate and confuse and actually shows a general disdain for even having to discuss the topic.

To illustrate the dire situation in another way: would any member of this chamber, on either side, support a trophy hunt of an endangered species? Remember when we used to harpoon and capture the southern resident killer whales? Thankfully, that ended decades ago. But would any member of this Legislature dare participate in an orca hunt? Probably not.

However, this is essentially what we are doing when the government is allowing the destruction of the last remaining intact, high-productivity old-growth forests. These fragile and endangered ecosystems are the orcas of the forests. Not only do we sanction the devastation of the most ancient living beings on our planet, we profit from it. There is a department in this government that is actively working to auction and sell the proceeds of that activity.

To provide a little more insight into the perspective that I bring to this, when my W̱SÁNEĆ relatives refer to the orca, [an Indigenous language was spoken], or the ancient cedar, [an Indigenous language was spoken], they do so from a perspective of kinship. They are our relatives. So no matter how you spin it, whether you’re harvesting an endangered orca or an intact, high-productivity old-growth ecosystem, no matter how you’ve separated the two in your mind, to me they are the same.

British Columbians do not want passing references to a panel report that this government seemingly has little interest in actually implementing. They want to see real action to protect these endangered ecosystems and they want to see it now. Reforms in our forestry legislation, promised for the last couple of years — FRPA and the forest acts — are necessary and overdue, and I’m glad that the government mentioned those reforms. However, it remains to be seen how far the government is willing to go to resource some balance in our forestry policy and ensure that communities are benefiting, but also that we’re protecting those ancient and sacred places.

We hear this B.C. NDP exceptionalism at the core of the rhetoric driving the response to climate change. We often hear the B.C. NDP pat themselves on the back when they refer to CleanBC as North America’s leading climate action plan. They just as often fail to recognize the significant investment of time and energy that the B.C. Green caucus expended in making sure that that plan had substance. Throughout the entire process, our staff and MLAs had to push the NDP. We had to push them for sectoral targets. We had to push them for legislated accountability.

When the minister of environment needed time and space to find all the sources of emissions he needed to account for to ensure we meet our legislated greenhouse gas reductions, we gave the minister that time and space. Even then, four months ago, the 18- to 24-month timeline expired and the minister continues to languish on this matter. We’ve got a plan, but unfortunately it seems there’s not the political will to meet it.

At the same time, this government is handing out billion-dollar taxpayer-funded subsidies to multinational fracking and LNG corporations to extract and export climate-destroying fossil fuels. Just when we thought we could not offer much more to the industry, the Premier stands and lets British Columbians know that the cheque is blank for Site C.

So far, that is another cool $16 billion investment in a project to produce the electricity promised to those fossil fuel companies. It is clear the Premier and his cabinet will not stop, no matter the cost to the B.C. Hydro ratepayer, to the British Columbia taxpayer, to Indigenous cultures, to the environment and to agricultural land.

Finally, to top it all off, if you’re wondering just how committed the B.C. NDP is in their efforts to render CleanBC meaningless, one of their former cabinet ministers from the 1990s is a key B.C. NDP spokesperson on a local radio panel. He’s not only a registered lobbyist for an LNG company but also lobbies on behalf of the wood pellet industry, hoping to turn entire forests into wood pellets.

While the B.C. NDP has offered some tidbits of good news, what they have offered is simply not good enough. This throne speech lacks a vision, leaving us at risk of more of the same chaotic, responsive governance, rather than a coherent, proactive plan that they could put in place now they have a majority.

The NDP wanted a majority, indeed sending British Columbians to the polls early in the middle of a pandemic to get one. You would expect that they would be able to roll out, very shortly after, an ambitious agenda that they felt that they needed to have all the power in order to accomplish and deliver on behalf of British Columbians. But we’re not seeing that in this speech. Instead, we’ve seen some of them excitedly embrace the tired, generational finger-pointing with their old foes –– the B.C. Liberals.

There is one single paragraph on mental health and addictions in this throne speech. It does not convey the desperate sense of urgency British Columbians would expect from a government who has lost more than 7,000 citizens to a toxic drug supply and a mental health crisis. This is the other public health crisis in this province, and it is now five years old.

This provincial government continues to drag its heels on ensuring that psychiatric services are available as part of our universal health care system. There is still a desperate need for the minister to clearly articulate a plan to address the institutional bias, discrimination and judgment of those suffering from a mental health crisis when they present themselves at one of our health care facilities. This is not good enough. I expect to hear a thoughtful approach to changing the culture in those facilities very soon.

I am excited to hear that the government intends to continue working to enhance the tech and innovation sector and their focus on building a more robust shipbuilding sector on the British Columbia coast. As the B.C. Green caucus has been saying for the past four years, these economic sectors provide British Columbia a clear pathway out of our reliance on the extractive industries.

However, this throne speech did little to demonstrate this government has much of an economic vision, other than the reactive approach we have witnessed over the past months. We need to hear how they will use important mechanisms that were in place under CASA, like the innovation commissioner and an emerging economy task force, which offered a road map and a plan for creating a brighter future through a modern approach to economic development.
I’m thrilled that the government will invest in hiring more people to work in long-term seniors care.

It is the passing statement about fixing the cracks exposed by COVID-19 that caught my attention. What does this mean? Is the government willing to change the for-profit model? Are they willing to require operators to make their financial audits public so we can see how they’re spending public money to determine the value that we’re receiving? Will they create better oversight, stricter enforcement? The seniors advocate has been asking for this for more than a year.

We believe that we need to move away from the model of seniors care that relies on for-profit companies to deliver services. Yet it appears the B.C. NDP is unwilling to consider this direction. In the reference to improving health care, many people waiting for a surgery will be happy to hear that reforms are on the way to shorten wait times. What caught my attention was what is missing. Where is the emphasis on primary care networks and team-based care?

The Health Minister has been transitioning his language over time, and now seems completely invested in urgent and primary care centres. Primary care networks and urgent and primary care centres are not the same. We do not need bigger walk-in clinics. Thousands of my constituents, who are without primary care — a family doctor — have been waiting for the province to provide them an option to develop a relationship with a health practitioner or a team of health practitioners. We continue to be underserved by the urgent care model, and it must be noted that the shift in focus has been controversial, causing a great deal of concern among family doctors in my riding and beyond.

Few words were offered in this throne speech on housing and the homelessness crisis in our province. The housing market is causing tremendous concern in my community. The Gulf Island communities are struggling to remain sustainable. Many of their essential workers, like police officers and health care workers, cannot afford to live there. There is a great deal of turmoil in communities to provide adequate housing and supports. There is fear and sadness.

We are not just challenged by a shortage of supply. We cannot build our way out of this crisis. While building units for the missing middle is one necessary step, and I fully support it, what is needed are aggressive measures to cool this housing market. It’s out of control. Real estate is sold before it even hits the market.

This government needs to acknowledge that our reliance on the revenue generated by real estate transactions is dangerous, and that until the Minister of Finance addresses this, the government’s unhealthy reliance on this revenue, no matter what we do, will not be good enough. Our government is too interested in the profits generated by an inflated real estate market.

With respect to the almost nonexistent comments on public education, it is far from good enough to think that referencing a one-time, $290 million investment to support school districts to comply with COVID-19 public health measures is good enough. I’m thankful that the government will continue making investments, as it says in the throne speech, but let’s be clear: because this government is not providing enough funding to the public education system, they’re forcing school districts like Victoria to propose cutting educational assistants and band programs.

I’ve heard enough B.C. NDP members celebrating the arts this week in this chamber to see how they feel cutting music and arts programs is in any way acceptable. In addition, teachers and support staff have been asking the government for more and stronger protection against COVID-19. The response has been slow. They have been introduced with reluctance and their concerns have largely been silenced and ignored.

I’m grateful that the B.C. NDP are considering developing an anti-racism act, as we’ve seen this provincial institution struggling with addressing systemic bias, discrimination and racism that exists in every part of government. However, it is not the B.C. NDP’s responsibility to solve this problem alone. In fact, this work is best done across government by all parties in this Legislature. The result of this legislation, the legislation that is on the floor, needs to be acceptable by all parties in this House.

I challenge the government to facilitate the development of this legislation through an all-party select standing committee. Please make this a collaborative and inclusive process.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent the amazing communities of W̱SÁNEĆ, Saanich North and the Islands. The people I represent are passionate, outspoken people. They’re engaged and participate in British Columbia politics unlike any other riding in this province. I will continue to work with this government in addition to embracing my role as a member of the opposition, demanding this government be more accountable and more transparent.

So with that, as I take my seat, I will say to my constituents and, indeed, to all British Columbians this: I do actually believe that we are an exceptional place. I, like my W̱SÁNEĆ ancestors before me, believe that I live in and represent the centre of the universe. It is my sincere hope that we do not take this exceptional place and the exceptional advantages and the exceptional people who live here for granted. Let’s acknowledge our exceptionalism, but let’s keep it in perspective.

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