Budget delays, COVID concerns and vaccinations focus as legislative work resumes

Apr 2, 2021 | Blog, Community | 0 comments

ÍY SȻÁĆEL (Good Day),

Welcome Spring! Welcome light! Welcome PEXSISEṈ. The third moon of the W̱SÁNEĆ calendar, PEXSISEṈ is the moon of the opening hands. Intrigued? Learn more here.

In December, the new BC NDP government opened the first session of the 42nd Parliament with a Throne Speech and eight days of debate on two finance bills, one that further delays the 2021 budget, and the other to deliver the BC Recovery Benefit.

After a two-month pause, the session resumed on March 1, 2021 with four weeks of deliberations. Legislative work continues using the hybrid rules with limited Members in the Chamber and the remainder joining via video conferencing.

We have made the best of Zoom meetings, but it is not ideal. So much of our work is dependent on relationships. Social distancing rules are having a dramatic impact on our governance. Good governance requires the informal conversations between Members, as well as more accessibility of the media. Unfortunately, the pandemic has limited these critical interactions.

Even though I have spent most of the last four weeks focused on legislative work, the constituent advocacy work never stops. The office has been closed to walk-in traffic for one year, but our team of advocates continue to serve you remotely.

Despite being temporarily closed to walk-in visitors, we have moved into a more accessible location in the Aranza building on Fourth St. in Sidney. I am looking forward to when the public health orders are lifted and we can open the doors to a beautiful new community space to host meetings and events.

In recent weeks we have had higher than usual requests for service. We are committed to providing a prompt response and apologize in advance if you experience a delay when you contact us. Additionally, due to the high volume and my limited availability due to my legislative duties, we are currently booking meeting requests into late-May.

However, if you have any questions or need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by email at Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca or by phone at 250-655-5600.

Regards,
Adam Olsen, MLA


Constituency


Town with the BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie

On April 6th MLA Sonia Furstenau (Cowichan Valley) and I are co-hosting a Virtual Town Hall with the BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

We will be discussing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on senior’s care, what we have learned over the past year, and recommendations and improvements to the system going forward.

Join us online.

Tuesday April 6, 2021
7:00pm – 8:00pm
RSVP: https://tinyurl.com/seniors-town-hall


Southern Gulf Islands Forum

A primary challenge of representing the Saanich Peninsula and Southern Gulf Islands is governance. With federal, provincial, regional, local and Indigenous governments and agencies all having authority and jurisdiction over the area, coordination is imperative.

Your elected officials in the region work well together. However, I learned through my first term that we could improve our cooperation. Even though we respond efficiently, our advocacy could improve if we could be more organized and proactive in our approach.

Over the past year I’ve been working with my elected colleagues to establish a table for these important discussions to take place. Before the next newsletter is sent out, we will be getting together for a facilitated session that will lay the foundation of the Southern Gulf Islands Forum.

I will have much more information about this exciting initiative, who is involved and the potential role it will play, in the coming months.


Vaccine roll-out

During my most recent virtual visit to ASK Salt Spring, I heard a lot of concern about the challenges and confusion with the vaccine roll-out. We understand that the concerns are shared by people across our community as our office has also received many emails and phone calls about the issue.

Island Health is responsible for delivering the vaccine and we continue to participate in the stakeholder update briefings and work directly with the health authority to answer constituent questions about the plan.

We are thankful that Island Health is vaccinating whole communities in small, remote and hard to access places. You can find more information about vaccine roll-out and when you can expect it in your community here.


BC Recovery Benefit

Even though many British Columbians have received their one-time, tax-free payment, we continue to hear from constituents who are having difficulty accessing the BC Recovery Benefit.

Unfortunately, due to the high volume of requests at the Ministry, they are not allowing constituency offices to inquire about, or advocate for, individual cases.

If you have not yet applied for the BC Recovery Benefit, you have until June 30, 2021.

To contact the Ministry of Finance about your pending application contact BCRBPsupport@gov.bc.ca or call 1-833-882-0020. Please also email me at Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca to let me know about your experience with the program.


Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant

We have heard from many businesses about the frustration they have experienced since the $300 million, Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant program was announced last summer. Delivery of the much-needed funds was delayed by the election and the original eligibility requirements were not flexible enough.

Since then, the provincial government has made changes to open the program up and increase flexibility. However, we are still hearing from small and medium businesses who are excluded from this program.

If you have not applied for the program for your small/medium sized business, you have until August 31, 2021.

To apply visit the website. To seek assistance with your application email BusinessRecoveryGrantProgram@gov.bc.ca or call 1-833-254-4357. Please also email me at Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca to let me know about your experience with the program.


Private Motor Coach Sector

Over the past few months, I have been advocating on behalf of the private motor coach sector. Companies such as the Tofino Bus and Wilson’s Transportation provide critical connections between rural communities on Vancouver Island and across British Columbia. Unfortunately, many of these companies were ineligible for government support through the pandemic. I am pleased that province finally provided some relief to the sector in early March.


Private Travel Agents

I recently met with travel agents who shared how the pandemic has affected their business. As they were not designated as ‘essential’ many travel agents may be forced to shutter for good. Throughout the past year travel agents provided an essential service getting Canadians back home in the early days, and re-booking clients in some cases multiple times. This is all work they don’t get compensated for. I hope the provincial government will support these business owners and help carry them through to the time when travel restrictions are lifted and when they will likely be busy booking vacations once again.


Legislature


Much of the debate and discussion in the legislature goes unnoticed. It is important our assembly is open, and MLAs are creating and amending laws, deliberating on the provincial budget, and holding the government accountable in a transparent manner. We covered a lot of policy areas in March, and I have chosen to focus on two here.


Bill 10

Normally, a Supply Act is an inconspicuous bit of procedure. The media and the public hardly pay any attention. While it’s process largely goes unnoticed, it’s purpose is to enable government to continue paying the bills in between one fiscal year and the next. There have been major disruptions to Budget 2021, including the pandemic and fall election, however the provincial government has demonstrated a willingness to bend the rules and processes to suit their own needs. This is an important issue that British Columbians should pay close attention to.

Read articles about Bill 10 by Vaughn Palmer (March 16, 2021 | March 26, 2021) and Katie DeRosa.

Read more about my perspective here.


Bill 4

The Firearms Violence Prevention Act puts in place a variety of new measures with the goal of increasing safety and limiting gun violence in British Columbia.

The BC Green Caucus supported the initiative from the outset. However, there are a few areas that needed attention. How the new law will impact hunters in our province is a concern raised by a few organizations, but it was the potential and disproportionate impact on treaty-protected rights and title holders in Saanich North and the Islands that was the focus of my work in the committee stage of the Bill.

You can see my debate with Hon. Mike Farnworth here.

My concern centered around a lack of consultation and engagement with rights and title holders and a lack of protection in the legislation for Indigenous hunters participating in their treaty-protected hunt.

Following our extensive exchange, Minister Farnworth agreed to pause the clause that was causing the most difficulty and take time to review the situation.

When he called the Bill back for debate, he proposed an amendment to include language referencing s.35 of the Canadian Constitution and providing the protection within the legislation as opposed to the regulations has he originally proposed.

You can see my response to the amendment here.

You can read the article about my work from Vaughn Palmer here.

As I point out in my comments to the amendment, this is an example of how our legislative process should work. A Member raises a concern, the Minister considers the issue, determines a course of action, proposes it and we move forward.

I raise my hands to Minister Farnworth for working so effectively with me on taking steps to address the challenges facing Indigenous hunters.


Question Period

Sonia and I covered a lot of ground in Question Period over the past four weeks. We focused on the COVID-19 recovery, challenges facing mental health and addictions services, and demanding protection for the last remaining stands of high-productivity, monumental old-growth.

Links to my most recent questions.

2021-03-24: BC NDP won’t protect old-growth in Fairy Creek
2021-03-23: What is the future of the provincial relationship with local government?
2021-03-17: You can’t consult about trees that are already cut!
2021-03-15: Will the BC NDP talk and log until all old-growth is gone?
2021-03-10: Addressing stigma, discrimination and judgement of people experiencing a mental health crisis
2021-03-09: As illicit drug toxicity increases, what about safe supply?
2021-03-05: Questioning government about data collection and use


Old-growth protection

During the fall election, the provincial government promised to implement all the recommendations their Old-Growth Strategic Review panel.

Recommendation number six is the immediate deferral of cutting in “old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.” Even though this is the sixth recommendation it is necessarily the first step that the government needs to take. They have not!

As a result of the government’s lack of action threatened ecosystems like the much-publicized Fairy Creek are still slated to be cut.

We need the provincial government to follow through on their commitments and I will continue to be vocal on this important issue. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about protection of old-growth forests please contact me at Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca.


Mental Health

For the past decade, there has been a growing mental health crisis in British Columbia. In 2017, the provincial government created the first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions anywhere in the country and began to take steps to address the challenges. Progress has been slow, thousands of British Columbians have died, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a bad situation awful.

While it has taken many months for the government to update the public policy, the deeply embedded institutional stigma, bias, discrimination and judgement has been exposed.

As we learned from the experience of Ella and Emma, who created a Facebook page to give people a place to share their experiences while receiving treatment at the Royal Jubilee psychiatric emergency service in Victoria, we have a long way to go.

I raised this issue in Question Period and I am glad that as a result Ella and Emma have been able to meet with Premier John Horgan and Minister Sheila Malcolmson (Mental Health and Addictions) to discuss this issue.


Police Act Review

The Special Committee tasked with reviewing the Police Act continues to meet regularly. This is fascinating work, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

We continue to hear testimony from experts and stakeholder groups. We are also receiving presentations, written and video material from the public and I hope you will consider participating.

Deadline for input is Friday April 30, 2021. Learn more here.

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