2022 Throne Speech light on substance and vision

Feb 17, 2022 | 42-3, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Response to the Speech from the Throne, Video | 1 comment

I had the opportunity to respond to the 2022 Speech from the Throne.

The Throne Speech is an important part of our democratic process. It is the opportunity for the government to outline its vision, goals and direction for the province.

When the government decides to instead use the opportunity to re-hash their list of past “accomplishments” rather than lay out a vision, it disrupts the deliberate processes of good governance and undermines the opposition Members ability to effectively hold government accountable.

[Transcript]

Thank you so much for the opportunity to respond to the 2022 version of the Speech from the Throne.

I do want to start by acknowledging the incredible team that we have supporting my colleague from Cowichan Valley and me here in the Legislative Assembly with the B.C. Green caucus.

[5:25 p.m.]
I want to acknowledge the incredible team that I have in my constituency, supporting what has been a very busy year, in my constituency office in Sidney, for Saanich North and the Islands.

I also want to acknowledge the fact that we are now a couple of years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’ve had the benefit of seeing a government operate prior to the pandemic and now through the pandemic. I think it should be recognized that nothing that is happening in this province now is easy, nor are the decisions that are being made easy decisions to be made.

A lot has been asked of British Columbians over the last 24, 30 months. I’m really grateful that we are where we are right now, and my hope is that we get some relief from COVID-19. I think, as we can see here in British Columbia and across the province, that that relief is going to be greatly needed as the stress of the last few years is wearing, I think, on all of us, wearing on our democratically elected institutions and in our constituencies near and far.

I just want to acknowledge the roles that we play here in this democratic institution and that the divisions that exist in this House — these sides, this side, that side — are manufactured divisions. We are here as representatives elected by our constituents to come and represent one part of 87 parts in this province, the government of the province. While we have a majority government in place right now, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we all play a very important role in the proper functioning of this democratic institution.

For decades, the role of opposition, which is a role that I am in and have been in since being elected, is not a position that is here just to oppose government. The role of the opposition is to ensure that government is accountable. We have, over a matter of hundreds of years, defined these roles and the usefulness of these roles in order to ensure that the government that is elected by the people to come here to Victoria to do work on their behalf is doing it in a straightforward and an honest way.

I take the role of being a member in the opposition very seriously. Not here to just stand and say that everything that’s brought forward by the executive, by the cabinet, is bad, or to unnecessarily draw lines between the partisan interests that exist in this House, but to state very clearly that this House functions when the role of the opposition is focused on ensuring that we’re using the tools that the predecessors of parliaments such as this around the Commonwealth, as they’ve evolved…. We’re using those privileges and those tools that have been afforded us — largely fought for and earned — effectively, and we’re not letting them sit on the sideline.

I think something that we’ve heard an awful lot about are the rights and freedoms that are afforded Canadians and British Columbians. I remember having a conversation with an Elder in my community, about Indigenous rights. I was reminded very promptly that with every right comes a responsibility. I think it’s important that we are focused on our rights, our responsibilities and our freedoms.

I wanted to just leave this now in this response to the debate on the Speech from the Throne, to recognize that those responsibilities are not only in this Legislature. They’re also a reflection of our duty to the public, and the public to each other as neighbours, as friends and family, people that we are and have been close with.

[5:30 p.m.]
We have a responsibility to each other. We’ve seen decades of policies that have been very intensely focused on the rights of individuals, separating us from the collective responsibility for each other and saying that these…. To elevate the individual above all else and to say that we are not benefiting from those policies and from those narratives when we face a public health crisis like a pandemic….

Ultimately, what the focus needs to be on is the responsibility that we have to each other. That’s what we hope the public health measures are able to achieve: the balancing of the responsibilities that we have to each other, living alongside one another in a peaceful and secure society.

I just want to add, I guess, a little emphasis to the rights and freedoms conversation that we’ve been having in our society and just, I think, share the reminder that an Elder in my community reminded me of when I was talking about my rights — to say that with those rights comes a very important and not-to-be-forgotten set of responsibilities to those rights.
The Speech from the Throne is a visionary document delivered by the executive, delivered by our cabinet. It should be what government is going to do, not simply a list of what government has already accomplished.

Outlined on the government of Canada website, it writes, when you look up the Speech from the Throne: “The speech introduces the government’s direction and goals, and outlines how it will work to achieve them.” It should not be, as I think Vaughn Palmer described it, reheated items.

Why is this distinction important? Well, it’s important because in a representative democracy, people elect us to debate and create laws on their behalf so that all British Columbians don’t have to fit into this chamber. We are elected to represent roughly 50,000 constituents.

If the people and their representatives don’t know what the direction and the goals of government are, how are the people that are elected here to represent British Columbians going to be able to properly evaluate the success of government if government doesn’t clearly articulate the goals and direction that they intend to take and there is nothing there for us to hold government accountable to? So it’s important that in these speeches from the throne, government is very clear on what the goals and directions that they intend to take are so that, then, those of us in opposition are able to evaluate the success.

I guess we could just take government’s word for it, that they’re doing everything they said they’re going to do and more. I guess we could just take their word for it when we hear phrases like “making life more affordable.” If there’s nothing to be able to evaluate the success or failure of government on, if there aren’t specific goals and directions outlined in a speech like the Speech from the Throne, then any member of government, any member of the executive can stand up and say: “Well, we’ve made life more affordable.” They could repeat that phrase ad nauseam and almost leave the impression that that’s, in fact, what’s happened.

It is important. I think that when you take a look at that specific phrase, for example…. I think if you were to evaluate the government’s job on a variety of fronts, you’re going to get a variety of different bits of information, feedback in some areas: “Yes, life has become more affordable.” And those are the ones that we often hear repeated back to us in question period. In some cases, life has not become more affordable, and those usually form the basis of the questions in question period.

[5:35 p.m.]
But I think that I draw attention to this because I think what’s important is that we use these opportunities in this democratic institution for what their purposes are, because they’re deliberate. They’re not accidental. They didn’t just happen overnight. We didn’t just make them up here in British Columbia. They’ve evolved over time because they are useful protocols to ensure that government is doing what they say they’re doing and that the members of the opposition are able to hold the government accountable.

The next stage of this, of course, is going to be the budget. That’s coming next week. As we take a look at the budget — basically, what that next stage of the process here is — in the spring session of every spring session of the B.C. Legislature is where, really, the government puts wheels to the direction and the goals that they’ve outlined in the Speech from the Throne.

That work then happens in the budget estimates, where we, as members of the opposition, have an opportunity to go into detail into the government’s fiscal plan to really be able to understand whether or not the actions that are outlined in the budget are meeting the vision that the government has laid out in the throne speech.

As British Columbians who may be following along in these speeches are able to understand, each piece of work that we do in this place is a function of that process, and each step in that process is a necessary step in that process. I think it’s really important to recognize that when a throne speech comes, then it’s 70-30 — 70 percent what’s happened and 30 percent what might happen. We start to run into a dysfunction in this Legislative Assembly — a dysfunction that is not to the benefit of the people that sent us here.

It is to the benefit of the artificial lines that are drawn, a line that’s drawn down the middle of this Legislative Assembly, two sword lengths separating us, a division that is necessary or had been necessary in the past and is necessary to distinguish between the members of the opposition and the members of the government. However, I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of who it is that sent us here, why they sent us here and why it is that this place functions the way it does.

I don’t want to leave the impression that there was nothing in the throne speech that referred to what the government’s plan for the future is. I only want to highlight and to maybe put some bold typeface on the fact that the vast majority of it is reheating things that have happened in the past. I mean, getting rid of the MSP, for example, happened so long ago, so many sessions ago, that I can hardly remember when that was. But yet, somehow, it shows up again and again as something that is going to be a future promise.

Credit to the government. I think the government has outlined in this Speech from the Throne the main social, environmental and economic challenges facing our province. They have correctly identified the very substantial challenges that we face, and I appreciate the opening of this throne speech focusing on Indigenous relations and reconciliation, because it is foundational to the future of this province. These relationships — the Crown-Indigenous, Indigenous-Crown relationships — are going to be foundational for the continued and ongoing prosperity of our province.

Quoting the speech: “Landmark reforms are ensuring First Nations share meaningfully in the prosperity of the land that they have lived on since time immemorial.” The reason why I elevate this is because I think it’s important to just highlight, maybe, an area that caught my attention when I read this, to say that from the experience that I have in speaking with my Elders in the W̱SÁNEĆ community, my family, and in speaking with Indigenous leaders from across the province….

[5:40 p.m.]
To frame this statement this way, I think, is a misunderstanding of the relationship that Indigenous people have with the land and with the flora and fauna that live and exist on the land. There is an interrelatedness, no separation, between the human species and all of the other species that exist on the land base.

To frame it in a way that Indigenous people and First Nations people have lived on the land, I think, is to understate the fundamental relationship that we need, to get to a deeper understanding of knowing and a deeper understanding of embracing in this institution. Indeed, if we could relate to the natural world in the way of the world view of the W̱SÁNEĆ people — which is understood through our language, SENĆOŦEN — I think we’d start to live in this place, and we’d relate to the other living species around us and in fact the inanimate things around us, like the mountains that the W̱SÁNEĆ people hold sacred.

I just wanted to draw attention to the language in this speech and to highlight the fact that to frame it as, “We live on the land, and we have had these connections to the land,” is, again, an understatement of the relationships that I know Indigenous people to have with their territories.

I, as a W̱SÁNEĆ person, feel very much part of the W̱SÁNEĆ territory. When I leave the territory, it is not homesickness that I feel. It’s inexplicable. I can’t tell you the feeling that I have when I go away from the territory, but it is a yearning and a desire to get back to it. I think that this institution has a lot to learn from Indigenous leaders and Indigenous teachings and world views that would improve our relationships with each other and our relationships to all other flora and fauna.

I appreciate that we are faced with multiple health crises in our province right now: physical health, mental health, the safety of workers, access to primary care, a crisis in our primary care delivery, and a growing crisis in our acute care. So I think it is quite appropriate for the provincial government, in the throne speech, to spend a considerable amount of time talking about the interconnected collision of multiple health crises facing British Columbians now.

I think I have some challenges with some of the language about how it has been framed in the throne speech. I think it’s a little too celebratory at this stage. I think we have still so much work to do in this regard. From my perspective, the actions that are outlined with respect to addressing the mental health crisis, the drug toxicity crisis, the opioid crisis in our province, the ongoing and long-term challenges that we’re going to be facing with COVID-19….

We might be moving towards removing restrictions as a response to this stage of COVID-19, but from the people that I’ve witnessed and that I know who have contracted this terrible virus, many are still fighting symptoms that are keeping them from being able to enjoy the quality of life that they had before the pandemic. Despite our desire to move on, to say that we are past it — I think it’s important to recognize that we have a long road ahead with COVID-19.

[5:45 p.m.]
We absolutely have to address the primary care crisis that’s growing in our province. The actions that this government has taken to this point are not urgent enough. The move to an episodic care model in primary care, to see a distinction growing between those who can afford it and those who can’t…. It’s very challenging for me to see this happening. I think it’s important that we continue to press government on this, and you’ll continue to hear from me on this issue.

With respect to education…. If I was to say one thing about education and the education system, it’s that I would like to…. I should say this about all of our health care workers as well. I raise my hands to all the health care workers who have continued to deliver as high-quality health care as is possible in a public health crisis like we’ve faced.

The same thing goes for our teachers and our educators. I raise my hands. I know personally how important it is, and I’ve seen the effects on my children of being away from their friends and away from school. It was devastating for them. So I am thankful that they’ve still had those connections.

This provincial government needs to continue to do more for neurodiverse children. I continue to hear from my constituents that children who have a designation, neurodiversity challenges, are not getting the level of support that they need in our public education system, so I’d just encourage government. I recognize from the throne speech that we’ve never made larger investments in education than we’re making now. I understand all that rhetoric. However, I continue to hear from my constituents that the funding supports for neurodiverse children are not nearly enough.

You know, the focus on child care over the last number of years has been really important for British Columbia families. The government took quite a bit of time in their throne speech to talk about affordability, and this is a key aspect of affordability for many families in British Columbia.

It was an important move to move it to education. It’s something that the B.C. Greens caucus has had in our platforms in the last couple of elections. We’ve been encouraging the government to move child care into education and that it be part of a continuum of lifelong learning. We’re thrilled that this year we’re likely to see and, hopefully, we will see the government follow through on this commitment.

With respect to housing, the challenges in our housing market, I’ve been listening to the debate in the Legislature here over the last couple of weeks on housing and, of course, engaged more in the debate last fall with a number of questions myself. It’s important to just note that the challenges we face in our real estate market will not be solved by new supply, cutting taxes or increasing taxes alone.

We need a comprehensive and coordinated approach to cool the housing market and to deliver a supply of accessible, affordable housing — all the way from supported housing options for people to multifamily options and to single-family. It’s going to require us to have the uncomfortable conversations about zoning and zoning bylaws and land use decisions in our communities. But it’s not a situation where just supply alone is going to solve this problem. It will continue to be a comprehensive set of tools that this government puts together.

As was pointed out by the member who spoke before me — a really remarkable story when it comes to the repair of infrastructure that was damaged by the severe weather events — I’d just encourage government to recognize that the infrastructure that we have today was built for another time.

[5:50 p.m.]
I think the government knows this. It needs to be more resilient. We need to make sure that all new infrastructure is built, scoped to be able to deal with extreme weather events like we’ve never seen before. Once-in-200-, once-in-500-year weather events are happening more and more frequently, and we must build our infrastructure to be resilient to that.

That includes providing new fiscal tools. I am encouraged to see that a committee has been struck between the provincial government and the UBCM. Those of us who’ve been in local government know we’ve been talking about this for a long time. We absolutely need to put new fiscal tools in place for local governments.

With respect to ecosystem health and climate action, I’m thankful to see reference to the climate emergency in the throne speech. However, CleanBC is not enough. It doesn’t go far enough. As has been suggested by others outside this House, we need to design this institution to be able to address climate change. This institution and the way that government is formed at this point is not designed with the climate emergency at the centre of it.

We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuel extraction. We need to stop making excuses for it. It is not good enough, and we are going to continue to create the problem that we’re going to try to build our way out of if we continue to leave government the way it is organized now. We need to reorganize government to address climate action. A CleanBC plan is not enough.

I think many British Columbians know, because I’ve spoken about this a lot. I’ve talked a lot about forestry. I’m going to leave it for now because I’m running short on time.

I do want to make a couple of points about building a strong economy. I think the way government has framed this is that people are at the centre of the decisions, people are at the centre of the economy. In fact, there is no economy without people. I think the Premier has made those comments.

It’s important to acknowledge that — that a strong economy is the result of investments in people, investments in health care, investments in education, investments in making sure that people have access to a house, a home, a place that they can build a life around. All of those investments, all of those programs together create the conditions for a powerful economy to be established.

We can continue to extract and create what ends up being a false economy, because you can only extract for so long. You can only extract value from the environment for so long before it becomes so degraded that it’s not there to produce for you anymore. That’s the economy that this province was built on. Now we do absolutely need to transition our economy so it’s built around the people, not built around the trees and all of the natural resources that we can harvest.

I’m going to end with this. What’s missing? What’s missing from the throne speech? Well, there’s a lot that’s missing, but there are two key points that I’m sad did not show up anywhere in the throne speech. One is the work of the Police Act reform committee. We have spent an incredible amount of time working very collaboratively. Nowhere in the throne speech does it say that this government is going to take the report that is going to be tabled by that committee later this year seriously, that they’re going to enact it and they’re going to take the recommendations forward with the full force of the ministry.

I would like to see a commitment from this government that they’re not going to let that document sit on the shelf and collect dust. We’ve done — if I may say so, for the whole committee — incredible work. Very collaborative. The most encouraging work that I’ve done in this Legislature has happened within the walls of that committee. The provincial government needs to indicate to all British Columbians that the work that we’ve done was not in vain.

Finally, I’ll just say this. I’m sad to not see updates to the Emergency Act in this. We know that public safety also includes preparedness and our response to severe weather events and to storms. We’ve seen that fail over the past year, and so we need to make sure that those updates are also in place.

With that, I thank you for this opportunity to speak to the Speech from the Throne. I’ll take my seat.
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.

1 Comment

  1. Madi Mayfield

    Many thanks, Adam – your comments in response to the Throne Speech highlight the critical principles of governance with accountability in a democracy. At times it seems that this knowledge is being lost in a wave of rampant individualism that sees competition and winning (political and otherwise) as both the intention and outcome. Applying your lens is vital along with the several critical points you raise regarding need for vision and need for including important initiatives that are in progress/awaiting approval in the next session.

    Reply

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