Earlier this month, my colleague Sonia Furstenau delivered her first in-person speech to local government elected and administrative officials who were gathered for the Union of BC Municipalities convention (UBCM).
Sonia and I were both previously elected to local government and have many friends in office in communities across the province. It was nice to reconnect with them in person, to learn from each other, and share our experiences. This convention provides an opportunity for municipal officials to advocate for and find solutions to the issues facing their communities. This UBCM was the last opportunity for this cohort of municipal officials to press the provincial government on the important issues they have been working on for the past four years before the next municipal election in October.
In her remarks, Sonia highlighted the need to humanize our politics. She spoke about the need to bridge political divisiveness, and foster collaboration to address the intersecting social, environmental, and economic crises we face.
Before retiring from office, Premier John Horgan delivered his last speech to the convention. He reminisced about the relationships he has forged with many community leaders over the years, and he spoke clearly about the need to work together to solve the increasingly deadly challenges facing provincial and local governments.
At times his government has shown a desire to collaborate, while they have also shown increasing tendencies to be insular and inaccessible.
The political discourse is increasingly divisive, and the tone is more combative. This has led to Cabinet Ministers growing more defensiveness and withdrawing. The questions to government from the opposition are more pointed and personal. The responses from the government are more rhetorical than informative. In the end, the debate disintegrates into political bickering rather than the governance we need.
I reflect on the increasingly toxic political culture as I navigate my role as an elected official in the Legislative Assembly. As a Member of the Opposition, it’s my responsibility to hold the government accountable. Concurrently, I must also offer solutions and work together on behalf of all our province. I do a better job of striking this balance on some days than others.
Holding government to account and collaborating are both important roles, and to be effective member of the opposition they must be carefully managed to a respectful balance. As I approach another legislative sitting, I consider how I am representing my constituency, to ensure I am critical in a constructive and respectful way while offering ideas and solutions to the many challenges we face together.
In the Legislative Assembly during this upcoming session, I will articulate the fear, anxiety, and frustration that my constituents share with me on a multitude of issues, including a lack of critical primary healthcare, secure and affordable housing, unreliable marine transportation network, and the experience the unrelenting signs of the climate emergency.
Many of the systems British Columbians have relied on for decades are failing us. At the UBCM we heard clearly how this is affecting British Columbians across the province. The troubles are great, and the answers are few.
During UBCM, my colleague Sonia Furstenau noted how the breakdown of communication in our elected bodies can lead to a dehumanization of our politics, while Premier John Horgan encouraged us to collaborate and work together to find solutions to the complex problems we’re faced with.
The Fall 2022 sitting of the Legislative Assembly will be the first sitting that I serve as the Third Party (BC Green Caucus) House Leader. I look forward to this new role and working to improve those pathways of communication within government so together we can restore the healthy functioning of our democratic institution.
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands
Originally published in the Peninsula News Review on October 6, 2022 (pg.18).