Let’s focus on creating resilient communities.


S. Furstenau: I want to welcome back my colleagues and friends to the chamber. Before I begin today, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the opening of the session — it’s the first in a new decade — as well as the incredible people who make our work possible: the Legislative Assembly team, public servants, Legislative Protective Service officers, the chamber assistants, the constituency assistants and the press gallery. I thank you for your service to British Columbia.

I also want to take a moment to thank the families and partners of every member of this House. This job demands a lot and takes many of us far away from home for much of spring and fall.

I know it wouldn’t be possible without the support and encouragement from our loved ones, especially their willingness to shoulder more of the responsibility for caring for our kids and elders while we are away. I recognize and appreciate their role in our work. Thank you.

I also want to recognize the exceptional team we have in the B.C. Green caucus office: Evan, Claire, Sarah, Macon, Kayleigh and Judy. It is a joy to work with all of you and a marvel to witness your abilities to juggle so many files and tasks and at the same time produce the high-quality work that you always deliver.

In my constituency office, I owe everything to the dream team: Maeve, Tricia, B, Kayla, Erin, Marianna, Pat, Shelby, Jolene, Jessica and the best window washer in Duncan, Peter.

I appreciate this opportunity to respond to the throne speech. I think we must start with recognizing that there is an important connection between this Speech from the Throne and the escalating public action we see in our streets and on the lawns of this very Legislature. The disruptions here in B.C. and across Canada are not disconnected from the decision-makers who appear to be ignoring the evidence that we need urgent and transformative action and who instead present a backward-looking vision at a time when we need to lean into acknowledging the very significant challenges that we face and at the same time take big, transformative steps that are required of us.

I studied history at UVic for many years, earning my BA and MA looking back at societies that existed hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It is important that we look to history to understand how we have gotten here, to understand the patterns of human behaviour, to recognize the cycles that repeat themselves over and over again. It is the work of historians to look backwards. It is the work of elected officials to look forward, to recognize that when we make decisions in chambers like this, we are shaping the future.

It is our job to recognize that we owe a debt to future generations and that we have no right to hand them a degraded version of the world from the one that we inherited from our parents and their parents. It is not enough to make life more affordable. We need to make our economy more sustainable. We need to make our communities and our province more resilient, more secure and healthier. We need to recognize that we are in a time of enormous transition. Our work should be rooted in ensuring that the transition brings greater equality and greater well-being to the people of B.C., rather than pretending or wishing that that transition is not happening.

The future of B.C.’s economy does not lie in the fossil fuel industry. Around the world, investment firms, banks, corporations and countries are looking to the future and divesting from fossil fuels. This is not the time for a government to double down on a terrible bet. It’s a time for government to begin to make the choices to shape the future that will ensure that our children and their children can enjoy a safer, more resilient place to live. As my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands said yesterday, it is hard not to feel that government’s remarks were overshadowed by the events that unfolded around the Legislature this week.

Yes, there were a number of policies that were positive that were highlighted, many of them a direct result of collaboration with the B.C. Green caucus. But much of the speech was backward-looking and fell flat in light of what is currently happening in B.C. Sitting in this quiet chamber after making our way through a crowd of people at the door, it was abundantly clear to me that the inside of this building has lost touch with the frustration, anger and angst swirling outside of this building. This is what it looks like when people begin to lose faith in their institutions. We are brought to a crossroads of tear it down or build it up.

Despite my own frustration, anger and angst, I am here because I believe in something better, and I believe in our opportunity to build it, knowing that the opportunity is now and it is urgent.

But to do so, we also need to fully understand that the policies and decisions that have led to the current challenges we face and that we are seeing play out across Canada, igniting on the front steps of our Legislature. It was neither inevitable nor unavoidable.

The stage was set, vote by vote. Last spring Bill 10, the Income Tax Amendment Act, was put before this House for deliberation and debate. The bill, which detailed the lucrative financial handout that government was offering LNG Canada, was a key condition of the fossil fuel project’s positive final investment decision. Without it, the project would not have gone ahead. The LNG Canada terminal is, of course, the final destination for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

My B.C. Green colleagues and I used every democratic tool at our disposal to show that this project is the wrong choice for our province. We carried hours of debate on our own. We argued against massively expanding the fossil fuel industry in the midst of a climate crisis. We argued against approving and endorsing the biggest point source of pollution in the province. We argued against subsidizing foreign multinational corporations with a corporate welfare package worth billions of taxpayer dollars. We argued against proceeding with a megaproject that was having Indigenous people dragged off their land before construction even started.

We triggered 14 standing votes, urging our colleagues to stand for more than their party lines. But each time the fossil fuel industry won — 83 in favour, three opposed.

Worsening climate change — 83 in favour, three opposed;

$6 billion to LNG Canada — 83 in favour, three opposed;

massively increasing fracking in British Columbia — 83 in favour, three opposed;

disrespecting Indigenous rights and title — 83 in favour, three opposed.

As my colleagues and I were being wrestled into the building by police on Tuesday, the crowd surrounding us were chanting our names and demanding that we stand with them. That was tough, because we did stand. We stood, over and over, to vote no to LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink. We stood, over and over, to ask our 83 colleagues in this building to consider a different path for B.C., a path that does not include a pipeline through the territory of the Wet’suwet’en people.

With their votes, the B.C. NDP and B.C. Liberals chose to barrel ahead, knowing that there were existing, long-standing and unresolved matters relating to rights and title in the area. They knew full well of the matters that needed to be reconciled, at some point since the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1997, through good-faith government and government negotiations. Great efforts are needed to address and reconcile Aboriginal rights and title with the assertion of Crown sovereignty.

We cannot ignore or arrest our way out of these challenges. They are complex, they are historic, and they will take time. If Crown governments keep doing whatever they want despite local opposition, we will not be given the time to make that progress. As lawyer Gavin Smith recently wrote:

“The Wet’suwet’en are a classic example of how the Crown and the Canadian legal system have overseen a long-term and continuing failure to give effect to the promised recognition of Aboriginal title and Indigenous law.”

He carries on: “After millions of dollars spent on some 13 years in court, including 318 days of presenting evidence at trial, the Wet’suwet’en, together with the Gitxsan, won a landmark title victory in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision. The court ordered another trial, due to the trial judge’s improper rejection of important Indigenous evidence, but explicitly encouraged good-faith negotiation rather than further litigation.” He continued: “More than two decades later it is undeniable that the provincial and federal governments…have not done enough to advance such negotiations.”

We cannot now use a narrow interpretation of the rule of law to shield us from the hard work of fair and just governing. Courts in our country have been recognizing Indigenous law as legitimate for decades. Adding to that, B.C.’s newly passed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act commits everyone to a new model of working together. That should have started the day that it was passed. It may now sound glib to say that much of the work ahead of us will be achieved through good-faith conversations when we know injustice really comes down to shifting power, but they often start as one and the same.

In Cowichan, we are proving what can be achieved for all when reconciliation is the guiding goal in tackling challenges facing our community. Ten years ago under the leadership of then Chief of Cowichan Tribes, Lydia Hwitsum, and CVRD board chair Gerry Giles, with Rodger Hunter hired as a coordinator, the Cowichan Watershed Board was created.

The Cowichan Watershed Board describes itself as:

“…a local governance entity created…to promote water and watershed sustainability in the Cowichan and Koksilah watersheds, ancestral home of the Quw’utsun’ First Nation. Co-chaired by Cowichan Tribes and the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the board represents a unique partnership between First Nations and local government. Through this model, Cowichan Tribes and the regional district work together to advance…watershed health, demonstrating a commitment to moving down the path of reconciliation. The board has a strong track record of planning and implementing technical work, creating a culture of water conservation, promoting science-based advocacy and implementing respectful community-based solutions.”

I am blessed and humbled to know Lydia, Gerry and Rodger, and I am so grateful for their incredible foresight and wisdom.

Today, Chief Seymour and chair of the regional district, Aaron Stone, are the co-chairs of the Cowichan Watershed Board and along with the 11 board members, the technical advisory committee, five working groups and staff members Tom Rutherford and Jill Thompson, they carry on the work that Lydia, Gerry and Rodger began. And also, they continue to nurture the collaborative and respectful spirit that was woven into the fabric of the watershed board from its very beginning.

This is what reconciliation looks like, and the Cowichan Watershed Board shows us again and again that being at the table together and listening to all points of view and working to build consensus and community while striving towards a common goal — the health of our watersheds — is an example of what is possible in communities all across B.C.

And now, ten years later, the watershed board has had some of its own watershed moments. Last year funding for a long overdue engineering study for a new weir at Cowichan Lake through the B.C. salmon restoration and innovation fund was announced, and the work is getting underway. The campaign to raise awareness and support for the new weir reminds us, with a play on the words, “we’re ready indeed.”

Just last week in Cowichan Tribes council chambers, Chief Seymour and Minister Donaldson signed an interim agreement for a new government-to-government partnership between Cowichan Tribes and the province that is intended to ensure long-term water sustainability in the Koksilah watershed.

This is another remarkable step towards watershed protection, and it begins the process of creating a water, or as we said at the signing, a watershed sustainability plan for the Koksilah watershed. It’s hard to put into words how valuable and important I believe the work of the Cowichan Watershed Board is and how connected reconciliation is to seeing outcomes that are good for everyone in our communities.

This is what I think is sometimes forgotten or overlooked or misunderstood. Reconciliation is in part about healing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. We all have to be part of the work of it, and ultimately, we all benefit from the effort we put into it.

It’s not something that we’re ever going to be finished. We work to heal the relationship. We work to nurture the relationship. We work to remain committed to the relationship, and we always work to do better.

Every day in my constituency I’m reminded of an issue that needs healing through reconciliation. We must do better for families in this province — and especially for Indigenous families.

It is telling to me that two vital areas of protection in our province received passing, if any, reference in the government’s Speech from the Throne: children and the environment. There was a brief glance at the child welfare system — a pat on the back for lowering the number of kids in government care. But that, by no means, matches the gravity of the humanitarian crisis we face in this ministry. This government continues to give vast amounts of funding to pay for the apprehension of Indigenous children and such a minimal amount of money towards the support for families and prevention of removals.

On top of this, this government does not require that social workers in child protection register with the B.C. College of social Workers, which would make them subject to increased vetting and disciplinary proceedings. In my community, we see the effects of this every day — families who do not trust ministry staff to look out for their best interest or are not held to account for unethical practices.

Families in my constituency continue to be traumatized after being separated from their children at an unacceptable rate. Early on in this term, we had news that a newborn baby would be separated from its mother at birth at the Cowichan District Hospital, and it moved our community to act. What followed were several months and many meetings with a group of local service providers and other community members who expressed deep concern about a system that does not serve those who are most vulnerable.

We heard about systemic racism, bullying, harassment of parents, unsupported families and a lack of dignity and respect for diversity when working through systemic processes. We heard creative solutions for how to better support parents to mitigate children being removed, how social workers are overwhelmed with cases and cannot provide the compassionate service they were trained to provide, how the system does not make social workers accountable in their practice and how the community is ready to participate in any solution that reduces the number of children who are separated from their parents.

We called the group the Cowichan Community of Caring. We learned a great deal about each other and about our community, and we celebrated our diversity. Working with this group deepened my understanding about the challenges facing Indigenous families in the Cowichan Valley and their resilience in the face of these obstacles. This group taught me so much about reconciliation.

The result of this work was the Q’ushin’tul project, a four-month research project led by two Cowichan Tribes women. Together with a team of researchers, they gathered input from over 300 elders, youth, recipients of service, community stakeholders, partners and professionals who are directly and incorrectly connected with child welfare. Their final report includes their findings and recommendations to enhance child welfare programs, services, practice and delivery. The Q’ushin’tul project came about because a diverse group of local community members engaged in finding a better way forward for Cowichan families. We need more of this kind of work.

In the entirety of the government’s Speech from the Throne, there was not one mention of salmon, wildlife, biodiversity, nature or the ecosystems that we depend on. Even the word “environment” was not used once. Last year the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services stated in stark terms that we are in the midst of an extinction crisis with one million species likely disappearing within decades, the consequences of which will be devastating for ecosystem stability and food production.

Yesterday news broke internationally that a new study from the University of Ottawa indicates that a massive decline of bumblebees, the world’s most important pollinators, is now underway due to climate chaos and other human impacts on the world. They state that bumblebees are currently disappearing at rates consistent with a mass extinction and are on course to be wiped out in just a few decades. “We have now entered the world’s sixth mass extinction event, the biggest and most rapid global biodiversity crisis since a meteor ended the age of the dinosaurs, ” first author Peter Soroye said.

These are glaring omissions from the throne speech, indicative of the government’s priorities, the neglect of which will reverberate through our province. In the face of this, we have to keep working to do better.

Forestry, for example, is another area that could benefit from community-level governance. Small communities across B.C. have been hurting as our forestry industry continues to experience challenges. Many factors have gotten us to the place we’re in today, but one threat is consistent: policies that have failed to recognize that our forests are a public resource and must be managed for the benefit of the people of B.C. today and into the future.

In revitalizing the forestry industry and supporting small communities in this challenging time, we must be wary of band-aid solutions that don’t move us ahead but actually double down on the model that got us into this situation in the first place. We need to truly put communities at the centre of how we manage our forests and manage for economic, social and environmental values.

We could be leading an innovative, sustainable forestry that adds value and jobs in local communities and leaves us less vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles. There are exciting examples of this kind of innovation, like Kalesnikoff Lumber’s investment in a mass timber facility in the Kootenays. The government needs to use the tools at its disposal to enable this kind of innovation to grow across B.C., and we need to plan for the future, including the transitions that will be required as climate change takes hold.

Local communities are telling us they want more of a say in how their forests are managed. They no longer want to see logs rolling out of their communities and the jobs going with them. They no longer want to have to fight companies to try to protect critical resources like their drinking watersheds. We should heed their call and provide for far greater regional and local management of this resource.

Community forests are one way to do this. They show us what is possible when we do things differently. They create more local jobs and are better able to effectively manage for multiple values. We can build a prosperous and sustainable future in our forestry industry, but we need some government leadership to make this happen.

The B.C. Green caucus is proud to advance world-leading climate economic policies for our province. We’re proud to have worked with this government to increase accessibility to child care options, to develop a comprehensive housing program, to bring in much-needed reforms to professional reliance, to be the first jurisdiction in North America to enact the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

We know these policies would not be as strong, not be as effective and not be as evidence-based or may not have happened at all if it were not for the B.C. Green presence here in the Legislature. Each one includes hard-fought negotiations that made them better and long hours from our small and very determined team. We have much to be proud of, though many days, setbacks steal that light.

Working within a minority government is a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of our work against the government’s larger agenda. Our work in this chamber doesn’t have an end, because our allegiance is not to this government but to the issues as articulated in CASA. We will not give up. We will keep working to do better.

Ensuring that every British Columbian has the conditions to live a healthy, fulfilling life in a flourishing, supportive environment should be the government’s most important responsibilities. Instead, the state of governance in the fossil fuel era has become a political economy intertwined with industry. The rules have evolved to favour those who stand to gain the most. It is the politics of accommodation. It pivots on threats of competitiveness, bends to meet the demands of fossil fuel interests and is willing to sacrifice for profit.

The arguments supporting “business as usual” exist to justify the short-term concentration of benefits among the few, even as it comes at the cost of the many and leads us towards an increasingly catastrophic outcome. The elected members in this chamber can and must change that.

If there was any doubt after decades of warning from scientists and ministries within this very government, from financial institutions or from the floods and fires consuming communities. Let the blockades and protests erupting across Canada be the final emphasis. The future of our province is not in fossil fuel megaprojects. It’s not.

When it comes to fossil fuel extraction for combustion, we need to start stopping now. We need to redirect these resources into funding the future we want, because it is clear the story that has guided us for the last hundred years in this province is now failing us. The story insists that we ship our resources off our coast as quickly as possible and allow communities to be subject to relentless boom-and-bust cycles, rather than create the conditions for sustainable use of our trees, our water, our minerals and sustainable local economies that keep communities healthy and thriving generation after generation.

The story demands continued consumption and economic growth and ignores the fact that infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet. The story makes you believe that we are all separate, separate from each other, separate from nature, that more for you is less for me. To paraphrase the writer Charles Eisenstein, we need a new story that recognizes interdependence, a belief that my well-being is directly related to your well-being; to the well-being of the river, the forest; to the well-being of your children; and understanding and acceptance that what we do to the world, we do to ourselves.

Transitioning to a carbon-neutral world doesn’t mean going back to the dark ages. In fact, if we went all in right now, we could stand a decent chance of transforming society without huge disruption. It’s exciting to think about what a carbon-neutral society would look like day to day as we went about our busy lives. To start, it would be quiet and clean. Cities would be designed for walking, cycling, electric public transit and electric cars. There would be less traffic and no smog. Our homes would be more comfortable: bright, warm and dry in the winter and cool in the summer.

We’d have less plastic and garbage, and our communities would no longer be strewn with litter. With more trees planted and natural spaces conserved to absorb carbon and filter water, we’d have fresh air and more birdsong on our way to work. The salmon would come back, and the bees, too. Sustainable agriculture would provide local, healthy food grown on farms that sequester carbon in the soil and use less pesticides. Sure, we’d eat less meat, but by trading factory-farmed beef for cattle, and using slower, sustainable practices, it would taste better. It wouldn’t be loaded with antibiotics.

We have so much to gain. It’s not just possible that the transition to a clean economy could create jobs. It is inevitable — jobs that are inspired, important and valuable. The shift can be the vehicle to deliver a more just, equitable and healthy society.

I will continue to work in my community, in this Legislature and in this chamber to champion policies based on the best evidence to take us forward to that future that I know we all want to be a part of creating.

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