Autumn has arrived. As we transition into a new season, and settle into having a new government attempting to govern in a collaborative manner, I feel myself finally settling into the ebbs, flows, and constant busy-ness of being an MLA in the Legislature.
There has been a lot to get used to. The most obvious realization is that not one day resembles any other – with the exception of the fast pace, which never changes. There is a constant juggle between immediacy, and taking the time to gather all the information necessary to make an informed decision. At different times, both approaches take priority.
We all need to be in the Legislature whenever the House is sitting – which means that we’re in the building until 6:30 Mondays and Tuesdays, 7:00 on Wednesdays, and 6:00 on Thursdays.
Often the days extend into nights. It’s simply the nature of the job. For instance, after a full day in the Legislature a few weeks ago, I sat as a panelist for a Town Hall meeting on Proportional Representation in Victoria. Of course I was energized by the crowd, for I find it terrific to see a full house and an engaged audience. Certainly from what I saw, there is a strong appetite for electoral reform.
One of the challenges of this new role is finding time for exercise – most mornings I get up early to go for a bike ride, which I find clears my mind and prepares me well for the day ahead. It’s also helpful for the mornings when I start the day off with a media interview.
Generally speaking, each morning at the Legislature starts with a meeting to go over what will be happening in the House – a walk through of bills and motions that will be introduced – which we then discuss as a caucus with staff.
After that, it all just depends on the day. For instance, a few weeks ago, I prepared my first Question Period question – on a topic that is near to my heart – protection of water.
My question to the Minister of Environment was out of concerns raised by the Campbell River Environmental Committee about creosote timbers being stockpiled at a quarry near the town. The story of community members and community groups stepping up to monitor activity in their drinking watersheds because of a loss of trust in the regulatory bodies is too familiar for too many communities. I hope to see a significant changes in the Ministry of Environment over the coming months and years – changes that will help to restore trust in government and help us to feel certain that our our drinking water sources and our ecological systems are being protected in this province.
I also spoke to the decorum in the Chamber. On Wednesday the Leader of the Opposition sought to equate the premier’s support of the Electoral Refom bill with not recognizing women’s rights as the single most important bill ever passed in BC. This red herring comment then played out with supporting shouts from the Liberals. When I brought this up today, I was met with yelling and jeers – what I’ve come to realize in two short weeks is “normal” behaviour in the Chamber, particularly during Question Period. I hope I never get used to it.
There are some who suggest that this is simply a part of how debate unfolds in the House – but I remain steadfast in the belief that we can, as recently deceased MP Arnold Chan stated in his final speech to the House of Commons, “elevate our practice.”
At our best, we can reach across party lines to do the best we can for the people of BC. I hope that we can all strive, even in challenging debate, to be at our best.
After Question Period, I met with Dr Stefanie Green, who is advocating for changes to the billing practices for Medical Assistance in Dying.
On the heels of this meeting, I joined all MLAs in our orange shirts on the front steps of the Legislature. Orange Shirt Day, which commemorates the residential school experience, and offers the opportunity to witness and honour survivors, is on September 30th each year. Today was an opportunity for all MLAs to show our support for Orange Shirt Day, and our commitment to reconciliation.
I had time to order soup, which I ate while meeting with Chastity Davis, the Chair of the Minister’s Advisory Council on Aboriginal Women. Chastity is an extraordinary and inspiring woman – by the end of our meeting, we were both feeling excited and enthusiastic about working together and supporting each other on a variety of issues.
Each day, the entire caucus attends Question Period, and in addition, we each have “house duty” – time that we’re in the Chamber. This is divided between the three of us – which means a couple of hours each day. Generally, we’ve been hearing speeches from each side of the house in response to bills being debated.
After my house duty, I met with Lesley Fox from Fur Bearers – she raised many important issues related to animal welfare and protection.
Late that day, we were summoned by the bells back up to the Legislature at 5:30, as the Lieutenant Governor was coming to give royal assent to a bill. After assent was delivered by a nod, the House was adjourned until Monday, October 2nd. (Last week, MLAs attended Union of BC Municipalities, where local governments come together each year to advocate for their communities and debate resolutions.)
The day was nearly over – I spent time organizing the many papers on my desk, following up on some emails and phone calls, and preparing to head back up to Cowichan.
Reflecting on the last few days and weeks, I see the need to ensure that I find a balanced and sustainable pace. I also feel hopeful and optimistic. Listening to people, recognizing that there are many different points of view, and seeing the passion and commitment of people advocating (often not for themselves but for others) feeds my belief that we can find ways to effect positive change together. Engaged citizens are the foundation of healthy democracy – and in every meeting I’ve had since being elected, I’ve been impressed by the informed, passionate, caring people who are all trying to make things just a little better, and looking to those of us who have been elected to help them in their efforts.