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It’s time for B.C. to replace reactive with proactive governance

Over the last year and a half, we have heard the word “unprecedented” used over and over again. Usually, it is used as a justification for not acting quickly enough (or at all) in the face of a crisis.

Over the last year and a half, we have heard the word “unprecedented” used over and over again.

Usually, it is used as a justification for not acting quickly enough (or at all) in the face of a crisis. But after everything – four successive waves of COVID-19, wildfires, flooding, toxic drug poisonings, the housing crisis, the heat dome – it is time to retire the “it caught us by surprise” response. These crises are not surprises. There is enough history and knowledge to put into place proactive supports and policies to assist British Columbians with the challenges we face. 

2021 was a year of reactive governance in British Columbia. Despite dozens of reports on the intensifying climate crisis and reliable meteorological forecasting, the government has been slow to anticipate and respond to major weather disasters. For instance, the Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment (2019), several wildfire reports and hundreds of recommendations for mitigation and preparation should have provided enough material for the government to implement anticipatory measures.

This lack of action continues with the third, fourth, and fifth waves of COVID-19, the toxic drug crisis, the housing crisis, and more. We have the answers for how to make positive changes, we know how to support the people who are suffering and how to prepare for whatever comes tomorrow, but this government appears to be focused on a relentless search for more reports, and more consultations, rather than making decisions and taking steps based on the evidence and solutions already available to them.

2022 needs to be the year of action, informed by the challenging realities we face today. The BC NDP’s first year as a majority government was not a visionary legislative agenda and certainly not an agenda that builds back better, transforms society or builds on the lessons we have learned. Instead, it has tinkered around the edges, tightened communications controls through restrictive freedom of information amendments; ultimately maintaining the status quo and cementing the problems that enabled these crises in the first place.

It has been infuriating to watch people struggle while the government focuses on public relations instead of policy making. Especially as many people have lost their livelihoods and, in some cases, their lives. 

In spite of – or perhaps as a result of – this lack of leadership, we continue to see examples of individual and collective resilience across the province. People, communities, businesses and non-profit organizations have managed to cope, shift and redouble their efforts. It is reassuring and inspiring to see this collective action. We’re not on our own when we lift one another up and take a harm-reduction, equity-based approach to the challenges we face. But we could be achieving so much more if the provincial government was a far more willing and active participant. 

Looking forward, policies and decision-making need to be driven by a vision for the province in which everyone’s needs are met. There’s a path forward in which we learn from history and support our communities, safeguard our natural systems and thrive together. There’s a path forward in which we can trust our government again.

Ultimately it is up to the BC NDP to make a choice: will it choose the status quo, knowing the harm it has already caused or will it learn from history and work across party lines to offer British Columbians what they need?  For my part, I commit to this: my colleague Adam Olsen and I will continue to put forward solutions and hold the government accountable for its actions. We will continue to work with others to understand how we got here, and how we will get somewhere better. 

I’m a historian by training, after all. We’re learning from history, to build a better future – for everyone. • 

Sonia Furstenau is leader of the BC Green Party.