Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau column: Collaboration needed to tackle the big problems we face

I worry so deeply about the rifts in our communities that are at risk of growing into chasms

By Sonia Furstenau

Does your heart grieve? My heart grieves a great deal these days.

Grief for the B.C. communities lost to the wildfires, for the people who have no homes, no towns, to return to. Grief for the animals pushed into towns and cities looking for food. Grief for the forests and the trees, the ones lost to fires, the ones struggling to survive the drought, the thousand-year-old ones slated to be cut down.

I feel grief for the more than 1,000 people who have died this year from a poisonous drug supply, for the families and friends coping with infuriating loss.

I feel grief for our world altered by climate change, for the flooded cities, the wind-ravaged coasts, the melting ice, and rising waters.

I feel grief for the absence of a sense of certainty, of predictability. I mourn the loss of believing I knew what to expect from the future.

And I worry so deeply about the rifts in our communities that are at risk of growing into chasms. Eighteen months ago, I don’t think a single one of us could have imagined that healthcare workers in B.C. would be subject to public harassment and violence. I don’t think we could have imagined that people in our communities would think that it’s acceptable to block roads and entrances to hospitals — preventing people who need medical attention from accessing that help. I don’t think any of us could have imagined a news story about a man in an ambulance asking the paramedics, “am I going to die here?” while people banged on the outside of the vehicle that was trying to get into the hospital where he would need life-saving treatment.

We are in a time of overlapping crises, and we are going to need new approaches, new tools, and new maps to navigate this world, so altered by a global pandemic, the growing ravages of climate change, and destabilizing inequality. And while there are some who would rather believe that these are not real threats, we as elected leaders have a deep and burdensome responsibility to recognize the evidence, and to act accordingly.

Let’s consider what we truly need from our elected representatives, regardless of which party banner they run under.

We need collaboration. The best decisions are made when there are different perspectives informing those decisions, and so instead of treating our legislatures and federal parliament as combat zones, let’s spend more time sitting at the table together, working from a place of service to our communities and the future. There are avenues to achieve this that exist today, including parliamentary committees, but the urgency of the crises means that we need to think beyond what already exists and consider how we can most effectively work together.

Provincially, the BC Greens have proposed that the BC NDP government strike a special all-party committee for an all-party response to the drug poisoning crisis, so that we can build consensus and unity in tackling this relentless and deadly emergency.

In the wake of the uncovering of unmarked graves at multiple residential school sites this year, the two opposition parties have recommended that the government strike the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.

We should also be focused on collaboration when it comes to climate change, and the steps we need to take in this province to both protect the biodiversity that remains, and ensure that our ecosystems and our communities are resilient.

The work that could be done by all parties in the B.C. Legislature is work that will build consensus, be more reflective of the diversity and different perspectives of a wider range of British Columbians, and that would ultimately be more likely to outlast any one government’s mandate, because it would reflect the efforts and input of all parties.

In this time of overlapping crises, the very least we should be doing in our houses of government is recognizing that we have to rise to the challenges of these times, and pull ourselves out of the deep trenches created by too much partisanship and too little collaboration.

I will continue to advocate for this approach, and as a caucus, we will continue to focus on offering constructive feedback and solutions in our role as an opposition party in the B.C. Legislature. Working together, with service and shared purpose as guides, is the antidote to grief.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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