Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau column: COVID-19 requires humility from government

Governing during a crisis is an unenviable task.

By Sonia Furstenau

My thoughts keep returning to trust these days.

It’s the essential connection between government and people, and it’s all the more important during a crisis. In the first wave of COVID-19 in B.C., there was an exceptional level of collaboration across party lines, and a great deal of communication with the public. Remember the Facebook town halls with MLAs and local health officers? Remember the daily briefings from the health minister and Dr. Henry?

Things have shifted since the fall, when we went to an election just as the second wave of the pandemic was building. We now have less collaboration, fewer press conferences, and fewer opportunities for questions to be asked of the government on the record. Since the legislature adjourned at the end of June, we’ve had only two weeks of legislative session. The spring session, which should be starting now, has been delayed until March 1. Over the eight months between the beginning of July and the end of February, there will have been only seven days during which there was a question period in B.C.

Governing during a crisis is an unenviable task. It requires levels of nimbleness, flexibility, responsiveness, and transparency that are unusual for governments and bureaucracies. I have a huge amount of empathy and compassion for everyone — from the premier to ministry staff — who is involved in the day-to-day decision-making that has to happen, while the landscape shifts relentlessly.

We all have to be asking ourselves: how can we be doing better? We need a mindset that does not act from a place of defending past decisions, but looks to find ways to improve future decisions by recognizing that none of us is perfect in our decision-making, particularly in the midst of an ongoing crisis.

What we need more of from government is a habit of humility. COVID-19 has been humbling for all of us. It shone a light on so many issues and challenges that need our attention, from inequality and systemic racism to the inadequacies of our own manufacturing sector. Being in government doesn’t mean that you have all the answers; it means that you are responsible for continuously asking hard questions, and relentlessly assesses how to improve, recognizing that we’re all going to make mistakes.

Perhaps most importantly, it means recognizing that all of the decisions made today shape the future, for better or worse. Our recovery from COVID-19 must include planning how we will avert the next crises: the climate emergency, worsening inequality, the growing need for mental health supports. I will continue to approach my work always thinking about the future we need to be building for our children and their children. I will always be coming back to the debt that we owe to them. I hope that all my colleagues in the B.C. Legislature will also keep this debt front of mind over the next months and years, because the decisions made today will have repercussions for generations to come.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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