Sonia Furstenau column: Now the time to make changes for the better

This coronavirus has given us opportunity to identify what matters most in our day-to-day lives.

By Sonia Furstenau

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 arrived in our province, I met with a members of the Public Health Association of BC to hear from them about the most pressing public health issues of the day.

During that enlightening discussion I recognized that everything that matters in a functioning society, and everything that motivates me in my work — like a reliable supply of potable drinking water for all communities, public education in all its forms, food security, world-class public transportation, financial stability, environmental health, and trusted health services — sits under the umbrella of public health. I didn’t know then that COVID-19 would put this theory to the test, but this coronavirus has made it crystal clear: public health must be the lens through which all governments make policy decisions.

For example, last week, the B.C. government published a report from its Emerging Economy Task Force. The report’s strategic priorities read like the BC Green Party’s platform in 2017: embracing innovation, leveraging B.C.’s green economy, building a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, ensuring an effective ecosystem, and demonstrating public sector leadership. These priorities shine even more brightly when you consider how, when viewed through the public health lens, they would help us weather another pandemic like COVID-19.

As an MLA, my time is divided between advocating for practical solutions for today and envisioning aspirational solutions for the future. Working with the BC Green Caucus staff at the legislature, we have identified the types of actions the provincial government needs to take now if we are to move forward with policies that build on the lessons we have learned these past few months. One example is local job creation. We are identifying jobs that are relevant to communities of all sizes, and matched to existing skill sets and workforces, and have long-term benefits to social and environmental challenges in the community. Retrofitting homes and buildings, for example, would create job opportunities matched with beneficial outcomes.

This coronavirus has given us an opportunity to identify what matters most to us in our day-to-day lives. When I envision the next decade and next generation, I look for ways to make what matters most to us become common, ordinary, and expected. How can we get more time with the people we love? A four day work week. How can we help our family and friends work in community instead of away? By prioritizing small and medium-sized businesses. How can we build on the environmental benefits this great pause has offered Mother Earth? We give communities decision-making power over their natural resources. How can we build on all the innovation we have witnessed in the accommodation of COVID-19? Leaders must listen to scientists and experts, and make evidence-based decisions, as Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister Adrian Dix have demonstrated so well.

This is the time to consider how to make these solutions a reality because while they might have once seemed aspirational, now, from a public health perspective, they have become a matter of urgency.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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