Last Wednesday, I spent much of my day in a helicopter with Andrew Wilkinson, the leader of the BC Liberal Party, and John Martin, MLA for Chilliwack. We flew from the Vancouver airport up the Fraser River, looking from above at the fast-moving, swollen river, and seeing the areas where flooding is already happening. We went all the way to Harrison Lake, and then doubled back to Seabird Island, where we landed.
In the helicopter that landed next to ours were Premier Horgan and Laurie Throness, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent.
Five MLAs from three political parties came together to see what is happening in a region of our province where the people are experiencing great anxiety. We met with Chief Clem Seymour of the Seabird First Nation, and then with Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz and several members of council. We discussed the role the province can play in addressing this challenge of the flooding that has become a regular spring event in this region (and so many others across B.C.), and took a tour of the Emergency Management B.C. warehouse.
This is, I believe, what we should expect from elected officials. As Chief Clem said, “it’s time to get together and work together.” I very much appreciated the perspectives brought by MLAs Throness and Martin, who know the region so well, as well as the clear intentions from both Andrew Wilkinson and John Horgan to put the pressing needs of these communities ahead of any political differences.
When regions of the province are facing significant damage from flooding, while others prepare for the risks of imminent flooding, partisanship cannot be put before service to the people that all of us as elected officials represent. While recovery begins in Grand Forks, people along the Fraser River in the lower mainland are on evacuation alert as the river levels continue to rise.
And generally, politicians do put aside differences and find ways to work together in times like these.
After a year as an MLA, I often find myself wondering why this can’t be more the rule, rather than the exception. There are many examples of when we work across party lines — in our work on various committees, for example — but what I find is that partisanship inevitably creeps in.
Minority governments create the landscape for more cooperation and communication between parties, and for a legislature that can allow for a wider range of ideas to come forward.
On Thursday, a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Andrew Weaver had second reading. A vote was held to move the bill forward to committee stage, taking the next step towards becoming the first opposition Party bill to become law in B.C. The bill would amend the Business Corporations Act to allow companies to incorporate as benefit companies. Benefit companies would choose to pursue social and environmental goals, rather than just profit.
This bill symbolizes not just an approach to business that would recognize those companies that choose to build into their model social and environmental responsibility, it also symbolizes what can happen in a political landscape where good ideas and initiatives are brought forward for debate, regardless of which party brings them.
The Confidence and Supply Agreement is an exercise in two parties finding common values and common ground.
Politics at its best is about creating a vision for the future, and politicians at their best inspire people to get behind that vision.
At its worst, politics is about attacking, tearing down, or berating your party’s opponents, with the ultimate goal of maintaining or achieving power.
But what if we could reframe how we look at politics?
The upcoming referendum on electoral reform will no doubt be polarizing. We can expect there to be much said about what we should fear if the referendum has a positive outcome — and amongst those fears will be the spectre of minority governments.
Minority governments force parties to work together, encourage politicians to focus on their shared values and desired outcomes, and bring more voices and ideas to the decision-making tables. In any other sector — business, education, health, technology — these aspects would be considered positive.
I would argue that in politics, they are not only positive, but necessary. We live in a time when a focus on finding solutions through collaboration and cooperation will be essential if we are to navigate the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
The changes we’re seeing as a result of climate change — floods, fires, droughts, unpredictable weather — are being called the new normal. Maybe it’s time for us to also expect a new normal in politics too.
Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.