Sonia Furstenau column: Proud of moving forward important issues over the last year

During the announcement, I reflected on the role my office played

By Sonia Furstenau

In December, we celebrated a long-awaited funding announcement: Cowichan High School will be replaced by a new school, which will be built next door to Vancouver Island University. Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement at the Cowichan High School gym, packed with students, teachers, administrators, and parents. It was an emotional moment for so many people in our community who have dedicated their time for many, many years advocating to replace our aging school.

During the announcement, I reflected on the role my constituency office and the BC Green caucus staff played in this and other significant announcements or events that have taken place since the provincial election in 2017: funding for the Cowichan weir engineering study, the new hospital, child care, hospice, housing, and others.

Just after the election, my assistant Maeve Maguire and I sat down together and brainstormed a list of goals we wanted to help achieve in Cowichan this term. We identified who were the local stakeholders for each of these issues, and how we could help amplify the need at the provincial level. I found our brainstorming lists a little while ago and was excited to see that each issue we identified two years ago has moved along, some more than others.

Reviewing those goals reinforced how effective this community can be when it works together. All those years that parents, teachers, school administrators, and local governments advocated for a new high school gave me the tools I needed to lobby the Minister of Education. The work the CVRD did in saving money for the new hospital made it easier for me to show the health minister that our community was committed to the project. The work the Cowichan Watershed Board did to make its case for raising the weir made it possible for me to ask multiple ministers to meet with board members many times on this issue – and their work subsequently qualified the CVRD for the BC Salmon Restoration Innovation Fund.

There are still issues that need work: homelessness, the opioid crisis, public transportation, emergency preparedness, and an overrepresentation of children in government care, among others. Finding solutions and funding for social change is a challenge. In some of these cases, the crisis moves faster than any solution we can collectively offer. However, I am heartened by the work community members are doing to try to solve these problems.

For example, the Q’ushin’tul project was a four-month research effort lead by Mal Joe and Jenny George, two Cowichan women who along with their team of researchers are working to improve outcomes for Cowichan families whose children are in government care. The project came out of a working group that my office initiated after hearing about an infant being removed at Cowichan Hospital in early 2018. We held the working group meetings to figure out how we could make change, and these community members took the lead in the research. That report now gives us the tool we need to amplify the issue to government and seek funding options for new programs.

Everyone in this community has a role to play as we work towards improved well being for all. I remain committed to moving the issues along in whatever way I can, and if we remain focused on finding better outcomes together, I believe anything is possible.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.


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