Today I was afforded the opportunity to address delegates at the 69th annual convention of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities. As noted on their website:
“The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) is the longest established area association under the umbrella of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM). The area association was established in 1950. It now has a membership of 53 municipalities and regional districts that stretches from the North Coast Regional District down to the tip of Vancouver Island and includes Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, the Central Coast and the North Coast. The Association deals with issues and concerns that affect large urban areas to small rural communities.“
Below I reproduce the text of my speech.
I am delighted to be here this morning with all of you – and I think we share an essential trait as politicians, even if we are not always aligned in policy or vision.
Each of you, I expect, can identify the issue or the passion that motivated you to run for local government. It may have been an environmental issue, as it was for my colleague Sonia Furstenau, or it may have been a desire to see a project in your community to move forward.
And it is passionate leadership at the local government level that sees so much positive change come forward in our province.
Look at the Town of Gibsons – the first in North America to pass a natural asset management policy, showing extraordinary leadership in recognizing the indisputable logic of including natural assets in financial planning.
In Cowichan there is the Cowichan Watershed Board, laying the foundation for watershed co-governance with First Nations, and taking tangible, necessary steps toward reconciliation in the process.
Recognizing that healthy and happy communities – as Charles Montgomery so eloquently points out – have social connection and collaboration in their fibre, Oceanside and Mt. Waddington’s Health Networks are models for bringing people together to create long-term positive health outcomes.
It was my own commitment to action on climate that motivated me to run for MLA in 2013, after I had seen our province go from a climate leader under Gordon Campbell to a climate laggard under Christy Clark.
As a climate scientist, I had long encouraged my students to engage with decision makers – or become decision-makers themselves – if they wanted to see politicians take action on climate. I realized that I too had a responsibility to participate in the building of political will to act on climate – not as a voice of doom, but as a voice for the extraordinary possibility and opportunities that lie before us in this challenging time.
So much of the conversation around climate and the transition away from a fossil-fuel economy is backward-looking, focusing on the economy of the 20th-century.
Look at the hysteria and rhetoric around the kinder morgan expansion – the shocking doubling-down on a pipeline that would export heavy oil – diluted bitumen – out of Vancouver. In every way, this is the wrong direction for our economy, our environment, our relationship with First Nations, and our climate.
Now take the potential that lies in new technology and innovation. Shell has recently announced that it has the technology to extract vanadium from bitumen, and use the vanadium to build steel that can be used to manufacture battery cells that have the capacity to store energy.
Consider that potential! Rather than dumping yet another raw resource as quickly as we can into foreign markets that reap the rewards of jobs and revenue as they process it into a usable and far more valuable commodity, we could be looking at using this resource to develop and support steel manufacturing, innovative energy storage technology, and the renewable energy sector.
We could massively increase the return to our citizens and our economy, and we could be actively building the future energy systems that will sustain our children and grandchildren.
We sell ourselves short by looking backwards – when transformation and innovation are happening more and more rapidly, it is the worst possible time for us as a province or a nation to double down on the ever decreasing returns in a race to the bottom of early 20th-century economics.
And it’s smaller communities – like the ones that many of you represent – that could benefit immensely from the emerging economy that’s rooted in education and driven by innovation and technology.
Consider the potential of Terrace as a centre for manufacturing – we as a province should be reaching out to Elon Musk and encouraging him to see the potential benefits of a Tesla plant or battery manufacturing plant in Terrace, where shipments to Asia are easily accessible through Prince Rupert’s port, and shipments to Chicago are at the end of a rail line that runs straight through Terrace.
Here on the island, Victoria has already earned the moniker “Techtoria” – and the Cowichan Valley is situated perfectly to be the next destination region for an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds.
BC’s own digital technology supercluster was recently awarded $1.4 billion in federal funding – an investment that is expected to produce 50,000 jobs and add $15 billion to BC’s economy over the next ten years.
And the work being done will make the lives of British Columbians better – including creating a health and genetic platform that will allow medical specialists to create custom, leading-edge cancer treatments that are personalized to the unique genetic makeup of each patient.
This work – hi-tech innovation, research, education – this work can happen anywhere in our increasingly connected world. It’s the connectivity highways that we should be investing in – these will allow all communities to reap the rewards of the 21st-century economy.
At a reception for the BC Tech Association last week, I met Stacie Wallin. Her job is to nurture tech companies that have hit the 1 million dollar level in revenue to scale up to the 25 million dollar level.
And she is so busy that she has nearly a dozen people working with her to keep up with the work that’s coming her way. When pipelines and LNG plants crowd out our conversations about BC’s and Canada’s economy, we miss what’s actually happening – the exciting, innovative, emerging economy that is reshaping our communities.
And there’s so much more. The film industry, tourism, education, professional services, value-added forestry, innovation in mining, renewable energy – our potential in this beautiful province is as boundless as our stunning scenery – and squandering time and energy to prop up sunset industries is the wrong place to be putting our precious efforts and money.
And if governments double down on 20th-century carbon-based economics, it’s your communities that feel the impacts and pay the prices.
Floods, droughts, wildfires, damage from increasingly punishing storms, sea level rise & storm sureges – all of these cost your communities, and your citizens, more and more money.
Communities are hit with the costs of building infrastructure to prevent flooding during the melt season, at the same time as having to determine how to deal with depleted aquifers that won’t be able to sustain the residents who depend on them for drinking water, and another drought this summer will once again put Vancouver Island at severe risk for wildfires.
The impacts of climate change will continue to put severe pressures on all our communities – which is why it’s utterly irresponsible for our provincial government to be considering a 6 billion dollar subsidy of the LNG industry – including letting LNG Canada off the hook for paying their fair share of carbon pricing.
Consider that fact alone – that the potential single greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in BC would only ever have to pay $30/tonne for its carbon pollution, while the rest of us, including industry, will see carbon pricing rise by $5/tonne each year.
This is an unacceptable logic, and one that we can’t possibly support – and I urge you, as the elected representatives who will be seeing the costs and consequences of climate change in your communities – I urge you to also encourage this government to recognize that giving massive tax breaks to the LNG industry because it isn’t economically viable is not the direction BC should be heading right now.
Consider an alternative. Why not invest in the Squamish Clean Technology Association (SCTA) created to seek out leading edge ventures that will help create an innovation hub focused on clean energy. We could attract the best and brightest minds to come to BC to figure out how to harness the renewable energy that abounds in our province while encouraging the innovation that our world needs most right now.
In response to a question from the audience on Friday about how to get municipal staff to think beyond their standard frames of reference, I understand that Charles Montgomery pointed to new models for civic design, and suggested that politicians may need to “drag them kicking and screaming” into the 21st century.
This also applies to many of our provincial and federal representatives, who may say that they recognize our need to transition to the new economy, but then try to convince us that the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions … is to increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Doubling down with doublespeak – let’s not let this become a new Canadian tradition.
We need our provincial and federal politics to reflect the best of what we see at the local government level.
Informed discussion and debate, listening to people who present differing opinions, allowing for compromise as a path forward, working from a place of shared values and finding solutions that best reflect those values.
And while it may not always feel this way at your council and board tables, the reality is that your level of government is one that is generally far less driven by partisanship and ideology.
We have an extraordinary opportunity to bring our electoral system into the 21st century in BC with the referendum that is happening this fall. And while there will be many discussions on both sides of this debate over the next several months, it’s essential to begin with what are we trying to solve with electoral reform in BC.
Currently, under First Past the Post, elections are geared towards a “winner take all” outcome. And that winner almost never has the support of the majority of the voters.
40% is often the magic number.
40% of the popular vote in BC can generally deliver to one party a majority of seats in the legislature, and 100% of the power for 4 years.
Informed discussion and debate, listening to differing opinions, compromise, collaboration, finding common ground based on shared values – that’s completely unnecessary when your party has enough votes to ram through any legislation and any agenda you like.
Compare this to almost any other human endeavour, where collaboration, cooperation, and respect deliver the outcomes that have moved us forward throughout history.
Yes – let’s compete to bring forward the best ideas, the boldest visions – but let’s not make competition the only value that underpins politics.
Charles Montgomery points out that the infrastructure of our cities and our communities can be a source for unhappiness, through creating mistrust, a sense of disconnect, and a lack of sociability.
It seems that our political infrastructure – and in particular a first past the post system that delivers 100% of the power with a minority of the votes – can also create mistrust, lack of sociability, and unhappiness. In our winner take all system, inflicting knock out blows to the other side becomes a normal part of our politics – but how much does this damage our governance?
How many good ideas, brought forward by opposition MLAs or MPs have died sad deaths on the order papers under a majority government that can’t be seen to work across party lines?
Electoral reform – particularly electoral reform that would bring in a form of proportional representation – would deliver more minority governments to BC.
And some may try to convince you that’s a terrible thing – but I ask, is working across party lines a terrible thing? Is collaboration on policies and legislation a terrible thing? Is having more minds engaged on solving problems a terrible thing?
Or could this change in our electoral infrastructure actually bring us politics that contribute to more sociability – the one factor that Charles Montgomery said was paramount to our happiness.
Premier Horgan mentioned in his address that there has been conflict between our two parties.
There has indeed – and the media will always focus on these points of tension – but if you look at how much legislation was passed in the fall, how many initiatives have moved forward over the past nine months and then consider the ratio of collaboration to conflict, you’ll recognize that – much like at your own council tables – when you work from a place of shared values, it’s possible to almost always find a path forward.
Our current electoral model has its origins in the Middle Ages, and it has undergone significant change over the centuries.
It was only 100 years ago that women were given the right to vote in BC, and as we discuss and debate extending that right to 16 and 17 year olds, let us remember that the world around us changes continuously, and it’s up to us to ensure our institutions – particularly our democratic institutions – adapt to meet the needs of our society.
Happy cities, happy communities, happy politics. Let’s dream big.