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Outrageous responses to simple questions about open net fish farms on BC coast

The BC Green Caucus is the midst of a series of questions prioritizing wild salmon and steelhead in BC. Today in question period I rose to ask the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development about the government’s plans to address the ongoing issue of open net fish farms in the migratory paths of west coast salmon. Mounting evidence is linking disease transmission between farmed and wild salmon which is jeopardizing the health of coastal stocks.

It’s not as if alternatives don’t already exist. Just last month a Norwegian aquaculture company announced a major investment in Ireland. Their solution involved the construction of a massive land-based salmon farm. Closer to home, the fully ‘Namgis First Nation owned company Kuterra is already farming Atlantic salmon on Vancouver Island.

This question period exchange with the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development provides one of the worst responses I’ve got in my five years in the BC Legislature. I ask a simple question about fish farm licenses. I received gobbledygook as an answer not once, but twice.

Below I reproduce both the video and text of the exchange.

Video of Exchange


A. Weaver: I am so sorely tempted to ask about that dinner on Bowen Island, but I’ll digress. I’d rather ask this.


A. Weaver: No, I wasn’t there.

Mr. Speaker: Members, if we could get to the question.

A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.

Under previous governments, open-net fish farms were approved within First Nation territories without adequate consultation or consent, yet our present government claims it’s committed to reconciliation. In Alert Bay, the ‘Namgis Nation have lost their once prolific salmon runs. They desperately want fish farms removed from their waters. They’ve been occupying Marine Harvest fish farms since August.

The Swanson fish farm is currently empty, and its tenure is up for review this spring. Yesterday we received notice from the ‘Namgis Nation that they believe that Marine Harvest has made final preparations to restock the Swanson farm. The fish food has been delivered, they say, and the bird [nets] are now in place. They believe that the restock could happen as early as today.

My question to the Minister of Agriculture is this. If Marine Harvest is pumping new smolts into those pens, how will that impact the government’s assessment of their tenure status come June?


Hon. D. Donaldson: Wild salmon are a fundamental part of who we are in B.C., socially, economically, environmentally, First Nations and non–First Nations alike. I know that the member knows that the old government oversaw declining salmon stocks along our coast, and instead of responding to concerns about fish farms, they pushed the issue aside.

Our government is committed to protecting wild salmon and the nearly 10,000 great jobs that depend on those stocks. We’re working with First Nations, building a new relationship based on partnership and respect. And we’ve started a path forward with First Nations.

The Leader of the Third Party mentions the ‘Namgis First Nation. On January 30, four cabinet ministers had an extensive meeting with the five First Nations who have the most interest in the fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. It was a good meeting, with good dialogue. It was based on the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples’ principles. We’re planning a follow-up meeting based on a mutually agreed-upon process in a government-to-government manner.

Supplementary Question

A. Weaver: Now, I recognize that this is not answer period, but that was so far from the question I’d actually posed. I would have thought we’d get some semblance of a response to a very important issue.

You know, when we reviewed correspondence between DFO and the B.C. government with respect to the steelhead issue that my colleague raised yesterday and the day before, it was clear that nobody knows who’s on first base with respect to dealing with salmon in British Columbia. And that answer, hon. Speaker — we deserve much better in this House.

Alert Bay isn’t the only community where people are worried about open-net fish farms. It’s widely recognized as being a key issue within the web of threats facing our wild salmon populations. We’re beginning to see other jurisdictions, like Washington state, take steps. Legislation, unfortunately, didn’t pass but was tabled to actually ban new salmon farms and issuing of new licences in Washington state.

The B.C. NDP have explicitly said keeping farm sites out of important salmon migration routes is critical. In fact, the member for North Island made a promise to the ‘Namgis Nation where she reiterated, in the nation’s big house, that the main reasons they should vote B.C. NDP in the last election was to ensure that the fish farms got out of the wild migratory routes of sockeye salmon.

My question to the Minister of Agriculture, who actually grants the tenures, not the Minister of FLNRO….


A. Weaver: It is FLNRO? Okay, we’ll do FLNRO. I thank the former minister. Maybe my question should be to the former Minister of Agriculture.

The minister has the Advisory Council on Finfish Aquaculture report. When will the government remove farm sites from the wild migration routes of salmon that they promised they would do and that they told British Columbians they needed to elect them to ensure this would happen?


Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you, I suppose, for that lengthy question. I’ll address the overall issue. The overall issue is that we’re proceeding with a shared decision-making process with the five First Nations — not just one First Nation; with the five First Nations — who are concerned about fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. That shared decision-making process incorporates the principle of consent and a government-to-government approach. That’s the way that we’ll be proceeding.

To unilaterally make a declaration in this chamber around the concerns of one First Nation is not the way this government proceeds. We proceed in partnership with First Nations involving discussions from the start, and that’s the way that we’ll get to reconciliation in this province.


Previous Salmon and Steelhead Question



A. Olsen: The Interior Fraser steelhead are in crisis. Last October I sent letters to FLNRO, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Ministry of Environment asking for information about what was being done and how we could be of help.

Despite knowledge that the letter was circulating amongst external government contacts, I never got a response. Since then, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada initiated a seldom-used fast-track process and concluded that two populations of steelhead trout breeding in the Thompson and Chilcotin river systems in B.C. are at imminent risk of extinction.

I’m going to ask again. The Thompson should have a run of steelhead of 10,000. This year it had 177. The Chilcotin should have had a run of 5,000. Instead, there were 58. I am gravely concerned about the future of the Interior Fraser steelhead stocks. To whichever minister is going to take the lead in this emergency, can you please clarify what is being done on this urgent issue?


Hon. D. Donaldson: I appreciate and welcome the question from the member. Any time we can talk about steelhead or wild salmon in this chamber, it’s an important day to be remembered.

Yes, the precipitous decline of the Interior Fraser steelhead populations is on record. It was as many as 2,500 spawners returned in 2007. This year, 235. There was a lack of focus by the previous government on wild salmon and steelhead and a lack of action by the previous federal government on steelhead and wild salmon in B.C. We need to maintain the distinct genetic stock and be aware of environmental impacts, concerns from First Nations and nearly 10,000 good jobs that depend on the salmon fishery.

We’re pleased to hear about the federal changes to the federal Fisheries Act and the support for habitat restoration that’s needed in B.C. We are taking the lead through my ministry in making sure that the federal government’s feet are held to the fire. The commercial bycatch in the Fraser is of utmost concern to us. I know I’ve talked to the member about this, that we’re making every representation we can to the federal government to correct that.

Again, we welcome the changes in the federal Fisheries Act that will help us address the habitat concerns as well.

Supplementary Question

A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for the response, but two ancient steelhead runs are facing imminent extinction under the watch of this government.

As you well know, steelhead returned to the Fraser at the same time as DFO was opening gillnet fisheries for chum salmon. B.C. steelhead experts estimate that 50 percent of the Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead are accidentally caught by these nets as they try to swim upstream to spawn. We are down to dozens of steelhead, with no capacity to lose more, but our government continues to support the gillnet fishery, with the Ministry of Agriculture awarding the chum fishery a marine stewardship certification, promoting it as sustainable to the world.

My question again: will the minister initiate an immediate provincial protection and recovery action plan to save this endangered species, starting by pulling the chum gillnet fishery’s MSE sustainable listing?


Hon. D. Donaldson: On the overall issue, I certainly don’t want to be part of a situation where we fight over the last Interior Fraser steelhead in the system. I don’t think any member in this Legislature would want to be part of that.We’re consulting on the last remaining recreational fisheries, where Interior Fraser steelhead are incidentally caught as a bycatch. As you know, there is no more recreational fishing of the steelhead and no more catch and release for that particular species.

We’re working with DFO to identify higher-risk commercial and First Nations net fisheries impacting the Interior Fraser steelhead, exactly as the member pointed out. We’re working with DFO. It’s a DFO jurisdiction on the gillnet fishery, and we’re working on that. And we’re consulting with Interior First Nations on the potential closing of Interior Fraser food and commercial fisheries in light of the conservation issue.

I met just recently with the five chiefs of the Nicola Valley bands on this issue, on Friday, as well as with the B.C. Wildlife Federation. The long-term goal is to ensure that those steelhead return in the years to come.




A. Olsen: Last week I asked if government would retract the chum gillnet fisheries’ Marine Stewardship certification before the Thompson and Chilcotin River steelhead go extinct. In response, the Minister of FLNRO said: “It’s DFO’s jurisdiction on the gillnet fishery, and we’re working on that.”

The minister isn’t wrong, but he didn’t answer the question. Steelhead’s fall return coincides with the chum salmon gillnet fishery, which, as the minister pointed out, is managed by DFO. As steelhead are managed by the province and swim upstream to spawn, they are getting caught and killed by the chum fisheries’ nets. It is happening at such a significant rate that the COSEWIC extinction listing says it’s one of the greatest threats facing steelhead survival, yet it’s a practice the province is going out of its way to certify and advertise as sustainable.

The chum salmon gillnet fishery, in and of itself, may be sustainable, but the impact it is having on the endangered steelhead is not. This time I direct my question to the Minister of Agriculture: will you pull the chum gillnet fishery MSC sustainability listing, given the significant impact it’s having on steelhead?


Hon. D. Donaldson: Once again I welcome the question regarding steelhead. The Interior Fraser steelhead run is of grave concern to members on this side of the House, as I believe it is to all members in this chamber who do not want to see the extirpation, the extinction, of a couple of runs of steelhead in the Fraser system and all it means about biodiversity.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, pointed out that poor marine survival and excessive bycatch in non-target fisheries under the jurisdiction of DFO — Department of Fisheries and Oceans — is the major cause for the loss that we’re seeing and the decline in this species.

We know that the federal government has routinely ignored the bycatch issue. We know that former the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who was supported by the former Premier, Christy Clark, and many members on that side who are members and support the federal Conservatives, did nothing to represent B.C.’s interest when it comes to steelhead in the Interior Fraser system.

We are working, helping the federal….


Mr. Speaker: Members.

Hon. D. Donaldson: We’re working with the federal government to formulate their fishing plans to mitigate the bycatch. When it comes to the Marine Stewardship Council, we are having input and working with the federal government on that. We don’t have the ability to pull Marine Stewardship Council certification. They’re an independent, non-profit society.

Supplementary Question

A. Olsen: I’m guessing that while the steelhead go to near extinction or get extirpated, we are going to be calling the chum fishery certifiably marine sustainable — while another species goes near extinction.

I did receive the letter, a response, from the Minister of FLNRO — we tracked it down; it was a constituency in-box — and in which, he said: “Accountabilities for fisheries- and ocean-related issues and initiatives are distributed across the provincial government. Several agencies play a lead role in delivering key aspects of this work, including FLNRO; Ministry of Agriculture; Ministry of Environment; Ministry of Indigenous Relations; Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.”

The list is long. Perhaps this is why while one ministry says bycatch is a leading threat, another is saying it’s sustainable.

My question to the Minister of FLNRO is how can six ministries in addition to DFO play a lead role in managing this crisis?


Hon. D. Donaldson: Well, yes. Many ministries under provincial jurisdiction play a role. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture has concerns about runoff from farms that impact the waters that these steelhead spawn in. The Minister of the Environment has jurisdiction over pollutants in those waters. My ministry has many tools at their disposal when it comes to the sport fishery.

What I want the member to know: I clearly do not believe that the MSC certification should apply to the chum fishery in relation to this steelhead return. That’s the department of Fisheries and Oceans’ responsibility. We will make sure that our views are well known to the federal government — as well as taking measures on habitat conservation and restoration that are within the jurisdiction of the provincial government.




Welcoming provincial measures to support B.C. wines

On February 10, the BC Green caucus called on the BC Government to take steps to promote the BC wine industry in light of Alberta’s recent petty announcement that it was initiating a boycott.

We are delighted that the BC Government today announced a number of measures to support and promote the BC Wine Industry.

Below is the media release we issued in response to this announcement.

Media Release

B.C. Green Caucus welcomes provincial measures to support B.C. wines
For immediate release
February 14, 2018

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, welcomed the government’s measures to support the B.C. wine industry. Weaver previously called for a number of the same measures on February 10.

“I am glad that our government is standing up for this signature B.C. industry,” said Weaver.

“We called for a number of these measures last week because our wine industry represents the exact type of business we should be championing in this province. B.C.’s wineries are innovative, homegrown businesses that generate significant economic activity for communities across the province. After seeing the previous government relentlessly chase economically unviable sunset industries like LNG, it is frankly refreshing to see our government focus on sustainable local businesses.”

“I had the opportunity to meet with a number of Okanagan wineries over the past couple weeks. We have heard many exciting ideas about how we can better support them. Smaller wineries in particular benefit from a focus on tourism that brings people to B.C. We will continue to push for measures that will help B.C. wineries of all sizes thrive.”

Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for Agriculture, added, “I am delighted that Minister Popham is stepping up to support B.C wine. B.C.’s wine industry generates $2 billion worth of economic activity and they’re growing: between 2003 and 2016, the number of B.C. wineries increased from 81 to to 273. We are only seeing the beginning of the success for this incredible industry.”


Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

B.C. Greens call for Government support of B.C. Wine industry

Today we issued a media release calling on the BC Government to promote the BC wine industry in light of Alberta’s recent petty announcement that it was initiating a boycott. I reproduce our media release below.

On a slightly different note, readers who might think that the BC Liberals were good for the BC Wine industry might wish to think again. Their mismanagement of the BC Wine Institute VQA specialty licenses has led to NAFTA and WTO challenges by the US and Australia, respectively.

There was no need to create new licenses as the existing ones had already been grandparented in. There would have been no grounds for challenges if they had simply left things alone.

I warned the BC Liberals in 2015 that this was likely going to happen. Unfortunately this is now yet another mess created by the BC Liberals that has to be cleaned up.

Media Release

B.C. Greens call for Government support of B.C. Wine industry
For immediate release
February 10, 2018

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party today called for the B.C. government to take immediate mitigation steps to help provide support for B.C. wineries.

“B.C.’s wine industry is a provincial treasure that brings significant tourism and economic activity to our province,” Weaver said.

“More than that, it represents the best of our province – innovators who have developed their businesses into an internationally renowned region. Today we are calling for the provincial government to take decisive action to support these businesses who have been unfairly targeted by a neighbouring government.”

Specific mitigation measures currently supported by the B.C. Greens include:

  • Launch a “Drink Local” program to encourage British Columbians to buy wine from BC wineries, including a promotional campaign in BC Liquor Stores and a province wide advertising campaign to encourage the purchase of 100% BC craft alcohol.
  • Explore whether wholesale prices could be provided to licensed restaurants to encourage the purchase and promotion of wine for BC wineries.
  • Provide funding to increase BC VQA export sales in other Canadian provinces and to international markets.

“The B.C. Green Caucus is 100% behind the government’s decision to ensure that major decisions are based on sound evidence – something that was not the case in the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It is incredibly petty that the Alberta NDP government has chosen to go after small business in B.C. in response and we hope all British Columbians will we stand with us in support of our coastline and in support of our wineries.”


Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

Sonia Furstenau presses Premier on wild salmon habitat protection

Today in the legislature my colleague, Sonia Furstenau, expanded upon our efforts in Question Period to pressure the BC Government to get open net fish farms out of the migratory paths of wild salmon. Below I reproduce her exchange with the Premier as well as our accompanying press release.

Video of Exchange

Media Release

Sonia Furstenau presses Premier on wild salmon habitat protection
For immediate release
October 17, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley, pressed Premier Horgan on his government’s plans to protect wild salmon habitat in B.C. during question period today.

“Wild salmon are tremendously important to Northern and coastal communities, said Furstenau.

“Wild salmon in the Skeena River alone generate $110 million per year, and our sport fishing industry is produces revenues of $925 million and 8,400 direct jobs. But in 2009, the decline in the wild salmon run in the Fraser River was so severe it was classified as a catastrophic collapse. This year, salmon levels in the Fraser are approaching those same levels.

“Protecting our wild salmon stocks will require significant investment in habitat restoration. Will the Premier commit to meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau to advocate for the protection of our wild salmon stocks and to establish a joint provincial-federal strategy to phase out fish farms on migratory routes?”

The Premier responded that his government is committed to protecting B.C. wild salmon stocks, and that he will work with all levels of government and Indigenous leaders to ensure their protection.

As part of their role in opposition, the B.C. Green caucus members will continue to hold the government to account on its commitment to protect B.C.’s wild salmon, including its promise to phase out salmon farms along wild salmon migratory routes.


Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

Jillian Oliver
Press Secretary
BC Green caucus
c. 778-650-0597
o. 250-387-3094
e. jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca


S. Furstenau: Wild salmon are tremendously important to coastal and northern communities. As the mayor of Smithers states: “It’s a wild salmon economy here.” The Skeena River alone generates up to $110 million per year, while sports fishing in B.C. produced revenues of $925 million, contributing $325 million to B.C.’s GDP and 8,400 direct jobs.

In a 2013 article, the MLA from Stikine valley, now the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Northern Development, was quoted, saying “wild salmon habitat deserves local, regional, provincial, national and global protection because there is nothing like it remaining in the world.”

My question is to the Premier. Saving B.C.’s wild salmon will require a massive investment in habitat restoration. Is your government prepared to make this investment, particularly given the crucial role that wild salmon plays in B.C.’s economy?


Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for her question. We had some questions yesterday around salmon in British Columbia, and I’m delighted to focus on wild salmon, wild pacific salmon, which are the lifeblood of many communities, as the member said.

In my own community of Langford–Juan de Fuca, fishing in Sooke and Port Renfrew is a vital part of the economy that we see, certainly, during the summer. I had the good fortune of being on the San Juan River with the Pacheedaht First Nation to observe their food fishery, not seven days ago. The power of salmon is in all of us, and I think that every member of this House would agree.

With respect to the question about salmon restoration, certainly, upstream is the responsibility of the provincial government. We need to make sure that we are rehabilitating streams after logging practices — some good, some bad. But we also have to make sure that we’re working with partners.

The member for Skeena raised some questions yesterday with respect to Indigenous people and what their relationship is with salmon. We need to make sure the federal government is at the table with dollars to make sure that they’re meeting their obligations as well.

I’d also say that I think all members, if you’re not aware of the important salmon enhancement work that’s being done up and down the coast to bring more salmon into play, not just for food fishery, not just for commercial and sport fisheries but for orcas and other mammals that depend on the salmon….

I think that we can all do well, when the estimates for the member for Stikine and the minister responsible for Agriculture come up, to embrace and support the notion of salmon enhancement and making sure that we’re doing restoration in our streambeds.

Supplemental Question

S. Furstenau: In 2009, the Fraser River sockeye return was so low, it was regarded as a catastrophic collapse. The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River was launched. Three years later it produced 75 recommendations on how we could restore and protect wild salmon. At the time, Justice Cohen stated: “salmon farms should not be permitted to operate unless it is clear they pose no more than a minimal risk to the Fraser River sockeye salmon.”

This year the Fraser River sockeye are returning at nearly the same catastrophically low levels as in 2009. We are in an emergency. My question is to the Premier.

I appreciate you recognizing the need to work with the federal government.

Will the Premier meet with Prime Minister Trudeau to actively advocate for B.C.’s wild salmon and establish a coordinated, provincial-federal strategy to responsibly phase out open-net fish farms on migratory routes?


Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member again for her question.

The Minister of Agriculture met with the Minister of Fisheries just last week to raise the issues of open-net-pen fish farms in migratory routes, which is counter to the recommendations of Cohen.

Cohen has been endorsed, I believe, by the members on the other side as well as the current federal government and the government of the day here in British Columbia. It’s my view that we need to make sure that we’re working with all of the stakeholders, as articulated by the member for Skeena yesterday.

This issue didn’t arrive yesterday. The member has given us an historical note back to 2009 and the beginning of the Cohen investigation. But we’ve had challenges with wild fish and the integration with Atlantics, or invasive species in the minds of some, for some 25 to 30 years.

This issue will not solved be overnight. But I commit to this member and all members of this House and all British Columbians that wild salmon are paramount on this side and, I believe, throughout this Legislature. I’m going to do my level best to work with every level of government and all Indigenous people to protect wild salmon.

Reintroducing a Bill to Protect British Columbia’s Farmland

Today in the legislature I introduced Bill M202 – Property Law Amendment Act, 2017. I had previously introduced this Bill in February, 2017 during the 6th sesison of the 40th parliament. Its purpose is to ensure that farmland in British Columbia is safeguarded from real estate speculation using foreign capital. In addition, it is important to ensure that British Columbia’s future food security is protected.

Below I reproduce the text and video of the introduction along with our accompanying media release.

Text of Introduction

A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Property Law Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Mr. Speaker: Please proceed.

A. Weaver: I’m pleased to introduce a bill intituled the Property Law Amendment Act, 2017. This bill amends the existing Property Law Act to ensure that land held within the agricultural land reserve is protected from international real estate speculation. If passed, this bill would prohibit foreign entities from purchasing ALR land over five acres without prior permission from the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.

At UBCM last week, I met with communities in northern British Columbia. They emphasized the impact that the foreign purchase of ALR lands is having on local farmers, their local economies and our food security. For example, in Cariboo North, 42,000 acres have been bought by two foreign entities, with a total of 22,239 acres being removed from local agricultural production. This is affecting the local price of hay and pricing farmers out of the market.

Many other provinces regulate and restrict foreign ownership of agricultural land in this way, including Alberta, Saskatchewan Manitoba, Quebec and PEI. Our agricultural land reserve should have the same protection.

Mr. Speaker: The question is the first reading of the bill.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: Now I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Motion approved.

Video of Introduction

Media Release

Andrew Weaver introduces bill to ban foreign ownership on Agricultural Land Reserve land over five acres
For immediate release
October 5, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, reintroduced a bill that would ban foreign ownership on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land over five acres. Weaver first introduced the bill in February 2016.

“B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve is vital for promoting our province’s food security and growing our agricultural sector,” said Weaver.

“Today I am reintroducing a bill that would prohibit foreign entities from purchasing ALR land over five acres.

“B.C. currently imports 70% of its vegetables from the United States, with half of that coming from California. With these regions increasingly experiencing extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, it is more important than ever that B.C. take the future of our food security seriously. Moreover, agriculture presents a significant economic opportunity for B.C. Our thriving wine industry alone has a $2.8 billion economic impact, generating 12,000 jobs throughout the province.

“One of the key reasons why young people are unable to pursue farming is due to the cost of land. By allowing ALR land to be subject to international real estate speculation, we are limiting their opportunities to get into this vital, sustainable industry.

“Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec and PEI have all passed similar legislation to protect their agricultural land. This leaves B.C. as the only western province without such a law. It’s time we took action on this important issue so that we can ensure that ALR land is used as it is intended – to offer opportunities to local communities across the province and to promote the overall food security of our province.”


Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca