Despite the many rewarding experiences of recent months, I’m grateful to come home for Christmas to the Kootenays and my family. It has been an eventful year in B.C. politics with the election in May resulting in a new NDP government under Premier John Horgan. We promised to make life more affordable, to improve the services people count on, and to create good jobs, and now that we’ve just finished our first legislative session I’d like to talk about some of the early progress we’ve made.
People tell me all the time that politics is too divisive, so we’ve made a commitment to do things differently. We want to make sure that every vote counts and that politicians can work across party lines to come to the best decisions, so we’ve set the terms for a referendum on proportional representation that will give British Columbians a choice in how they vote. Our situation as a minority government has also required us to work with the B.C. Greens to get votes passed in the house, and I can tell you that the relationship is working smoothly. We don’t agree on everything, but we all have the best interests of British Columbians at heart and we can work together to get things done. We also want people to be able to trust that their government is really working for them. This session we passed a bill to ban corporate and union donations, taming the out of control financing in politics that BC was previously known for.
As part of the change in government I had the honour of being named the Minister of Children and Family Development, a challenging but rewarding job where I get to work for youth in foster care, toddlers with special needs, and single moms or dads looking to balance work with child care. I will also be implementing a change in our ministry that is part of a fundamental shift we’re making in our relationship with B.C.’s Indigenous people. We will be doing everything we can to keep Indigenous children out of government care and return them to their families, their communities and their culture.
Another major commitment that I’m involved with is creating a universal and affordable child care system. To make sure that we have the best possible outcomes for this important program it will be done in a careful way with extensive consultation with many stakeholders and professionals in the field. We will be making announcements in February that will lay the groundwork to address the most pressing needs first and to lay out the long-term plan for success.
Premier Horgan has also made me the Minister Responsible for Columbia River Treaty, Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Power Corporation. In my office we say that I am responsible for “all things Columbia”. I am extremely proud that I was given this post and as the Minister responsible I am committed to working with Canada and the United States on the future of the Columbia River Treaty. As a government we support continuing the Treaty and will look for improvements using the flexibility within the existing Treaty framework. Keeping with the principles of the Treaty that has served both countries very well for over 50 years, our objective will be to maximize benefits and share those benefits equitably.
As a government we have also made changes to other programs that people in the Province has said wasn’t working well for them. One of these changes is to DriveABLE, the computer-simulated driving test for at-risk seniors. Many of my constituents said that the test didn’t represent realistic driving conditions and ended up unfairly taking away their licenses, which were their lifelines in a rural region like ours. Starting next spring, the new system will be an extended road test, using the driver’s own vehicle and with an ICBC driving examiner. My staff and I have had the privilege of working with many community members on more grassroots issues as well. Whether they are asking for advice on how to improve access to the outdoors, seeking help applying for programs, or alerting us to emerging issues, we value the relationships we build with our constituents.
Finally, this column wouldn’t be complete without addressing the Site C decision. It’s clear that Site C should never have been started by the B.C. Liberals. Some people will be disappointed, but after reviewing the evidence our judgment was that the best course forward is to complete the project while doing more to address First Nations concerns. We were presented with strong financial evidence that it was in the best interest for the people of BC to proceed.
There’s much more we’re doing and more to come. We’ve started building emergency housing for the homeless, returning fairness to the tax system, and re-investing in important services. We inherited some big problems from the previous government but as a member of the NDP government and as your MLA, I’m proud that we’re taking the first steps to make government work for everyone, not just the people at the top.
Katrine Conroy is the MLA for Kootenay West