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BC Politics

‘Words Aren’t Enough’: Green MLA Who Fought Soil Dump Reflects on Liberals’ Behaviour

Sonia Furstenau will think of her community when voting against government today.

Andrew MacLeod 29 Jun

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The BC Liberal government’s expected defeat in the legislature Thursday can be traced directly to its treatment of the residents of Shawnigan Lake, says Green MLA Sonia Furstenau.

As a regional director, over several years Furstenau led the campaign to stop the dumping of five million tonnes of contaminated soil in her community’s watershed.

Despite there being a “mountain of evidence” from the beginning that it was the wrong site, the government was unwilling to listen, she said. “It’s going to take quite a bit to rebuild that trust after that experience,” she said.

Clark has been talking about cooperating with the other parties and loaded the government’s throne speech with promises aimed at gaining support, but it’s not enough, Furstenau said.

“Words aren’t enough,” she said. “It’s the actions, since the election but also preceding that, and for us in Shawnigan in particular.”

Furstenau spoke about the experience in Shawnigan in her first speech in the legislature, given in response to the Throne Speech.

“We spent years fighting this government simply for the right to protect our water,” she said. “We lost our trust in government. We lost our faith that government institutions were there to protect us as citizens.”

Through the courts the permit got cancelled and the push is now to have the ministry require the removal of the soil that’s already there. “I would like to be actively addressing this file, but we’re stuck in this kind of circus right now,” she said.

In her speech, Fursteanau said she would have her community in mind when she votes against the government.

“The people of Shawnigan and people across B.C. have suffered under a government that puts political calculation ahead of principles, ignores evidence at will and puts special interests ahead of people’s interests,” she said.

“We have the opportunity today to put this kind of politics behind us. To put people back at the centre of B.C. politics. To make decisions based on evidence, not political calculation.”

After the election the Greens listened to both the NDP and the Liberals with open minds, Furstenau told The Tyee. Furstenau was one of four people representing the Greens in the discussions.

“It became clear... that there were these fundamental differences and that ultimately the overlap in values and vision was far greater with the NDP than it was with the Liberals,” she said.

After the announcement that the Greens would support the NDP on confidence measures, Clark’s response that she would respect the wishes of the legislature was dignified and honourable, Furstenau said.

“What’s happened in the last two weeks has not been that way at all,” she said. “The honour has been eroded in this last week.”

Clark’s government has radically shifted its principles and values, she said, adding that if the new approach is genuine, the Liberals should be willing to support the agenda from the opposition side of the legislature.

“Prove that you’re really listening and this isn’t just about having to be in power,” Furstenau said. “If you’ve really had a change of heart you’ll be happy to be helping to pass this legislation no matter what side of the house you’re on.”

The three Green and the 41 NDP MLAs are working well together and the dialogue has been constructive and productive, she said, adding that she hopes the same kind of relationship will develop with the Liberals over time.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Environment

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