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Opinion
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BC Election 2020
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Environment

In the War on Climate Change, the BC Election Was a Bust

But the Sustainabiliteens and other youth committed to radical change will never give up.

By Kate Sheardown and Lilah Williamson 2 Nov 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Kate Sheardown and Lilah Williamson are 16-year-old climate activists with the Sustainabiliteens, Metro Vancouver's chapter of Climate Strike Canada.

For high school students and climate activists like us, British Columbia’s recent election wasn’t just about politics. It was about our futures: the 10 or so years we have left to prevent the worst of the global climate crisis. That doesn’t sound so long when you think of it as two or three election cycles.

We are both organizers with Sustainabiliteens, Metro Vancouver’s youth climate strike movement. We worked on campaigns this election because we believe in the power of political organizing to create change. We spent countless hours canvassing, flyering and phone banking — and now we have a chance to reflect on what the results mean for our generation and the future of the province.

First of all, this power-grab election should never have been called in the first place. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, not to mention a looming climate crisis — speaking of which, are we crazy or does the NDP really want to go ahead with Site C?

Suffice to say, an NDP majority wasn’t the result we wanted. Premier John Horgan found popularity not in spite of the BC Greens holding him accountable, but because of them. Honestly, we’re scared for what Horgan will do with absolute power. As we should be, considering his track record on climate action, as well as Indigenous sovereignty.

The NDP government passed a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2019. But how’s that going? The pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory certainly doesn’t meet the UN declaration’s standards, and Indigenous land defenders are more emboldened than ever as a result. Calls to Shut Down Canada again are resonating across the province as colonial forces continue to violently escalate land disputes across so-called Canada.

Of course, not all British Columbians have the privilege of being able to focus on these concerns. And so the NDP has presented themselves as the perfect balance: progressive yet fiscally responsible, “working for you” regardless of class. But at the end of the day, at least for us activists, a party isn’t progressive enough if they’re winning a majority. Because we’re here to wage a war on climate change. And right now, that’s not what the political mainstream has in mind.

With that said, there’s big potential in the fact that the majority of British Columbians voted for a party decidedly left of centre. There are thousands upon thousands of voters whose internal Overton window — their view of what policies are reasonable enough to consider — shifted this election. This means that change is afoot. It means, to some degree, that what we’re doing is working.

Of course, the work we do to shift the mainstream mindset left wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if our electoral system was fair. Electoral reform has never looked better: under pro rep, the BC Greens could have won 13 seats instead of three. Voter turnout might not have been at an all-time low of 52 per cent.

Keeping the focus on the dismal youth turnout when discussing young people in politics fails to recognize that youth are the most passionate advocates for lowering the voting age. Many of the Sustainabiliteens would have been 18 if the election had taken place when it had been scheduled — in calling it early, Horgan essentially stole our right to vote. A voting age of 16, as Dogwood’s Vote16 campaign has advocated for, would have profound impacts on the results of the election and our generation’s ability to vote for our futures and values.

The slate of bold and committed youth candidates in this election, led by young campaign teams, should be reason enough to lower the voting age. Official Sustainabiliteen-endorsed candidates included Harrison Johnston (21), Jaeden Dela Torre (19) and Tesicca Truong (26).

Why are none of them in office? Does that mean maybe what we’re doing isn’t working as fast as we want it to? As fast as we need it to, considering the fate of our planet literally hangs in the balance?

It’s telling that B.C.’s youngest MLA is 35. There’s a good 40 per cent of the province that has no representation in the legislature. That’s a problem when you recall that the one job of a politician is to represent their constituents. It’s a bigger problem when you realize it’s the unrepresented percentage of the province who will most feel the effects of climate change.

The outcome of this election wasn’t what we needed, and we can’t wait four years to turn it around. We can fight for electoral reform and support youth involvement in politics and decision-making.

And, of course, we can build a movement for climate justice that is stronger than ever.  [Tyee]

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