With a weak federal government and hostile neighbours, B.C. needs to stand up for itself
B.C. is the front line of the overdose crisis and the housing crisis. We have the most crushing ratio of household debt in Canada. Our primary industries are collapsing because of climate change, automation and corporate greed. And yet British Columbians endure it all, with a passivity that would baffle people in Alberta or Quebec.
After Monday’s election, Prairie voters are screaming from their blue fortress about seceding from Canada. La Belle Province reanimated the corpse of the Bloc Québécois to send 32 sovereignist MPs to Ottawa. We need to wake up and smell the coffee.
Voters all over the country are entering a bunker mentality as inequality, social isolation and climate change fray the social fabric. They are pulling up the drawbridge and hunkering down into regional political blocs. Some are overtly hostile to our values and interests here on the West Coast.
Justin Trudeau didn’t even mention B.C. in his election night speech. Like a Catholic father with 12 boisterous children, Trudeau will be preoccupied with the largest and loudest. That means B.C. needs to fight for its seat at the table. We need resources from the federal government to build the future we want. And that future does not include a toxic crude oil tanker terminal paid for with our tax dollars.
B.C. is different
Our province is distinct from other parts of Canada. A big reason for that is the absence of treaties between Indigenous nations and the British Crown. Indigenous communities collectively own their territories and maintain the right to decide what happens on their land. Through court cases and generations of advocacy, this reality is slowly becoming more clear.
B.C. is also the most ethnically diverse province in the country. Wave after wave of immigration has built a society that is mostly pluralistic, tolerant, and respectful of difference. This is home. We’re all here to stay. So together with the rightful owners of so-called “Crown” lands, we need to figure out how to cooperate and share.
We are uniquely vulnerable to natural disasters. Our major urban centres lie in an earthquake zone. Our rural resource towns are threatened by wildfires, fierce storms and floods. With climate change fast encroaching, we need tougher infrastructure. Not just higher dikes and sturdy, zero-emissions buildings. We need social programs that will keep our communities from unraveling in the face of these challenges.
A New Deal for B.C.
There is a path forward. We have all the ingredients on this side of the Rockies to build a society that is secure, resilient, prosperous and welcoming. But we need the federal government to pony up, and stop using its powers to thwart climate action and other progressive change.
Ottawa has spent billions of dollars, untold staff hours and political capital trying to build one pipeline to the West Coast. It’s time to put those resources into projects that will make life in B.C. better, not more dangerous. Projects that will cut emissions, not accelerate them. Projects that have a future in a climate-safe world.
Social housing. Rental housing. Reserve housing. Electric buses. Electric trains. Electric ferries. Water treatment. Solar power. Wind power. Wave power. Geothermal. Fire breaks. Wetlands. Wildlife habitat. Billions of trees. We could employ every single out-of-work Albertan building these projects in B.C. and still not have enough bodies.
Many nations within
I’m not suggesting we threaten to separate from Canada to get what we want, like the gormless Wexiteers. Nor should we embrace the xenophobia and ethno-nationalism of the Bloc Québécois. But I do think it’s time for a stronger regional political identity, and a more assertive relationship with Ottawa.
There are lots of benefits to working together in a federation. But at the end of the day Canada is less a nation than an umbrella for a multitude of existing nations, and warring regional interests. And many of the things we take for granted – like shared systems of taxation, immigration or environmental regulation – are being actively challenged by Alberta and Quebec.
If there’s one thing that can unify the country around a common sense of purpose, perhaps it’s the climate crisis and the threat it poses to life on earth. But that day has yet to come. In the meantime British Columbians need to defend our values, our people and the progress we’ve made.
A clear opportunity
That starts today, with the mix of MPs just elected to represent the West Coast. In a minority parliament, every backbencher’s vote suddenly matters. And before they head back to Ottawa, you have a unique opportunity to shape how they represent you and what they prioritize.
For starters, you can tell B.C. MPs that more public money for the Trans Mountain oil tanker expansion is a non-starter. Many have spoken against this disastrous boondoggle, either during the recent campaign or in the past. It’s time to make it clear how you expect them to vote on any federal budget that shovels more tax dollars into the gaping maw of Big Oil.
This is especially important with the NDP, Trudeau’s obvious first stop for support. If New Democrats stop Trudeau from wasting billions trying to build the Trans Mountain expansion, a world of possibility starts to unfold. A massive jobs program for oil workers. Federal legislation recognizing Indigenous rights. Wealth taxes. Big investments in housing, students, pharmacare and more.
But if NDP MPs flip flop under pressure from the likes of Rachel Notley, the dream will crumble. Trudeau will know he can walk all over Jagmeet Singh. And when the next election comes around, young climate voters and many others will abandon the party for good. This is the first test for our West Coast political bloc: can we hold B.C. MPs to their promise to fight Trans Mountain?