Last Friday’s ASK Salt Spring session had more star power than usual, with Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth joining MLA Adam Olsen to meet with Salt Spring constituents.
Farnworth is also the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and his visit was presented as having a community safety/law enforcement focus. Olsen has also been an active member of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.
“Part of the reason Minister Farnworth is here is because we reached out when the announcement for increased police resources was announced,” said Olsen. “There’s been kind of a chronic situation here on Salt Spring from a policing perspective.”
The main problem, he said, is that police are asked to take on more tasks outside of a policing realm due to stresses on the community’s social fabric.
Farnworth said he also met with members of the local RCMP detachment while on the island.
“I think one of the challenges that we often face is that you have policing, and you have mental health, and you have housing and you have poverty,” said Farnworth. “And they’ve been viewed as being separate silos that are operating independently of each other, and there’s a lack of recognition that there is a strong relationship between them.”
Defunding the police, which has been suggested by some critics of the current system, is not the answer, he said.
“It’s a question, in my view, of ensuring that . . . we take care of those people who have the challenges that they face, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s addiction, whether it’s homelessness, and ensuring those things are funded in a way so that, in essence, the police are not ending up being a frontline social worker, or mental health worker, which they are not trained to do.”
Another policing question was raised by community members who did not want to lose certain members of the RCMP detachment and asked if a change could be made to the regular four-year transfer rule.
Farnworth said he has heard that request from a number of communities in B.C. and would like to see it addressed.
“But that also means talking to my federal counterpart as well,” he said.
Questions from some of the 56 people attending at the Ganges Fire Hall session ventured well beyond the public safety and policing matters under Farnworth’s ministry purview. Pedestrian and cyclists’ safety, funding for the Island Coastal Economic Trust, ferry service and the lack of senior government infrastructure funds for improvement districts were among topics raised.
He promised to investigate a couple of issues, including the provincial government’s longstanding infrastructure funding policy that has made it impossible for the fire district and North Salt Spring Waterworks District to get provincial or federal government grant funding for major capital projects.
Olsen and Farnworth both stressed that all parties in the house work hard to make progress on important issues, and that well-publicized conflicts and controversies do not accurately reflect the relationships between MLAs, the three parties or the work that is done.
Olsen pointed to a controversy that erupted the previous day about a Langley cannabis company claiming it had the right to produce and sell cocaine via Health Canada permission, which caught the B.C. government off guard.
“This is where the format of Question Period and the theatre of Question Period really actually lets the public down just in terms of what goes on in the Legislative Assembly,” said Olsen, “because you can take a nuanced situation and make it something that perhaps it’s not and that’s what Minister Farnworth faced yesterday in the questioning and what it did was it drove a narrative that now has created confusion, and confusion doesn’t help us work our way through.”
Olsen stressed that all parties in the Legislature have supported safe supply, harm reduction and decriminalization measures when it comes to addressing toxic drug supply deaths.
“This is not a situation that the minister and his colleagues have to solve on their own,” he continued. “Or that the BC Liberals should be thinking that they need to solve on their own and that the [Greens] think they can solve on their own. This is actually a situation, when it comes to the dignity of British Columbians, where the party lines need to just go away . . . and we just need to be colleagues and friends and supporters of good work to keep people alive, in my opinion.”
Farnworth responded to a meeting attendee who said he felt politicians and governments could not be trusted, as witnessed by their acceptance and promotion of COVID-19 vaccines.
Farnworth was first elected MLA for his Port Coquitlam area in 1991, after serving on the Port Coquitlam City Council since 1983. He said he had worked with people across the political spectrum “and without exception, I think those people are all elected to work and to do the right thing; to do a job on behalf of the people of this province, whether you agree with them or disagree. I know that the people see Question Period, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of good work that takes place. And when it came to the pandemic, I was incredibly proud of how our legislature worked cooperatively in the best interests of the people of the province of British Columbia, and the decisions that we made based on medical science.”
He stressed that if there’s a solution to be found, “that’s what we are there to do.”
“Ninety per cent of the work is very collaborative,” agreed Olsen.
This Friday’s ASK Salt Spring meeting is at the usual Salt Spring Island Multi Space lobby venue. Capital Regional District (CRD) director Gary Holman is the guest, with this year’s CRD budget being the main topic of discussion. ASK Salt Spring is a volunteer initiative of the Salt Spring Community Alliance coordinated by Gayle Baker. Each week it features local or provincial politicians or reps from various public or community agencies who present updates and take questions from the public.