MLA Olsen looks back at unique year in office

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The past year was unlike any other in recent memory, one in which a global pandemic collided with every aspect of life from the personal to the political. 

As Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen observed when thinking back on 2020: “It’s been a notable year in so many ways.”

It was certainly notable for the B.C. Greens, who ended the year in a much different position from where they started it. Olsen and Cowichan Valley’s Sonia Furstenau easily held onto their seats in the snap election held on Oct. 24, but the party failed to recoup the loss of a third seat after former colleague Andrew Weaver became an independent in the previous session. The election also saw the BC NDP surge to a majority and therefore end the confidence and supply agreement that gave the Greens more access to power.

Olsen said one thing people may not realize is the Greens did more than just vote with the NDP when it came to passing key bills in the previous minority government; the Green caucus opinion was sought and incorporated as those bills were being developed and refined so they would be acceptable by the time they hit the floor. 

“So the biggest difference is the Greens won’t have voices influencing legislation in the early stages,” Olsen said.

“We’re definitely more of a traditional opposition party now, that’s for sure. [But] we do have a bit of experience as an opposition party even though we had this unique dual role of being responsible for keeping government running. There’s definitely tools and tactics and strategies that we’ve used since 2017 to raise issues.”

One example of success, Olsen said, was in the matter of old-growth logging. He said the NDP government went from being uninterested in discussing the issue to agreeing to a review and then committing to implementing all of that review’s recommendations as one of their 2020 election campaign promises, all through the Greens’ work in opposition.

“We’re also still partners in the government and I think it’s important to remember that,” Olsen said, pointing out all 87 members of the B.C. Legislature were elected to represent their communities and want to do their best to fulfill that trust. 

“We should never forget this is a collection of human beings, and we may have different beliefs and approaches to things, but we all got involved for the betterment of our communities,” he said. 

COVID-19 has dominated most news cycles and it’s been a major matter for the B.C. government since March. The pandemic has both changed much of the business being done by the province and how it’s been accomplished. 

“It’s surreal,” Olsen said. “I’ve been doing this work [of political representation] for the past 12 years. One of the main attractants is being able to sit down with somebody in a coffee shop and talk about the issues.”

Olsen estimates he’s had thousands of such meetings until this year. 

“That’s what’s inspiring for me, and COVID just shut that down. It put me on my patio like everyone else. It was very isolating. Certainly not being able to get out and around the constituency like I like to has been challenging,” Olsen said. 

He also feels Zoom meetings leave a lot to be desired when it comes to governance. The hybrid model at the B.C. Legislature means only 10 MLAs are in attendance at a time and the rest come in digitally. This leaves no opportunity to have the casual in-person conversations that are so useful for understanding the larger picture.

“I think our democracy has taken a big hit,” Olsen said. “Politics is people.” 

For more on this story, see the Jan. 6, 2021 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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