B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau promises to listen to experts in addressing climate crisis and overdose deaths

According to her, it's time to govern—and campaign—differently than in the past

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      Over the years, some political leaders have explicitly promised to follow evidence-based policies in responding to society’s most vexing challenges, including the climate crisis. But after the election, they’ve ignored this pledge.

      This was on display when Justin Trudeau was leading the federal Liberals into the 2015 election. Climate was a big issue during the campaign, but after the election, Trudeau’s party bought Kinder Morgan’s Canadian assets.

      And he and his then–finance minister, Bill Morneau, subsequently proceeded with a $12.6-billion pipeline project that will result in more annual downstream emissions than the entire total generated in B.C. each year.

      Similarly, in 2005, Vancouver mayoral candidate Sam Sullivan promised to pursue evidence-based policies while leading the NPA.

      Afterward, Sullivan critics said he refused to follow best practices by not allowing separated bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge to reduce crashes between vehicles and cyclists.

      However, the leader of the B.C. Greens, Sonia Furstenau, insists that she’s serious with her pledge to listen to scientists and experts. And it’s not only with regard to climate.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, she emphasized that she will embrace an evidence-based approach in other areas, including addressing the opioid crisis and combatting inequality.

      “We cannot continue to ignore reality and we cannot continue to ignore evidence that tells us what solutions are needed to be in place,” Furstenau said. “So in a climate crisis, for a government to give $6 billion in tax cuts and incentives to the fracking industry makes no sense.”

      She was, of course, referring to the NDP minority government’s efforts to attract a large, Shell Oil–led liquefied-natural-gas project in northwestern B.C. Every member of the NDP and B.C. Liberal caucus voted in favour of this project.

      Often called a carbon bomb by its critics, the LNG Canada plant will rely on fracked natural gas. And it will gobble up a growing portion of B.C.’s carbon budget with each passing decade.

      “It goes against what the evidence tells us we need to do,” Furstenau continued, “which is to urgently reduce our emissions and urgently invest in clean energy so that we can have a safer future for our children.”

      The LNG Canada plant in Kitimat will gobble up a huge proportion of B.C.'s carbon budget by 2050.
      West Coast Environmental Law

      B.C. reject best practices in tackling overdoses

      As for the opioid crisis, Furstenau pointed to Portugal, which has decriminalized personal possession of cocaine and heroin and sharply driven down the number of overdose deaths and HIV infections.

      According to drug-policy researcher Adam Fisher, if Canada had the same overdose-death rate as Portugal had in 2016, there would have only been 96 such fatalities in 2018 instead of more than 4,000.

      This year, there were 684 overdose deaths in B.C. in only a four-month period, from May to August, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

      Furstenau noted that the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, issued a report two years ago with recommendations to address the overdose crisis. But many of those proposals, including decriminalization, have been ignored.

      “We approached COVID-19 listening to what the experts told us what to do, listening to the scientists, listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry,” Furstenau said. “We’ve taken the guidance of experts in response to this global pandemic. We need to take the guidance of experts in response to the opioid crisis.”

      Furstenau, a former teacher, told the Straight earlier this year that she entered politics—first at the local level in the Cowichan Valley, then provincially in 2017—to address a “feeling of disillusionment with decisions that were being made”.

      According to her, those decisions, such as granting a provincial permit for a contaminated-waste dump in her town’s watershed, were affecting communities across the province.

      “What we need to have more of in politics is forward-looking visions that put people at the centre of that,” she said at the time. “We’re in a transition. We’re in an economic transition. We’re in transition because of climate change.

      “Pretending that is not so is the worst thing that people in decision-making positions can do,” Furstenau added. “We actually need to get in front of that transition and decide where we want to end up.

      "Where I want B.C. to end up is resilient and safe and secure—and also where people can have a quality of life that isn’t rooted in consumption but about connection.”

      North Vancouver–Seymour Green candidate and climate-strike organizer Harrison Johnston says that Sonia Furstenau has been the only B.C. party leader to truly listen to his concerns.
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      It’s a vision that has attracted the support of young environmental activists such as Harrison Johnston, a 20-year-old organizer with the climate-justice group Sustainabiliteens Vancouver.

      Last year, he organized the largest climate rally in Vancouver's history.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Johnston said that Furstenau was the only B.C. party leader who truly listened to what his group had to say.

      In contrast, when he attended demonstrations at the offices of federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, B.C. Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, and B.C. Attorney General David Eby, these politicians weren’t interested in engaging with young people in a serious way.

      As a result, Johnston has signed on as the Green candidate in his home community of North Vancouver–Seymour.

      “Our leaders are failing young people, they’re failing Indigenous people, they’re failing Black people, they’re failing people with disabilities, they’re failing drug users, and they’re failing our communities as a whole,” Johnston wrote in a recent commentary on Straight.com. “We can’t beg them for change any longer. We need something to hope for again.”

      Furstenau also attracted B.C.'s best-known wild-salmon advocate, biologist Alexandra Morton, to run for the Greens in North Island. Morton recently told the Tyee that "fish are dying of politics right now".

      Alexandra Morton says she's seeking a seat in the B.C. legislature to preserve wild salmon for future generations.

      B.C. Green leader calls for different approach

      Six B.C. NDP cabinet ministers are not seeking reelection, including former leader Carole James, who's been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

      When the Straight asked Furstenau for her thoughts on this, she replied that it's "very unusual".

      "And I would be surprised if there’s a precedent in recent history where a government that calls an election loses a third of its ministers right off the bat because they choose not to run again,” she said.

      Furstenau also takes exception to NDP Leader John Horgan's claim that he called an election because he wants "stability".

      She insisted that there has already been stability for three-and-a-half years because of the Confidence and Supply Agreement negotiated between the B.C. Green and NDP caucuses.

      "We had stability because of an election date legislation that says we should not have had an election for another year from now," Furstenau added. "But what we also have had is unprecendented levels of collaboration and cooperation."

      This has not only been between the NDP and the Greens, who introduced reforms to campaign finance, lobbying, environmental-assessment legislation, professional reliance, and child welfare.

      Furstenau also said that she and B.C. Liberal health critic Norm Letnick worked collaboratively with Health Minister Adrian Dix in a nonpartisan way to improve the regulation of health professions.

      "That’s what we need more," she stated. "With the emergencies that we’re in, the crises that we face, we need all three parties to come together to say we will commit to solving these crises because that’s what we owe to the people of B.C."

      Furstenau emphasized that government’s job is to ensure that every person in the province has access to public services such as health care and education.

      “I think we should really question the way we do political campaigns when party leaders go into ridings and make promises about what government should be ensuring exists for every community in this province,” the B.C. Green leader declared. “Every community should have schools where children have safe places to learn, where they thrive. Every community should have enough doctors.”