Speech to UBCM 2016

Please let me start by thanking the Union of BC Municipalities for providing me this opportunity to speak to you today.

The last time I stood before you was in 2013, shortly after I was elected as the MLA for Oak Bay Gordon Head. Now I stand before you as the Leader of the BC Green Party, a party that has grown dramatically over the last few years — a party that is ready and excitedly awaiting the 2017 provincial election.

Politics wasn’t originally in my career plan. I was a Canada Research Chair at the University of Victoria working in the field of climate science.

Anyone who has attended a public lecture or class that I have given on the topic of global warming will know that I boil the entire issue down to one question.

Do we the present generation owe anything to future generations in terms of the quality of the environment that we leave behind?

It’s a complex question that science cannot answer. But if we do believe that the answer is yes, then we have absolutely no choice but to take action now.

To these same classes and in these same public lectures I note that our political leaders do not have to live the long-term consequences of the decisions that they make or don’t make.

Yet these very same decisions will have a profound effect on the type of world we leave behind to our children.

That’s why I subsequently point out that it’s critical for the young adults in the audience to participate in our democratic institutions. And, I’d say to them:

“If there are no politicians willing to tackle those problems, then they should convince someone to run that they can get behind or even consider running themselves.”

Eventually, I knew I couldn’t keep doling out that advice if I was not willing to follow it myself.

So here I am. And here we are.

Ultimately the reason I got into politics is probably very similar to the reason all of you got into politics. I care deeply about my community.

I wanted to do what I could to better it for present and future generations.

And, I was profoundly troubled by the direction that this province was heading.

I could no longer stand on the sidelines and watch the dismantling of British Columbia’s leadership on the climate change file as our government pursued an utterly unrealistic fossil fuel windfall from a hypothetical Liquefied Natural Gas sector in a desperate attempt to win an election that nobody thought they would win.

But, as I learned in my scientific career, and as I tried to teach my students, criticism is easy. What’s more difficult, yet far more valuable, is being constructive in one’s criticism.

If you’ve been watching the BC Greens in the Legislature over the last three years you’ll see that we’ve tried to offer government solutions to the problems challenging our province.

The BC Green Party is a solutions-oriented party — one that fundamentally believes that policy should flow from evidence.

I like to call this evidence-based decision-making, as opposed to what happens too often in politics today — decision-based evidence making.

In the face of sexualized violence plaguing our college and university campuses I didn’t just demand the provincial government do better and publicly thrash them in the media.

My team and I did the research, we consulted far and wide, we asked the right questions, we held town halls, and we wrote the legislation for them.

The government passed my bill within the month. It is now law and our students are safer because of it.

We’ve been able to make significant progress on MSP reform, housing, and affordability, but there is much more to be done.

In my speech to the UBCM in 2013 I emphatically stated that the BC Liberal’s promised LNG industry was not going to materialize. BC becoming a major LNG exporter was nothing more than a pipedream.

It didn’t take long for those promises to start unraveling. But the province is still scrambling to chase a falling stock, doubling down and selling out future generations along the way.

I’ve been saying the same thing now for almost four years.

The market did not, does not and will not, support a BC LNG industry anytime soon.

I stood alone in the BC Legislature voting against the LNG Income Tax Act; I stood alone voicing my opposition to the direction the province was heading.

While the Leader of the Official Opposition was noting, “We’re going to stand side by side with you and vote in favour of it” (it being the generational sell out embodied in the LNG income tax act), the BC Liberals were promising 100,000 jobs, a 1 trillion dollar increase to our GDP, a $100 billion prosperity fund, the elimination of the Provincial Sales Tax and thriving schools and hospitals from the wealth to be created by LNG.

And they promised it would already be happening by now.

It is fiscally reckless for us to continue to hope that a nonexistent LNG industry will magically materialize while ignoring the enormous potential British Columbia has for a prosperous future.

Rather than hanging onto, or trying to go back to, the economy of the last century we should be positioning ourselves as leaders in the 21st century economy.

We have a unique opportunity in British Columbia because of three strategic advantages that we have over virtually every other region in the world.

  1. Our high quality of life and beautiful natural environment attracts, and retains, some of the best and brightest from around the globe —we are a destination of choice.
  2. We have a highly skilled work force. Our high school students are consistently top ranked — with the OECD specifying BC as one of the smartest academic jurisdictions in the world.
  3. We have access to renewable resources — energy, water, and wood — like no other jurisdiction. We have incredible potential to create a clean, renewable energy sector to sustain our growing economy.

But for British Columbia to actually capitalize on our strategic advantages, we must ensure we protect them.

A quality public education is not the luxury of a strong economy. A quality education is what builds a strong economy.

And we must start thinking about the long-term consequences of our decisions, decisions that put people, rather than vested corporate or union interests or re-election goals first and foremost.

So where do we go from here? In the shadows of the massive challenges that we face, our province needs new leadership.

Leaders must have the courage to be honest with British Columbians about the risks and consequences of any government decision.

We need leadership that offers a realistic and achievable vision grounded in hope and real change.

We need leadership that places the interests of the people of British Columbia — not organized union or corporate interests— first and foremost in decision-making.

As a start, political parties must stop accepting corporate and union donations in order to rebuild public trust.

Take the recent Mount Polley experience. The corporation that operates the mine is a substantial donor to the BC Liberals; the union representing the workers at the mine is a substantial donor to the BC NDP.

Whose interests are being served? Who is there to represent the people of British Columbia?

British Columbians and organized groups like the Dogwood Initiative and Fair Vote Canada have been calling for a ban on big money in politics for quite some time.

Our political parties and their MLAs should not be reduced to puppets controlled by corporate or union puppet masters with a firm grip on their purse strings.

The acceptance of this practice is undermining every sector in our province and I am tired of waiting for the B.C. government to do something about it.

I am tired of listening to the Official Opposition say they will change the system only if they form government. That’s not leadership.

Leadership means leading by example. And the BC Greens commit to doing just that.

Effective today, the BC Green Party will no longer accept any corporate or union donations.

We are a party of the people, for the people and that will be mirrored in our funding structure.

Could this move hurt us on the eve of an election? Yes, it could. But real leadership doesn’t come from doing what is easy. It is built on doing what is right.

Leadership means inspiring others to act in ways that contribute to the betterment of their society and it can’t just rest with one person. Everyone here has the opportunity and responsibility of joining me by taking on this mantle of leadership.

In 1962 John F. Kennedy announced that America would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. He didn’t know how it was going to be done. But he knew, and I quote, “we must be bold”.

He went on to say:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

If ever there was a time to be bold it is now. Over the coming weeks and months the BC Greens will lay out a bold vision for a prosperous future.

We’ll start discussions on, and offer pathways forward to, the challenges facing our province in areas such as: affordability, homelessness and poverty, climate change and the decarbonization of our energy systems, responsible resource development, education and health care.

And we’ll do this not because it’s easy, but rather because it’s hard and because it’s the right thing to do. Because the challenge is one that BC Greens will accept as we work towards offering British Columbians a new choice in the 2017 election. An election we intend to win.

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