“2017 has been a very interesting year,” says Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart. “It started with an election where you win the election but lose the government, went to horrendous flooding in the spring, in both the Cache Creek and Merritt areas, wildfires in the summer, the change in government, being in opposition in the fall, ensuring that our issues—recovery from the flooding and the wildfires is being addressed—and now to ‘I can’t believe Christmas is almost here.’ “
She adds that recovery from this year’s disasters will take years. Former BC Liberal MLA George Abbott and Hereditary Chief Maureen Chapman of Skawahlook First Nation were recently appointed to head up a review of the province’s response to this year’s floods and fires, and will be presenting their report in April 2018.
“It’s my hope their process will be very open,” says Tegart, “and that there will be opportunities for people in rural areas who perhaps aren’t as connected through the Internet to give their input. I have every faith that the two co-chairs will ensure that the process is incredibly inclusive, and will reach out to the people most affected.”
Regarding the wildfires, Tegart says there were a number of concerns: around communication, capacity, and coordination. “That’s not to say that everyone on the front line wasn’t doing absolutely everything they could to address the event. But as we look back, I think that there are things for us to learn.
“There are many who are suggesting that this will be a fairly normal occurrence as we look at climate change, so we have an obligation to learn as much as we can from 2017. I have grave concerns in regards to the impact of the fires on the freshet for the spring of 2018, and I think we need to be looking at how we are preparing for spring run-off.
“The fires had an incredible impact on people, on their homes and properties. There’s been money put towards tourism organizations, but you look at our black hills. What impact will that have on our tourism industry in the next three to five years as we wait for things to grow back?”
Tegart says that going from being in government to being in opposition has been an interesting transition. “I would suspect that we are one of the strongest oppositions that the legislature has seen. I think we’ve done a very solid job of keeping government to account.
“Between MLAs [Coralee] Oakes [Cariboo North], [Donna] Barnett [Cariboo-Chilcotin], and myself, we’re known as ‘the wildfire ladies’, and we have ensured that our constituents’ issues are in the forefront, both in the ministers’ offices and in Question Period, as well as in the estimates.
“We made an effort to be in the Premier’s estimates, and in with every minister we could think of who might be able to answer a question around recovery for people in our area. The first question, of course, was ‘How much money do you have in your budget for recovery from the wildfires?’ There was great disappointment in the limited amount of money available right now, and in the ‘Oh well, it will be in the February budget’ response. We have people living in motorhomes in driveways, or on properties with no power, and no places to rent.”
Tegart says the challenge it to make sure that people don’t forget. “Just because the fire’s out doesn’t mean that everything is good now. Our voice, loud and clear, is around recovery; to move forward on recovery and what is needed by people in our areas. It’s jobs, it’s forestry, it’s agriculture, it’s tourism, it’s community, it’s small businesses.”
Looking ahead to provincial politics in 2018, Tegart says “I suspect the coalition between the Greens and the NDP will last at least until the proportional representation (PR) referendum in November. After that, I don’t know what will happen. It will depend on the referendum vote.”
She says she’s very concerned about what she sees happening around the referendum. “I have no problem with going to the people in regards to proportional representation. My issue is with the politicization of the process.” She points out that the two previous times the people of B.C. were asked about PR, it was done by a citizen’s group made up of people from all across the province.
“The question was developed by them, and it was clear and easy for people to understand. This question will be developed by cabinet, which right away brings a partisanship to it. John Horgan had indicated early in the spring that the question would be a yes/no, but he has now indicated that it could be a multiple choice question.
“And there is the bare minimum of 50 per cent plus one as what is required to have this come into place. There’s no minimum on voter turnout, so it could be 10 per cent of the people of British Columbia; 50 per cent of that will make a significant difference in how we vote for our elected officials.
“Another concern, of course, is that it has no minimum in terms of support across the province. There are a lot of concerns about a process that has a significant impact on the province as a whole and on our constitution. I think that will be a major issue in 2018.”
Tegart says there are a number of ongoing projects she is quite excited about, such as the emergency room at the Merritt Hospital, and the fact that work on the 10 Mile Slide site north of Lillooet remains on the list of projects for the Ministry of Transportation. Asked about the Clinton seniors’ living facility — which received $2.9 million in funding from the Liberal government in April — Tegart says it’s her understanding that the project is still going ahead, but it’s going much more slowly than she had hoped for.
“I continue to build relationships with people on both sides of the house, because I think it’s important in order to move things forward,” she notes. “We continue to ensure our issues are included in Question Period. There have been a number of questions in regard to wildfire recovery.
“I also co-chair a steelhead caucus within the Liberal Party, and we’ve been asking questions in regards to the steelhead and their sustainability, which is critically important to our area.” Tegart adds that the invasive species committee inaugurated by the Liberal Party is continuing.
Asked for her final thoughts on the year gone by, Tegart says “I think that 2017 was a year of showing the resiliency of the people who live in sometimes very rural areas. They love where they live, they’re determined to rebuild, and I think our job is to take down the barriers and allow people to move forward as they re-establish what they lost during 2017.
“I’ve been amazed at the people who have been in contact with our office who have such a positive attitude despite having lost everything. We’ve been working with Red Cross, United Way, the government, anyone who has money to say ‘Hey, how do we help people get past this initial phase of “Can I rebuild, how do I get water and sewer and electricity to my property”’.
“It’s going to be critical that government sees their role as assisting, but also looking at some of the barriers that we put out there for people. Our job is to try to take down those barriers, and allow people to move forward.
“2017 was challenging; but we didn’t lose anyone in the wildfires. We’re here to help, and here to assist, as people look forward to 2018.”