Since last July, Kootenay residents often ask me how my life has changed now that I serve as a cabinet minister in B.C.’s new NDP government. As you can imagine, it’s a huge honour to take on the role of minister for energy, mines and petroleum resources, and one that I was hoping for when I got the call from Premier-designate John Horgan on July 17, 2017. There have been many changes and much to learn since then, so I will take this opportunity to share with you that journey and what it’s like to move from an opposition MLA to a government cabinet minister.
In Opposition, my job was to hold the government accountable for their actions. I would ask questions in the daily question period or annual budget estimates process. I often used “2 Minute Statements” to share the good work and community events of constituents with the entire Legislative Assembly. I also debated bills, statements and motions to ensure your voices were heard on critical issues. I even proposed legislation, such as a bill for a poverty reduction plan, but did not see it taken up for debate by the former government, much more see it passed.
Essentially, I used the legislative tools to the best of my ability, and sometimes we saw change result –such as ending the child support clawback, or stopping cuts to grants for the Capitol Theatre or important programs that support survivors of domestic violence. But my tool box wasn’t as strong as it is now. And with that stronger tool box comes more responsibility as well.
For example, the B.C. Legislature not only debated a bill I put forward this spring, but passed it. This Bill is giving government the ability to better clean up orphaned natural gas wells and prevent them in the future. It wasn’t a bill that got a lot of media attention, but it is critically important to protecting our air, land and water.
To get this bill to pass, it went through more steps and reviews than those I presented as an opposition MLA. I had to present it to more committees for approval and once I introduced it, I then had the responsibility to defend and explain it to other MLAs, most notably the BC Liberal and Green leads on the issue. Ministry staff did a great job in supporting me as minister for this, and it resulted in support for the bill from all MLAs.
Along with having greater due diligence and thus assurance that a bill I present will be debated and hopefully passed, I have different tools and venues to express our Kootenay voices such as Cabinet or committee meetings. One tool that is the same though, is my ability to report on constituents’ good work and concerns during debates on bills, such as the annual Budget bill or Speech from the Throne which sets out government’s agenda.
A further change moving from Opposition to government is that I no longer ask questions in question period or other debates, but must answer them as a minister of the Crown. Whichever party is power, this type of exchange is an essential aspect of accountability in our democracy. And now, I can say that I enjoy both asking and answering questions.
Within my ministry, I’ve launched an independent scientific review of hydraulic fracturing to ensure that we have the best possible environmental practices in extracting resources to heat our homes. The Mining Jobs Task Force is also one of my initiatives and will be making recommendations for maintaining jobs and improving certainty in one of B.C.’s foundational industries. Another highlight from my ministry is the $600 crisis grant for BC Hydro customers who find themselves unable to pay their bills due to a life crisis. As a long-time anti-poverty advocate, I know that this grant is going to help many people at a time when they need help the most.
I’m proud to be part of a government that is making life more affordable, improving the services people count upon, and supporting the creation of good jobs and a sustainable economy for all British Columbians. I am proud to serve you as MLA for Nelson-Creston and will continue to work hard to ensure this government works in you.