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BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau talks housing, old growth in visit to Nelson

Furstenau also discussed challenges of a small caucus, the drug crisis and seniors care
B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau at Cottonwood Falls in Nelson on Sept. 3. She visited the city over the Labour Day weekend and visited the Cottonwood Market, met supporters at a Lakeside Park gathering, and took part in the Pride Parade. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau was in Nelson over the Labour Day weekend.

She took part in the Pride Parade, held a meet-and-greet at Lakeside Park, met constituents at the Cottonwood Falls Market and talked about several provincial issues.

The visit was the second by a either a party leader or a budding one to Nelson in the last month after David Eby stopped by the city while campaigning for the NDP’s top job.

Asked why the party has not been able to elect more than three MLAs – the party currently has two – Furstenau said, “It takes a long time to create a really solid foundation. I think that had there not been a snap election called in 202o, one week after I became leader of the party, in a pandemic, I think our success in that election is a testament to that strong foundational piece that we’ve built.”

The Greens won 15 per cent of the popular vote in the 2020 election, and 16.3 per cent in 2017.

She said the electoral system is not “conducive to people voting for what they want,” referring to the party’s support for proportional representation and to the tendency for left-leaning voters to worry about splitting the vote between the NDP and the Greens.

She emphasized that the Greens are not a one-issue party.

“We are a party that looks at, essentially, how do we create the conditions for people to be well, to be healthy. Wellbeing is is at the centre of our work.”

Asked if David Eby (former housing minister and attorney general and NDP leadership candidate) might say the same thing about his party, she said she thinks he would. But she said the government has not told the public what the outcomes of their policies will be, so they can not be measured.

“What we hear from this government is, we put $500 million into mental health and addictions, we put two $2 billion into housing. OK, fine. What are the outcomes? I want to hear about what that money has resulted in.”

She said the two Green MLAs with seven staff members in Victoria spend their time trying to hold the government to account.

“As an opposition caucus, part of our job is to hold them to their word and to point out when they aren’t being true to their word or when their actions and their words don’t match.”

She said the Greens take partial credit for some of the NDP’s more progressive initiatives, citing the formation of the all-party committee on the drug crisis, and of the old growth scientific review panel.

Housing and seniors care

Furstenau said the province should be supporting co-ops and other non-profit organizations that want to develop affordable housing, and should provide interest-free loans to landlords with small buildings to maintain the properties so they don’t have to rely on rent hikes.

“And importantly, it needs to work with the federal government to stop this growing force of real estate investment trusts, investment bodies buying real estate.”

She called for innovative solutions and cited a tiny home project in Cowichan designed to address affordable housing.

Seniors care is not so much an issue of space but of personnel, Furstenau said. She wants the government to invest in more home support jobs to alleviate the need for long-term care, and to find ways to train and pay more staff for institutional care.

She also linked seniors care and housing by citing a new seniors care facility on Vancouver Island that cannot find employees because there is nowhere for them to live.

Opioids and mental health

Furstenau said she supports the movement toward a regulated safe supply of drugs.

“If we want healthy, thriving people in healthy, thriving communities, a regulated safe supply is part of that equation, just as a regulated supply of alcohol ended the chaos of prohibition. There is a chaos that is created by allowing this illicit, illegal drug market to thrive.”

She said the Green Party supports the regulation of addiction services and all mental health services.

She said a person seeing a counsellor often has no idea whether that person has a three-month course in counselling or a PhD, and she recommends the creation of a regulating body for counsellors and therapists, similar to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Old growth

Furstenau is critical of the NDP’s approach to protecting old growth, saying that the forest stands that were deferred from logging “are now either at risk of being logged or have been logged. This is: your actions do not match your words. That breaks trust that breeds cynicism.”

She calls for conservation financing, to match that already offered by the federal government.

“This cannot be a conversation about either you log and get revenue, or you don’t log and you get no revenue. If that’s the choice being put to First Nations, that’s not a choice.”

She said this funding process should be led by Indigenous people and “needs to be supported by governments that have allowed enormous wealth and resources to be extracted from these territories for the last century and a half.”

Asked what keeps her tiny contingent going day in and day out in the legislature, Furstenau admitted it can sometimes feel daunting.

“But having an orientation towards purpose, we’re here to serve. We are putting solutions on the table we are evidence driven, and positively focused. That purpose combined with the joy of service, really the joy of being able to try to make positive change. Those are what sustain us.”

The Nelson-Creston riding typically gives relatively strong support to the B.C. Green Party.

In the 2020 provincial election the NDP’s Brittny Anderson won with 7,296 votes ahead of the Green Party’s Nicole Charlwood, who had 5,611. Tanya Finley of the Liberal Party followed with 4,171 votes, while Terry Tiessen of the Libertarian Party finished with 384.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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