We need to do more to stop forest fires

Fighting forest fires

Sitting in the lake in the Shuswap, we looked up to see a plume of smoke on the side of the mountain.

My heart sank. I remembered the year before in the Shuswap when we couldn’t see from one side of the lake to the other because of the smoke, and I didn’t want this to be a repeat of that.

So, we jumped onto the phone and called *5555 to report it.

My son’s friend works for the B.C. Wildfire Service and saw my sister-in-law’s name attached to the report. He called my son and told him they were being dispatched to the fire.

The next morning, I read on Castanet that the fire was out and I could see it on the (services fire) map. Looking up, we could see there was only a smoulder left.

With the heat that has rolled in, and more than 4,000 lightening strikes in the past week, you can see why some fires have started. Most, sadly, are human caused.

It does feel like we suffered far more in this last six years than before.

I have lived in the Okanagan my entire adult life and in 2003 the, Okanagan Mountain Park fire was the “fire of the century” but in the last six years, we have had three fire seasons larger than that one, with the loss of property and the loss of life.

We are getting warmer and dryer and with this climate change comes a greater need to mitigate and prevent these emergencies.

As the (B.C. Liberal) environment critic, I am acutely aware of what the government is doing and what more can be done to mitigate climate change and build climate change resilience. But what we are doing in our forests isn’t working and we need to have a holistic forest management plan with all the stakeholders at the table.

We also need to fight fires more aggressively.

There is a company based on Vancouver Island that will not work for the B.C. government and instead takes more than $4 billion of air firefighting equipment to Australia, Alberta, and California.

We should have these resources deployed in B.C. and should work with local companies to do so.

Why do we need to fight fires more aggressively? Here’s why: the fires last year released more than 218 megatons of greenhouse gas (GHG) or CO2 into our air.

To put that in context, that is almost three times all of B.C.’s annual GHGs and 100 times more than our LNG sector produces in a year.

Think about that. If we stopped one fire season, what better air we would breathe.

As we all know, when the smoke comes, our eyes burn, our lungs hurt and we stop going outside or enjoying our nature. Forest fires not only affect our forests but our physical and mental health as well.

We need fewer fires.

This is my call for us all to be vigilant, to always be on the alert. Report fires when you see them and do everything in your power to not start them.

Our land has dried out quickly, turning from green to brown. It is in a perfect condition for fire to start and spread quickly.

My question this week:

What do you think we should do about fighting the forest fires, and what will you personally do to help?

I love hearing from you, and I read every email you send.Email [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MLA questions government responsibility for health care problems

Who is responsible?

Who is responsible for the state of our healthcare system?

Where does the buck stop? Who has the power to change the trajectory of where our healthcare system is going?

Last week, we saw an example of what happens when a company isn’t succeeding. The public can feel when things aren’t working—whether it is the breaks in the supply chain, promises being broken, disruptions in services, or long waits.

But waiting for your meal at a restaurant is one thing, when it is your ferry, or your MRI, the stakes get higher and can even be life-threatening.

When your meal is late, your goods don’t arrive or when your consultant makes a mistake, there are consequences. We have legal recourse. We are protected as citizens. Our rights matter.

But what happens when it is the government that is supposed to provide the service? What happens when the ferry doesn’t leave, or doesn’t arrive, or worse, when the ER is too full, or shuts down, when a patient can’t find a doctor or continually waits for surgery? Who is responsible? And how is that responsibility carried out?

Last week we saw how some of that responsibility is carried out. The CEO of BC Ferries was fired. But was that the right decision? A new board chair and then the firing of the CEO.

I am not arguing BC Ferries hasn’t had problems but some of those problems were outside of the organization, in edicts brought in by the government. We don’t see the CEOs of airlines being fired, or at airports, despite the incredible chaos in our travel industry.

So we at BC Ferries?

There is a long history between this NDP government and BC Ferries. The treatment of BC Ferries, and the inordinate amount of control that was seized by the NDP the last time it was in power led to chaos and the “fast ferries” disaster.

The former BC Liberal government changed the amount of control government could exercise over BC Ferries, making it more autonomous. That has been systematically eroded over the last six years of NDP rule.

Without delving into the minutia of this erosion of autonomy, let’s assume it was the correct decision. Then what should government do about the imploding healthcare system?

In Nova Scotia, the premier there fired the health minister because a patient died in an emergency room. Last week in North Vancouver, a woman died in an emergency room waiting for care. Who is responsible? Someone is.

In the private sector, incompetence and negligence is not tolerated. In business, the public hold boards and executives to account when services aren’t rendered appropriately.

But this government does not. This government is choosing not to solve our healthcare crisis.

The government is choosing chaos over the needs of patients, and choosing not to hold the executives, boards, and minister responsible.

Rather than deal with the issues within the system, this NDP government is doubling down on failed strategies, revelling in unscientific ideology, and refusing to deal with a system that is imploding.

Even in the face of patients dying on surgical waitlists, waiting for cancer treatment and care, and in emergency rooms, this government is bragging about how good things are.

This government has had six years in charge of the healthcare of British Columbians, and things have never been worse —failed policy resulting in deaths.

My question for your this week is simple:

Who should be held responsible for the current state of our healthcare system?

I love hearing from you.

Please email me at [email protected] or call me at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

NDP likes to keep secrets

The Code of Silence award in the "Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy" category was awarded to the B.C. NDP government last year.

This award is given by the Canadian Association of Journalists to those who best exemplify dedication to deny transparency, openness and the public’s right to know.

This is not an award that any government should want to win.

But our current B.C. government has systematically made it more difficult for the public to have access to government documents.

These documents answer questions about how healthcare dollars are being spent, what the business case is for new infrastructure projects, or why certain decisions are made.

Furthermore, these documents are paid for by taxpayers.

So why did this B.C. NDP government win the award for being the most secretive in Canada?

Take for example the changes they made to the provincial Freedom of Information Act. These changes make it harder and more costly for the public to ask for documents. For the first time, there is a charge to ask for a document under the Freedom of Information Act.

This charge makes it very difficult for a member of the public, or even some journalists, to access the information they request.

The public has a right to know so much more than the government discloses or permits.

Having the opportunity to see documents and information allows for scrutiny and the accountability that is necessary in government.

It is how our provincial legislative system is set up to function.

Transparency is how governments build trust, and create understanding with the public.

It’s not good enough for a government to respond to the public’s questions with a parental, “because I said so.”

There are many examples of how this government is avoiding accountability and transparency. Take for example the George Massey tunnel project.

A fully approved and tendered bridge project that would have opened this month was turfed. The government went back to the drawing board and produced a different project – another tunnel.

This multi-billion dollar tunnel is no bigger than the one that exists, and won’t be able to accommodate future sky trains.

Why would we change from a 10-lane, multi-modal bridge to an eight-lane traffic tunnel?

Great question!

When the business case was received from the government, most of the pages were redacted (blacked out), so that no one could make sense of the costs, the estimates, the environmental impact, or the overall rationale.

This leaves us with the question of whether this was done in the best interest of the residents of the province.

And we have no answers, because of the lack of transparency.

Last month, the Premier cancelled the ill-timed reconstruction of the B.C. Royal Museum.

Despite promising the business case, when it was received by the public, it only had a third of its pages
un-redacted and able to be seen.

Again, without transparency – a government loses trust.

These are but three examples of how this government is going out of its way to keep the public from being able to have access to documents that the public pays for.

This started the first year that the NDP was granted a majority government, but the slippery slope of secrecy has continued ever since.

My question to you this week is:

  • How does a lack of government transparency affect your level of trust in public institutions?

I love hearing from you.

Please reach me via email at [email protected] or phone 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Political will needed to deal with B.C.'s mental health crisis

B.C.'s mental health crisis

The mom and dad who are desperate to find a psychiatrist to help their son. The sibling who is trying to find his or her brother, despite him being street-entrenched. The spouse trying to help his or her significant other find help while trying to keep the family together and just survive. The business trying to keep its employees mentally healthy and invest thousands into programs.

Never before have we, as British Columbians, had such a large of an issue with mental health. Simply put, it is everywhere.

Yes, we had problems before, but the pandemic threw accelerant onto the issue and it is now a raging fire.

Dr. Lesley Lutes has written a number of articles about the mental health “tsunami” after the pandemic and how prolific the effects will be. Her voice and others have been sounding the alarm bell, making a case for why B.C. needs to add psychological supports to our health system.

Additionally, the effects of the pandemic are exacerbated on the elderly, who were left isolated and alone during this difficult time. Our young adults also suffered horrifically, with more than two-thirds having developed symptoms of depression and anxiety during the pandemic. Where is the help for our seniors and our youth?

If mental health issues were a river, we have half of our population floating down its current. Despite trying to pull people out of the river, we have yet to address why people got into it in the first place, and how we can help them comprehensively.

We all know of the issues. In our families, in our communities and in our streets, we see the effects of this mental health tsunami. We are desperate for a solution because we are doing isn’t working.

We don’t have enough supports in our communities. Parents and families cannot find support, we don’t have enough health care professionals, the support isn’t integrated with other disciplines, rehab and treatment aren’t available immediately and there are not enough community supports like psychologists and counsellors.

British Columbia needs so much more than what is being offered today. We need help, before it’s too late.

We know the stories, the stories about the ones who didn’t make it, of those who attempted to self-medicate their minds from the torture they lived in and went one dose too far.

Those people were our husbands, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, or our neighbours or family members.

There is hope, however, but we need the political will to do it. We need to overhaul the entire system and bring a complex care campus to Kelowna.

Complex-care addresses the needs of people who have overlapping mental-health challenges and substance-use issues. We need to have more treatment than punishment, and more supports offered before anyone requires the treatment. We need to have mental health offered to all as part of the healthcare system, and start treating people holistically.

I know many people who won’t, or can’t, seek mental health care because of the cost and by the time one is able to see a psychiatrist, it might be too late. The government is throwing a lot of money at these issues, but there hasn’t been any marked difference in the outcomes.

My question to you this week:

Do you believe that all mental health supports should be covered by our health care system?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Please email me at [email protected] or call 250-712-3620

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More MLA Minute articles

About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC Liberal MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for the Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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