MLA claims BC United credit for recent government moves

Party first with ideas

In school, you get in trouble for peeking over and copying the work of your classmate. In politics, that happens all the time.

The premier just pulled a fast one in his recent announcement that cellphones will be banned from schools in B.C., starting next school year.

A cellphone ban was an important part of the BC United education policy that (Leader) Kevin Falcon released last September, before kids went back to school.

At that time, the education minister rejected a ban on cellphones and stated, “I would definitely leave it to the teachers and the individuals to make that decision.”

So, as the BC United opposition, we went to work and through a series of strategic moves – including public speeches, interviews, articles and policy suggestions – we highlighted the need for a more nuanced approach to technology in education. Finally after leading the way in educational policy, the government finally reversed course.

Now, its announcement shows while it was copying our homework, it missed some important details.

For example, recognizing the need for consistent implementation of the classroom cellphone ban, we called for strong provincial leadership and advocated for measures such as providing lockers for phone storage. These elements are missing from the NDP government’s announcement, which could lead to fragmented and ineffective rollout of this new policy.

Over the past 3 1/2 years, as part of the BC United caucus and the MLA for Kelowna-Mission, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of an effective opposition in shaping government policies for the betterment of our society.

In recent times, our province has seen a series of notable policy reversals by the government under (Premier) David Eby's leadership. These changes, while welcome, highlight a concerning trend of initial policy missteps, necessitating robust opposition to steer the course correctly.

As the official Opposition, our job is to draw attention to the missteps or gaps, and give ways to correct them.

Here are a couple of other examples of how the BC United opposition was able to force a stubborn government to reverse course.

Autism funding and local support services

One of the most heartening reversals was regarding autism funding, particularly impacting local entities like Starbright. Initially, the government's approach lacked the nuanced understanding and support needed for those with autism, causing distress in our communities and a threat to the funding that families were receiving to support their children’s needs.

We recognized the shortfall, relentlessly pursued the matter in the legislative assembly, challenging the ministers directly and advocating tirelessly for a policy overhaul.

Through questioning, speeches, attending rallies and writing articles, we highlighted the importance of tailored support for autism, eventually leading to a policy turnaround, including funding for our local Starbright.

That change was a victory for our advocacy but raised questions about why such crucial support was overlooked initially.

Protection of public spaces

Another policy that faced significant opposition was related to the protection of public spaces, such as parks, bus stops and children's play structures, from open drug use under the poorly planned drug decriminalization legislation.

That issue struck a chord with many British Columbians who were concerned about the safety and sanctity of their community spaces.

The BC United caucus was at the forefront, engaging with the public, listening to the RCMP,and voicing concern in every available forum. We emphasized the need for a balanced approach that respects both the needs of the community and those struggling with addiction – one that focuses on treatment and recovery, not long-term drug addiction.

The eventual policy shift, albeit slow and reluctant, was a testament to the relentless pressure and constructive criticism from the opposition.

While it is true the media and public narratives do not always acknowledge the opposition's role in these policy shifts, it is crucial to understand the essence of what a good opposition party can achieve.

We are a government in waiting. We are here, with great ideas and when the next election is called, it will be our job to convince British Columbians that we are best choice to lead this wonderful province we call home.

Until that time, we continue to fulfill our role as His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the legislative assembly. We remain committed to advocating for the best interests of British Columbians, ensuring that our voices lead to meaningful and positive policy changes.

We start a spring session of the Legislature soon and as always, I want to hear from you. What ideas would you like to see pursued in this next legislative session?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

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

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education 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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