“The one consistent is a lot of emails,” said Roly Russell, when asked about a day in his life as MLA for the Boundary-Similkameen riding.
Since winning his seat in the 2020 provincial general election, Russell has established himself throughout the riding. But he didn’t always want to go into politics.
Science and environmental conservation have been lifelong interests of Russell’s. After studying conservation biology, forestry, and ecology at the post-secondary level, Russell went on to pursue a career in academia, researching and teaching in order to raise awareness about climate issues.
“For me, personally, through my trajectory through life, (it) is recognizing the urgency of climate action particularly, and seeing the opportunity to help be part of the solution there.”
Sustainability has always been a priority for Russell. He said that his scientific background helps him in his political roles, particularly when it comes to decisions surrounding climate issues.
“Coming out of the world of science brings a very different lens to how we get to making decisions or understanding what’s true or not true. So that also has a significant impact on how I operate in this political realm.”
With roots in Grand Forks, Russell has a unique understanding of the inner workings of rural communities. Being immersed in a small-town community since childhood, he is knowledgeable about how rural communities function.
Russell said the Boundary-Similkameen is a unique riding. The region is comprised of several small towns, unlike many other ridings which operate around a larger city or community.
Russell is the parliamentary secretary for rural development. Through this role, he advocates for and represents the needs of rural communities.
As an MLA, Russell divides his time between the legislature in Victoria and Grand Forks. While in Victoria, he works on debating legislation and represents the people of the riding in parliament. When the legislative assembly is not in session, Russell travels throughout the riding. He said providing accessible ways for people to communicate with him and his team is a top priority.
“One of our goals is to figure out how…we make sure that there’s very minimal barriers for people to bring their concerns forward to us so we can try to help.”
The campaign period before Russell’s election was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020. This provided some challenges in being able to connect with communities, he said, but also opened up new ways of communicating through online platforms.
For Russell, meeting new people and connecting with communities is a highlight of the job.
“It’s like a very, very public job interview, essentially, that goes on for about a month,” he said when asked about the election process.
When Grand Forks flooded in 2018, Russell was the chair of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) and the electoral area director for rural Grand Forks/Area D. When the flooding hit the community, Russell played a role in rallying the community around recovery efforts. He worked to coordinate local groups and support them during economic and social recovery efforts.
Russell highlighted the appreciation he has for the many community members who contributed.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for those people who stepped forward into those roles to help navigate the community through it. And it ended very well for us, I think, in terms of having the right people at the table.”
After becoming an MLA, Russell had to deal with flooding in Princeton, in the fall of 2021. The second time around, Russell had more knowledge on how to deal with disaster recovery.
“Having gone through it for our own community here, I knew some of the questions to ask, that they would want to be asking, even before it might become clear that they needed to ask them.”
Disaster management, particularly weather events caused by climate change, are a top priority for Russell, both in and outside of his political roles.
“A few years ago, the challenge was making sure communities understood the threat well enough to plan properly for it. Now, I think, it’s pretty painfully obvious to everybody how much of an issue climate change is in terms of increasing frequency and unpredictability of these kinds of weather events.”
Flooding, fires, and heatwaves have become far too common for B.C. residents. Russell said preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery are all essential to managing these disasters.
Diking systems and wildfire services are examples of disaster mitigation that can help prepare for such events, he added.
After years in scientific academia and working with municipal government, Russell decided that working with the provincial government was the best way to bring about the change he hopes to see in the world.
“My goals for the term really are to help contribute to improving how we do things like forest management, like climate action, and like healthcare delivery in rural communities. And with a recognition that at the same time, it’s that understanding how rural communities work and doing a better job of serving their needs in a meaningful way.”
Russell recognizes that young people have a lot of potential to bring about change and have their voices heard, and he encourages teens who are interested in politics or activism to explore opportunities.
He was thoroughly impressed by the questions Boundary Secondary School (BCSS) students asked him during the campaign. Russell said that these questions were “the best questions [he] got asked.”
Russell encourages young people to pursue their interests and passions in life, and to be the change they want to see in the world.
“It’s figuring out a way to make your future what you want it to be, instead of doing what you’re maybe told that you’re good at or what you ought to do.”