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Citizen empowerment focus of Town Hall meeting

A meeting discussing recent bills passed by the government was less about politics than it was about letting people know they have the power to affect change, according to organizers and featured speakers.

A meeting discussing recent bills passed by the government was less about politics than it was about letting people know they have the power to affect change, according to organizers and featured speakers.


A Town Hall Meeting created by a steering committee of concerned citizens packed the Gem Theatre on Wednesday evening with people wanting to know more about a handful of recently passed bills affecting health care, emergency management, public input and a local campaign to limit and in some cases, ban the use of pesticides and herbicides. 


Specifically, the bills being discussed were Bill 36: Health Professions and Occupations Act, Bill 31: New Emergency Management Act, and Bills 44 and 47, which are land and development-related.


Featured speakers were Roger Harrington, retired dentist and running to be an Independent MLA; Corrine Mori, Registered Nurse fired from her job for refusing the COVID vaccine, and Christina Abbott, a Grand Forks resident who is currently pushing for a cosmetic pesticide and herbicide ban within city limits.


Despite the political topics, this meeting was more about giving people a chance to meet and discuss issues respectfully, said Steering Committee member and co-organizer Gianni Scaramella. 


“I’m one of four people that got together and decided that there are some important bills and issues that the normal British Columbia citizen is totally unaware of,” he said. “I’m relatively new, with my wife and I. We fell in love with this community in January of 2023. We also have people that are longtime residents, so we feel we fairly represent the demographic of the community.”


Three of the bills being discussed were passed quickly in November of 2023, he explained. 


Abbott is also a member of the Steering Committee as a resident that grew up in the city and Christina Lake, as well as part of a family that has lived in the area for generations. With crowds turning up early, she said that was indicative of people being inquisitive, especially after the past four years.


“We’ve gone through a lot and we wanted mostly to let people know about the information,” she said. “It’s only information. These laws have been passed, but a lot of the community doesn't know what they mean or what the context means for them. So that’s why we wanted to bring in professionals to educate them on what each of those things mean.”


She explained she has a passion to help the community, spurred on after she was exposed about two years ago to chemical sprays from the farm that her home borders near Hutton Elementary, causing her to become sick and requiring treatment that took nearly a year. 


She was speaking as well, not just as a committee member, but as an example that people can effect change if they are persistent enough and organized. This past February, she went before City Council to talk about a cosmetic pesticide ban within city limits. Initially, she was turned down in favour of a PR campaign, but returned about a month later, with supporters and a petition to request a ban, again. Council ultimately voted to have a sample bylaw for discussion by October. 


She was hoping not just to talk about her exposure, but how she was able to fight to enact change.


“We are trying to show people that just because a law or bill passes, it’s not the end,” she said. “People can still make changes through voting, petitions, rallying. It’s never a done deal. Laws change all the time, but they need to speak up and know how to enact that change.”


While Mori brought a medical perspective, she said many of the concerns people are starting to have over government involvement are similar across many issues. Mori explained she was speaking as one of 800 nurses that lost their jobs when they refused to take a COVID vaccine, she said, because it violated their ethical standards for taking an unproven vaccine and by extension, protecting the welfare of their patients and colleagues’s right to make decisions over their own health and body autonomy. Of which, she said Bill 36 worsens because it takes more rights away from patients and medical professionals.


People have started to notice more federal and provincial government expansion, she said, from housing, to medical mandates and how much say the public gets when laws and bills are created and amended.


Both are supposed to have their own jurisdictions and taxations, she said, but both have been slowly growing.


“What we are having is this increase in authoritarianism that is coming through the provincial government,” she said. “We got to see a little of it at the beginning of the pandemic, when certain people were restricted. There was a lot of discrepancies over who could go out. That was our first indication there was trouble.”


She too said people need to be asking questions and making themselves aware of what the government is doing and stay informed, ask questions and when needed, protest. 


Harrington, who took time at the beginning of his talk to touch on vaccine mandates and SOGI legislation as other examples of government overreach in private lives, focused his talk on Bill 44, which is a housing and development statute, he said. He said after reading it, he interpreted it as and act to bring in denser building construction, parking variances and municipalities going from five-year plans, to 20-year plans. 


All of it seemed suspicious to him, he said.


“So let’s look at a place like Vancouver. They put up a building, but there's no parking. Where are they going to put it? Out on the street, but everyone else is parked there,” she said. “Do you think they want to make it more difficult for people to have cars? Freedom? Being able to move around?” he asked.


He also shared his thoughts on Bill 47, which he explained was supposed to be about increasing the housing supply in the province. His interpretation of the bill is its designed to squeeze out single-unit homes, he said, meaning more people will be living in highrises without hope to own homes.


The meeting did draw attention from politicians and political candidates. Current MLA for Boundary-Similkameen Roly Russell was in attendance and in later comments countered some of the statements as untrue. 


“I think they probably know, for example, that the Housing Act does not ban public hearings, the Land Act certainly doesn't do what they suggested, and no one is forcing you to build six-plexes on your farms,” he stated in an email. “Misinformation is accidental: disinformation comes with intention. So, It's certainly not my style of politics.  Playing to fear, distrust and selfishness doesn't build community nor name us better tomorrow than we were yesterday, individually or collectively.”


Despite that, he said he is happy to see people engaged in discussions, pointing out  people are talking about things already happening, such as work he’s doing with Premier David Eby to build out a rural lens for Victoria, so policy and programs from the government serve rural people better.


“There are many things with our system that need lots of work, and we do need to (and are) working to enable and support more community empowerment and decision making,” he said.  “Those are the two main reasons I got into this work, after all!   And I'm happy to see people engaged in the political process.”


With an election coming this fall, potential politicians are also paying attention. Chris Pequin, a potential candidate for the Federal Conservative Party in the riding of the Similkameen, South Okanagan, West Kootenay-Boundary, said he couldn’t comment much on what was said as he arrived later, but the meeting seemed mostly about issues that were of provincial and municipal jurisdiction and taking notes on what was being discussed. 

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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