MS Awareness at the BC Legislature

On Monday May 7th, I was part of a team from the MS Society that went to the BC Legislature to spread the word on our priorities to the MLAs. At the same time, my mum was visiting from England! It was a trip of learning experiences touched with serendipity, and hopefully, some great outcomes for people with MS and for all disabled people.

The fun started with dinner, on Sunday night. No, this isn’t a foodie blog post, this is still a political post! As we were sat outside, a car pulled up at the traffic lights and two men started shouting “Michelle! Michelle!””Who is that?” asks my mum. “That would be my MLAs”, I reply, as they’re both waving at me from the car. Our walk back to the hotel took us back to the Legislature, we stopped to admire the fountain. The lights had been switched on and turned to red. Lovely!

BC Legislature at night, lit up in white, with fountain in foreground lit up in red

The day began with photos on the steps of the Legislature. While it was mostly smiles and back slapping, it was also good to meet up with my MLAs again – Norm Letnick and Steve Thomson. Why do I say I have 2 MLAs, you might ask? In fact, I have one, Norm Letnick, for Kelowna-Lake Country. In reality, there are 3 ridings that cover the Central Okanagan, so it makes sense for them to work as a team. Since I have known them, they have run their constituency surgeries together, and if there are issues that affect the whole region, one of them takes it on, and moves forward with it. In my time advocating, the third MLA was Christy Clark, who was also Premier, so her representative came to the meetings. Now she has resigned, Ben Stewart was re-elected as MLA in February. I had yet to meet him – but stay tuned, readers!

Michelle, Norm Letnick, MLA, and Steve Thomson, MLAMembers of the MS Society group on the steps of the Legislature with Tania being interviewed by the pressLarge number of MLAs with members of the MS Society team on the steps of the Legislature

After the MLAs did some work in the House, and I went back to the hotel for a sleep, we had lunch, where a number of volunteers sat at tables with MLAs – mostly NDP MLAs, including Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, and John Horgan, Premier. John Horgan met up with Lynn Hunter, an MS volunteer, who had been an NDP MP (yes, federal) – and he had worked for her then! My mum and I sat with my MLAs – Norm and Steve! While we discussed to the MS Society priorities and listened to a presentation on them (which they should know really, really, well, the number of times I’ve told them!) my mum asked them some questions about whether the MLAs of each party “got on” with each other – and when we realized that no-one was rushing to say hi to them or sit with us, I was very thankful that they had come to the lunch to support me. To be clear, this has nothing to do with politics – I’m very clear to them that my personal politics lie far to the left of the NDP! – but it has everything to do with people working together to do the right thing. And I believe that Norm and Steve work hard for the people of the Central Okanagan – as much as we might disagree! As the lunch was breaking up I got to meet the third MLA in the Central Okanagan team – Ben Stewart. It was good to be able to have that first meeting, as we are sure to meet back on home turf, and I’m bound to be asking for support for something.

One of the stories in the presentation was me and the lack of accessible washrooms at the ultrasound clinic – when I had to transfer onto the toilet where the whole waiting room and reception area could see. That was the story picked in the morning by the press too. Super. My washroom habits are now infamous.

As Minister of Health, Adrian Dix proclaimed May as MS Awareness Month in the province of BC. As part of his speech he covered his vision for care – one where supposed concerns for safety (that have little to do with safety) are no longer the drivers for our care system; where we build a system that caters to all the needs of disabled people, not just those most basic functions of care. I’m paraphrasing – but I don’t think I’ve over-exaggerated what I heard. Talking about another priority, a BC Disabilities Act, we heard that once the federal act is written, there is a commitment for a BC act to come next. That was big news for me, and very important – hopefully it will leave us without gaps in our coverage, legislatively, as disabled people.

After lunch we went into the gallery of the house for Question Period. What a performance that is! The bowing to the chair (even when no-one is sat there). The standing up and sitting down. The language. The announcements of the different groups in attendance went on for around half an hour! On our way out, I asked the staff how they ever got anything done, if all they did was announce who was watching them – but I was told that today’s was quite different! Norm (notice the familiarity…) introduced me – and my mum. I knew it was happening, and he had some notes, but at the last minute he decided to “wing it”, he told me later. I have to say me brought a tear to my eye! You can watch him speak by clicking here.

After another quick sleep I went back to the Legislature for a meeting with Tania, the president of the BCY division of the MS Society, and Charles, MS Society BCY Government Relations, and two BC Liberal critics – sort of shadow ministers. They were the Opposition Critics for Health and for Seniors. Joan Isaacs is the Seniors Care critic, while the Health critic is – wait for it – Norm Letnick! The meeting was in Norm’s office, and while we were waiting to start, Norm pointed out someone in the hallway we should meet – Rick Hansen!

Michelle with Rick HansenMichelle, Tania, Charles and Rick Hansen

After some photos and some chat with the Man in Motion, we got down to business. I know from past experience that Norm likes facts and solutions. In his previous career, Norm had been an associate professor at Okanagan College in business, and I think I know how his students would have felt if they put forward a less than complete proposal! We went backwards and forwards, and drew out from our priorities two questions that Norm was going to present as part of the Estimates committee meeting. We left, promising to send him more background information.

This is the part where the trip was sprinkled with a bit of pixie dust or was just plain serendipity. Estimates are the process in the Westminster parliamentary system where the government sets forward detailed estimates of its budget – how much the proposals are going to cost. These go forward to the Committees of Supply, where questions are asked of the Minister and senior ministry officials. All of it is on the record – it’s all recorded in Hansard – so the words, and any commitments, are there in print, going forward. If we had planned our day to be later in the month, we would have missed this opportunity. Similarly, without having built up a relationship with Norm previously, and with him being aware of the care issues, I don’t think we would have been able to get such detail into our discussion, and we would have made much more general points.

For the rest of the week, I became a real political junkie and followed the discussions on Hansard! Norm covered our issues in detail, which, in turn allowed the Minister of Health to get his plans into the record too. We all seem to be in agreement. That needs to transfer into action going forward. Talk is cheap, so they say. If you’re interested in seeing where all this advocacy turned into questions in committee, follow these links:

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/3rd-session/20180509pm-CommitteeA-Blues

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/3rd-session/20180510am-CommitteeA-Blues

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/3rd-session/20180510pm-CommitteeA-Blues

It was a great day – great to see our legislature in action, great to meet so many people and have the MS Society priorities get such recognition. I’m extremely grateful to everyone we met with on the day, and the genuine way they engaged with our issues. Of course, my most grateful thanks go to Steve and particularly Norm for being such great examples of constituency representatives and for continuing to support those who particularly need their voices to be heard. But don’t think they all get off lightly! Now words need to become actions!

Legislature and the fountain

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