This week’s column is dedicated to the Victoria Foundation . . . you’ll find out why in a moment.
I begin with the hope that Premier Christy Clark takes some time this summer to fully grasp the implications of her “Families First” political agenda.
Every time she invokes that mantra, Pandora’s Governance Box opens just a little wider to reveal policy inequities and funding shortfalls that adversely impact families.
“Families First” is not a call to arms that a politician can throw around with impunity. It comes with a political — and social — obligation to actually do something.
Sadly, doing something in B.C. demands that government coffers brim to the spilling point and they’re not. The Clark government is discovering that it is sorely taxed when it comes to funding some of the pressing needs of families.
In the legislative session just ended, the NDP tried to hone in on this in its typical micro-issue fashion when it complained about the lack of government funding for legal fees for Downtown Eastside stakeholders who want to appear before the Wally Oppal inquiry into missing women. The Liberals dodged that bullet because government is, in fact, funding legal representation for the families of murdered women.
I want to expand on the issue of family safety and security and how it is impacted by policy inequities and funding shortfalls in rural B.C.
In the Hinterland — more than 80 per cent of B.C. — families rely on volunteer fire departments to keep them safe, to protect their property and their environment. There are about 10,000 volunteer fire fighters across rural B.C.
To see their work up close just go to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal on a Friday in July or August where Gulf Islands volunteers will be engaged in a public — “Families First” — wildfire prevention program. This program has been instrumental in reducing the forest fire risk on the islands.
I have personal knowledge of the energy and time islands volunteers invest in this life-saving program. Since 2006, I have been a communications volunteer for Pender Island Fire Rescue and even though I no longer live there I still help out long distance when there is a communications challenge.
Most years getting government funding to subsidize the Swartz Bay program has been an exercise in futility. This year, the Victoria Foundation came to the rescue with a generous grant. Thank you, Victoria.
Everywhere you go the story is the same. Rural fire departments receive no provincial funding yet provide many services to the families they protect … fire prevention programs, medical first response, rescue, residential fire fighting, auto accident extractions and flood prevention.
The volunteer coming to put out a chimney fire in the dead of night could be the guy who works down at Corner Gas. He’s probably a husband and father scrambling to balance the challenges of providing for a family on meagre wages while devoting hundreds of training hours a year to protect his neighbours.
Now, that is a “Families First” agenda.
Fire marshals used to travel around B.C., making sure volunteers were adequately trained and had the equipment they needed. Now, funding for the Office of the Fire Commissioner has been slashed to a pitiful state.
And, that is just the tip of the “Families First” iceberg. M