Interim B.C. Liberal Party leader pushes for alert system during provincial emergencies

·4 min read
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond served as interim B.C. Liberal Leader after former Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson lost the provincial election in 2020 and later resigned. (BC Liberals - image credit)
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond served as interim B.C. Liberal Leader after former Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson lost the provincial election in 2020 and later resigned. (BC Liberals - image credit)

Interim B.C. Liberal Party Leader Shirley Bond says she's looking forward to handing over the reins to a new leader in 2022 after dealing with a year of natural disasters that the province needs to learn from.

Bond inherited the lowest seat count for the Liberals in B.C. since 1991 after an abysmal showing at the polls for the party under former leader Andrew Wilkinson in 2020.

The final count in last year's B.C. election saw the NDP win a majority of 57 seats. The Liberals captured 28 seats and the Greens two.

Wilkinson resigned as leader two days later.

Bond who is a veteran Prince George-Valemount MLA and former cabinet minister said it has been a challenging year for both government and opposition members. She said lessons must be learned from how emergencies have played out in the province.

"I think one of the key things we need to do is learn lessons from what's happened previously and whether it was the wildfires or the heat dome or now landslides and flooding. I think there's work to do in terms of the response that we have for British Columbians," said Bond.

Part of that response, she said, needs to be an emergency alert system operated by the province to warn communities when dangers arise.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded on highways in B.C. in mid-November due to mudslides and flooding after a massive atmospheric river unleashed record levels of rain. Four people were confirmed dead in a mudslide along Highway 99 near Pemberton and one person is still missing.

B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Reuters
B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Reuters

The province said the alert system will be used next year, but Bond said it should have been in place when the province was dealing with record temperatures last the summer.

"When we have a tool in British Columbia that hasn't been used from a provincial perspective, an alert ready system, if you stop and think about the heat dome, for example, where almost 600 frail elderly British Columbians lost their lives, largely because they didn't understand the risk, we have to do a better job of using the alert system of communicating risks to British Columbians," said Bond.

She was also critical of the response to 911 calls during the heat dome which left people waiting for hours in sweltering heat.

"Those are specific things that have to change if we're going to respond more effectively in the future."

Bond says working with the leader of B.C. Green Party to draw attention to solutions needed in B.C. in 2021 was effective — and hopes for more cooperation in the coming year.

"I've tried really hard working with the leader of the Green Party, for example, to say, let's work across party lines and let's make sure that our response to these events in the future is better and that we are working together to find the best possible solutions"

She is hopeful that both the Liberals and Greens can work with the NDP across party lines in 2022.

As B.C. faces more uncertainty with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus going into the new year, Bond is calling on the government to take more urgent action to slow its spread such as supplying rapid test kits to the public before January.

"When it comes to COVID response, more broadly, we need to make sure that the people of British Columbia, like Canadians across the country, have access to rapid tests. We think that's an important extra layer of protection. We've been calling on the government to do that since early on in the pandemic," said Bond.

She wants to see an expedited booster shot program as other provinces, such as Ontario, have put in place and a continued emphasis on vaccination.

B.C. Liberal Party
B.C. Liberal Party

New year, new leader

Bond says her workload has been heavy as interim Liberal leader, but it is been an honour. She says she has no preference for who takes the party's top job.

"Obviously we're entering 2022 with a lot of excitement and I look to the future. We're in the middle of a leadership campaign where we have seven people that want to lead the party. I'm very excited about that."

There are seven candidates vying for the role including former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon, Vancouver entrepreneur Gavin Dew; former chamber of commerce executive Val Litwin; Kelowna MLA Renee Merrifield; Vancouver MLA Michael Lee, Victoria developer Stan Sipos and Skeena MLA Ellis Ross.

B.C. Liberal Party members will elect a new leader Feb. 5.

Bond said as the year draws to end she is touched by the tireless efforts of people on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, including grocery clerks, gas station attendants and healthcare workers who are still on the job.

This is the first in a series of year-end interviews with the leaders of B.C.'s major political parties.

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