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Summer buzz

It may seem like a slow summer news week, but there are stories bubbling in the background to keep an eye on.
Even when MLAs aren’t here – politics continues. (meunierd /

Summer’s here, and the BC politics news has tapered off to a slow drip.

This is to be expected. Government personnel have been going full tilt since around this time last year, when they were quietly prepping for a snap fall election. Following an election, subsequent second wave of COVID-19, and a full spring session, there are understandably a lot of people taking vacations right now.

That said, there are a number of stories worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.

Heatwave fallout

In the aftermath of a record-setting “heat dome,” it looks increasingly like the government was caught without its sunblock on.

Premier John Horgan has admitted he and his government were “feeling a bit jolly” in the afterglow of removing most pandemic restrictions. And to an extent, that’s understandable. If he, staff, and cabinet popped a cork or two that evening, nobody would blame them. Same goes for you and the grandparents you’re allowed to visit now.

But governments must be able to pop corks and chew gum at the same time. And the sad, simple fact is hundreds of people died from the heatwave. Horgan has admitted, the government viewed it as hot weather, not an emergency.

His government has brushed aside calls for an independent commission to examine the province’s preparation and response. (And tried to repair the damage from “fatalities are part of life,” one of the most unfortunate and inadvertently insensitive comments from a leader after a disaster in recent memory.)

This week, the BC coroner’s office asked doctors not to issue death certificates in cases where heat is suspected to have played a role – the better to understand the scope of the disaster.

We may never know the exact toll, but the precise number doesn’t really matter: nobody is arguing the heatwave didn’t directly cause deaths.

Unfortunately, more heatwaves are likely in the years ahead. Politically, the NDP government may want to avoid a commission – but again, hundreds of people died in a very short amount of time. If we’re going to learn the necessary lessons to prevent this in the future, it’s hard to see why an objective look at what should have been done – and can be done – is anything but a good idea.

COVID – what if vaccinations taper off?

This week, BC announced it had surpassed a major milestone, with two million British Columbians having received their second dose of COVID vaccine. This is remarkable and encouraging news.

But among commentators and public health officials in different jurisdictions, there has been a quiet worry – at some point, supply will outstrip demand…but not in a good way.

Vaccine hesitancy is sometimes viewed as a phenomenon particular to the cultural right, but that doesn’t explain the comparatively low buy-in on Saltspring Island, for example. Rather, this “hesitancy” seems most pronounced at the fringes of both left and right.

The unanswered question is what happens when people stop booking vaccine appointments. (What happens to people, I mean – we know what happens to the vaccines.)

In Alberta, the provincial government famously launched a lottery to encourage slowpokes and doubters. Much public opinion in BC scoffed at this, but there’s every reason to expect a similar situation will present itself here.

It’s easy to say “people should accept the science.” That’s true, but the issue is too many simply don’t, and addressing the various reasons why will take longer than we have.

How public health officials respond will be worth watching.

Federal election

While the actual election likely won’t be called until September (ain’t nobody paying attention in August, especially not this year), the unofficial campaign is in full effect.

After the Trudeau government committed to fund both a massive childcare program and extend SkyTrain to Surrey and Langley (along with a host of smaller announcements along the way), it’s entirely possible BC has received all its election goodies early – like opening your gifts on December 23rd.

But if polls tighten up? This summer might be a good time to polish up your wishlist.

Of unmarked graveyards and burning churches

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indigenous sources were both pretty clear: there are lots of unmarked and untended graves at former residential school sites across Canada. But the first major discovery, near Kamloops, sparked a significant moment of national outrage, mourning, and reflection.

More will be discovered – in all likelihood, many more. But however Canada reckons and reconciles one of the worst aspects of its past, one hopes the rash of apparent arsons of Catholic churches across BC and Canada ends quickly.

It appears to be slightly receding – thankfully. But even if it grinds to a halt today, the fallout will last much longer.

Eventually, someone will be caught, either in the act, or after the fact. If these particular perpetrators are not Indigenous, but bored suburbanites cosplaying revolution, acting contrary to the clear, express wish of almost every Indigenous leader on record across the country – there will be awkward, uncomfortable questions.

Let’s hope these stop before someone is seriously injured.

BC Liberal leadership race

Finally, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the ongoing BC Liberal leadership contest, which now has five official candidates. In alphabetical order, they are Gavin Dew, Kevin Falcon, Michael Lee, Val Litwin, and Ellis Ross. Another prospective candidate, Kelowna MLA Renee Merrifield, is widely expected to make it official in the coming days and weeks. Another, Aaron Gunn, announced on Canada Day he was putting together an exploratory committee to test the waters.

Barring any surprise additions or subtractions, that’s the field.

Aside from potentially two more official launches, don’t expect much grabby headline news this summer. The various campaigns will be busy touring the province, making their pitches and recruiting both new and existing members – the lifeblood of politics, but aside from local coverage of tour stops, not usually the stuff of headlines.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca