Community News Local Governance Local governance Local People Provincial politics

An interview with Adam Olsen, SN&I MLA

Jan 13, 2018 Editor

by Sue Stroud, citizen reporter. Image from

Saanich Voice Online sat down with Adam Olsen, the BC Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, in early November. Here’s what he had to say.

(In our December print issue)

SVO: What’s it like being an MLA?

“It’s very different in terms of what needs to be done in the constituency office as opposed to what needs to be done in the Legislature. It’s an honour to represent this constituency, this is a fantastic set of communities. Three municipalities, four First Nations and a handful of Gulf Islands, the diversity here is incredible and so is the potential of this place.”

SVO: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done so far?

“I would say definitely being involved in the first minority government in BC in many decades, going through that process and playing a pretty substantial role in reforming how political parties in the legislature interact with each other. It’s very exciting that we have two parties that have spent a lot of years at odds with each other coming together very quickly to build towards common ground. It makes me feel very happy.”

SVO: What did you feel the other day watching the BC Liberals try to take down the Speaker?

“Well it’s an unfortunate remnant of times gone past and the reality is that when the Speaker makes a ruling we are to honour that. There seems to be a lot of anger from the official opposition towards the Speaker. Frankly that should not spill out onto the chamber floor, especially when the opposition house leader is standing up and exhorting us on behaviour and language, it’s so contradictory to have him then lecturing the Speaker. It’s indicative of the command and control style that the Legislature has been under for almost two decades and in my opinion it is exactly what needs to be changed. It’s a kind of threatening demeanour, one that imposes force rather than trying to find a way to respectfully interact with each other.”

SVO: Some of the media reacted to that by suggesting you either have that or you have violence. Social media saw people asking for civility.

“We’ve all sworn an oath to defend the honour of the Crown, the Cabinet Ministers, the Executive are representatives of the Crown. To make up names to demean the Ministers or their offices is to demean the Crown. I find it appalling that it is found to be acceptable by fully grown adults, especially when in February we stand up and are solemn in our appreciation of anti-bullying day, it takes a very, very flexible imagination to see it as anything but that.

“We’re learning, the government is learning, the Opposition is learning and so are the media learning that this cannot be justified in any way whatsoever. A CKNW on-air personality suggested that the lesson is “Momma’s shouldn’t let their children grow up to be politicians” and that’s a travesty that it should be like that.

“Some are getting it more quickly than others, but we’re learning. There seems to be an idea that because the BC NDP as Opposition did it in the past, the BC Liberals believe they should do it now. I tried to point out to one of the BC Liberals that because the BC NDP did it in the past that might be precisely the reason why the BC Liberals might want to do something different now.”

SVO: You recently introduced your first bill.

“That’s right. I recently re-introduced a bill that was brought forward several times by Maurine Karagianis.

“It’s a bill that brings into alignment the treatment of First Nations and non-First Nations burial sites. I know you are aware of the work that both the former MLA Gary Holman and I did on Grace Islet. That was excellent work done by the former MLA and this was a piece that Maurine brought in when they were in Opposition and it never saw the light of day.

“I felt that it might not be the perfect solution but it was important for me to close the door on my end on the work that Gary, my predecessor, did to guarantee that our sacred sites are being treated equally.”

SVO: I assume that you are going to put forward more bills in February?

“My goal is going to be quality not quantity, there’s better quality Legislation when the government brings it forward because they have access to drafters, they have given us access for amendments, but not for the writing of the bills so it’s a lot of work for our staff to do the research and put together private members bills. So my first choice would be to raise the issue with the government and only if I determine they are not interested would I go forward with a private member’s bill. What Andrew Weaver has done before is to bring forward legislation from other jurisdictions and that ensures it has the proper legal drafting, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely applicable to BC . With this First Nations burials bill I knew there was already support within the NDP, I knew that the Premier and Maurine Karagianis had worked together for a long time on it and perhaps this might be a piece of legislation in honour of the work she’s done. She made a significant contribution to British Columbia and now that there’s an opportunity perhaps the government will do that. This was one piece I was comfortable bringing forward and there’s a lot of tools the government can use to perfect it, committees, consultation with First Nations etc. They may want to use this bill or they may want to craft another version of it and I’m fine with that.”

(In our January print issue)

SVO: You mentioned working together with the BC NDP. How often do you meet to discuss the issues?

“We meet almost every day formally and informally, but Sonia Fursteneau and I are on the Confidence and Supply working group with Finance Minister Carole James and Environment Minister George Heyman as well as our respective Chiefs of Staff. When we meet we have a very good conversation about the weeks past and weeks ahead.

“We use it to more formally address both concerns and opportunities, how to do things better and to make sure relationships are working well. Both George and Carole are lovely people and Sonia and I get along well with them. It’s an opportunity to stay connected and at some point I would like to have meetings like these with all parties in the Legislature. It’s gone a long way to diffusing tension where there might be some and laying out where we can go with this in the future.

“There’s always going to be political tensions around, but we’re determined to make the minority government last four years, the NDP are motivated by governing and we are happy to support that. Both Parties are motivated to show that minority governments are stable and that working together for British Columbians can work. This is to the benefit of British Columbians, in a majority government there is no benefit like that, but a minority government puts citizens concerns up front.

SVO: You are the whip for the Green Caucus and that’s a bit funny since your Party came out pretty strongly against whipping.

(Laughs) We have a whip because the whip is an important function of the legislature. I meet regularly with the other whips to
organize committee meetings and speaking slots. The whip helps makes the Legislature function properly.  It has at times been used as a tool to ensure a certain vote. I need to know how my colleagues are going to vote to help us keep our commitment to the NDP of “no surprises”, but I in no way enforce how they vote. When votes are called we have only two minutes to get everyone in place so it falls directly on my shoulders to know where my colleagues are at every waking moment of the Legislature. I carry their calendars in a folder with me everywhere so that if those bells ring I can locate them very quickly and get them into the chamber. After I was made the whip I did make a little video explaining the importance of the whip because there was a bit of “what the heck!’”

SVO: I have your letter to North Saanich Council about the Sandown development and will attach it to the article online, is there anything you want to add to it?

“North Saanich made a decision, but I want to emphasize that we are trying to find housing for people on the Peninsula and I feel very strongly that the development at Sandown has the potential of adding to the challenges we have and is not providing the potential solution. I don’t intend to get involved in municipal affairs, but I am the Green housing critic and the province has a role in finding solutions to that problem.

SVO: Stellys walkway, we talked about it before and you mentioned there might be something new coming as part of the reconciliation plans, but I was reminded that the walkway is intended to go all along from West Saanich to Stellys, going past the Fairgrounds and the school, would you be planning to support at least that part of the walkway?

“I’ve lived on Stelly’s my whole life, it’s probably one of the highest pedestrian traffic streets other than in the Saanichton, Keating and Brentwood cores and although the province doesn’t build walkways I am very supportive of increasing the lighting along Stelly’s.

“Taking my last hat off and putting my Transportation and Infrastructure hat on, which is also a role that I’m a critic of, we’re talking about a transportation model shift, walking and cycling are very important parts of this shift and it’s a very useful thing to be investing in pedestrian and foot traffic. I know that the Mayor and Chiefs have talked and certainly I’ll support it, but there hasn’t been an official ask of me to seek support from the province on that project, but I’m certainly supportive of shifting modes of transportation.”

Olsen explains that his January ‘Public Circle’ community gathering will be on transportation. Adding, “They are very informal, just an opportunity to get together, I do very little talking.”

You can find out more about them at