Coralee Oakes had a busy 2020.
The Cariboo North MLA started the year with historic flooding, had to manage representing an area during a global pandemic and was re-elected in the fall.
She capped off the year by pushing the Legislature during an abbreviated session before the holiday break to better protect roads in the area from washouts.
“[Road work] was my focus every opportunity I had to stand in the House,” she said. “[It] was a call to action on the necessary resources we will need for spring freshet. We can’t expect to do the same thing year after year … Our ground is absolutely saturated.”
More intense spring flooding could become a normal occurrence in the Cariboo.
“Coming out of the 2017 wildfires, there was a lot of extraordinary research that was shared with us from other jurisdictions,” Oakes said. “Look at the trees we lost. That water has got to go somewhere. We have to rethink how we are doing things.”
Oakes said as the climate changes, more money will need to be invested in road washouts and flood protection, and politicians in the Lower Mainland don’t get it. She recalled a back and forth where instead of talking about road improvements, the ruling MLA spoke about car charging stations in the region.
“It was an interesting back and forth about the disconnect that often happens between the urban communities and rural communities,” Oakes said. “If we don’t have roads to drive on, having two charging stations isn’t going to be a strong advantage for us.”
Oakes said previous governments, including when the B.C. Liberals were in power, haven’t invested enough into preventative work, which could end up saving millions down the road. She said an $11-million program might have prevented the over $100 million needed to fix West Fraser Road.
“It’s harder to sell to the public, ‘hey, you’re getting a new culvert,’” she said. “But at the end of the day, if we don’t make those critical investments with taxpayer dollars … we’re going to continue to have the challenges that we have.”
Oakes said the pandemic offered an opportunity for governments to bring forward big ideas and changes. She reiterated a complete change in how infrastructure dollars are spent, with preventative maintenance taking priority.
“How do all of us, from the local government level to the provincial to the federal, all advocate together on the necessary investments that need to happen?” Oakes asked. “If I was to have a year-end wish, it would be that collaborative work that needs to happen at all levels of government.”
Oakes was re-elected in 2020 during a fall election and was subsequently named the opposition critic for advanced education, skills training and sport, a role she requested.
“I know how important the North Cariboo Campus is and will continue to be,” she said. “It’s one thing for governments to announce, for example, 700 additional health care workers into the system, but unless we have people trained — for communities like ours, we need to look at training in the north because it’s hard to attract and retain people.”
Oakes said the COVID-19 pandemic made her appreciate frontline workers even more, and she credits people for stepping up in trying times.
“We sometimes take people and institutions for granted,” she said. “This past year has reminded us to take a moment and appreciate people a little bit more. It also identifies where our vulnerabilities are.”
While the pandemic is something everyone will remember about 2020, Oakes said she hoped everyone remembers the good parts of the year too.
“The generosity and kindness I’ve seen — I’m hoping when we get through this year, those are the things we remember about 2020.”
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