Coralee Oakes is finally back at work.
The Cariboo North MLA stepped down from her role in government to campaign for re-election Sept. 21, campaigned until election day Oct. 24 and was sworn in as MLA for the third time Nov. 27.
Oakes, one of 28 B.C. Liberal party candidates elected in 2020, was also named the opposition critic for advanced education, skills training and sport on Nov. 30.
Oakes said the time outside of government as a candidate and not a representative was frustrating, as she watched issues pop up across the region without being in government to help.
“It has been a significant challenge because you’re not the MLA until you’re physically sworn in,” she said. “You’re in caretaker mode … we’ve had things that require significant support, and not having the authority as an MLA, or a government to go to, has made it very problematic.”
Oakes noted the issues Cariboo North residents face are primarily a provincial government’s responsibility. Health care, road maintenance, public safety and education all fall under provincial guidelines rather than federal or municipal.
“We know in our health care system, we’re significantly short-staffed, whether it’s in the hospital or it’s in our care homes,” she said. “What are the steps that we’re resolving that, ensuring we’ve got a stable health care system here … We need a provincial government that is functioning.”
Oakes said MLAs across the province were shut out of making government work, praising the work of her staff who managed to bring forward issues to government workers.
“I wish there had been a lot more thought by the government in calling a snap election during a pandemic, on top of the fact we have communities that are still dealing with emergencies such as landslides and flooding,” she said.
Oakes accused the NDP government of abandoning needed work in favour of planning the election. She pointed to the delay of the West Fraser Road construction plan’s tender from summer to fall to winter as evidence.
“When you look at the commercials and the ads that were put forward during the election, [the NDP] were preparing for it,” she said. “Obviously a lot of the work that we saw that should have been happening on the ground just wasn’t happening.”
Oakes said she was excited to take on a new critic’s role. She had been serving as the opposition critic for emergency preparedness before the provincial election. She served as minister of sport when the B.C. Liberals were in power.
The new position puts Oakes in close contact with all post-secondary education institutions across the province.
“Our responsibility is to be very strong advocates bringing to government what we’re hearing and hold government to account,” she said.
Burnaby-Deer Lake MLA Anne Kang was named as the minister of advanced education for the NDP government.
“Coming from a rural community, I can be an extraordinarily strong advocate on the need to make sure training is provided locally,” Oakes said. “I know first-hand how important the North Cariboo Community Campus has been and how it has affected so many people’s lives, and it is my strong desire to ensure we continue to support training as much as possible in our local communities.”
She added the province is seeing a shortage of health care aides and early childhood educators that goes beyond COVID-19.
“It’s one thing for the government to say they are hiring all of these people, but do we have those people trained?” Oakes asked. “Are we able to recruit and train these very important professionals in our communities? That will be an immediate piece of the advocacy I will be doing.”
Oakes added she was looking forward to working with student unions and leaders to bring their concerns to government as well.
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