After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes is focusing on those closest to her during this holiday season.
“This is an important time to think about family and friends, and really reflect on the people who are close to us,” she said.
“That certainly will give us strength during what has been a difficult couple of years.”
The year has been a blur, not helped by the recent surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
“I had a whole briefer that I could have done last week that was completely different than where we’re at right now,” Oakes said, encouraging everyone to get their booster vaccine as soon as they become eligible.
“In my family, a lot of people aren’t connected, significant parts of our riding still doesn’t have internet or connectivity, and I don’t want people to lose out on their ability to get their booster shot.”
Residents can call 1-833-838-2323 to check their eligibility for booster shots.
“I hope we get better at more timely, transparent local information,” Oakes said of her hopes for the new year, adding she’s concerned the north is forgotten at times in a provincial level.
“We’ve certainly seen a rise in our community of COVID cases since September, and you see a rise in our community, we’ve had some very significant number of COVID patients in our hospital, we’ve also seen deaths in our community.”
Oakes said more supports are needed for northern B.C. small businesses, who have been dealing with enhanced public health restrictions much longer than their southern counterparts.
“We desperately need more support coming to our small businesses, but there’s a piece that we can all do as well,” she said.
“That’s to make sure we continue to shop local, and I’ve seen that out this season and I’m incredibly proud of everyone who has done that.”
The year wasn’t just marked by COVID, but natural disasters across the province. In the Cariboo, rain and landslides caused havoc on road systems in the spring of 2020.
“People are still impacted by the damage that was done on many of our roads,” Oakes said.
“There has been a lot of change in emergency management BC following the fires, I think what is critically important is we need to review those changes (and see if) is it working.”
Oakes wants the government to be more proactive instead of reactive when dealing with disasters, calling for the province’s carbon tax funds to be invested in preventative infrastructure improvements on the ground in communities to adapt to climate change.
“You can’t have significant weather events without having long-term remedial damage in your communities,” she said.
“It feels like six months after these events happen, the province moves onto something else and we forget a significant amount of work has to go in… We cannot forget about communities like Lytton.”
In 2021, wildfires nearly completely destroyed Lytton. Oakes said communities in the Cariboo have nearly met the same fate.
“We cannot forget about the infrastructure need in our communities, because of the dynamics that we’re looking at and the huge costs of these events in the lower mainland,” she said.
Quesnel is set to have an exciting 2022. Both the expansion at GR Baker Memorial Hospital, and the new Quesnel Junior School should be finished this year.
Oakes said they were vital expansions for a community she thinks is on the rise.
“We’re faced with a growth challenge,” she said.
“The one thing about COVID is we haven’t had the ability to get a true sense of what’s happening on the ground.”
The results of Canada’s 2020 census will be released in February of 2022.
“Hopefully some more affordable housing units open in our community, (they’re) going to be critically important,” Oakes said.
“What I’m going to be paying very close attention to, is there’s been significant changes by the NDP government in forest policy, and I’m paying very close attention to how disruptive that will be.”
Oakes added she’ll also be closely scrutinizing the ruling NDP’s policies on childcare, the overdose crisis and the restructuring of family supports to a hub-based model.
As the holiday season wound down, Oakes reminded residents to reach out to what’s important.
“In our smaller communities I think it’s critically important that we don’t lose sight of the fact we all need to be checking in with one another, and focused on how we can support one another,” she said.
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