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BERNIER: COVID through an MLA lens

I really struggle with the fact that we have gotten to such a divisive place in society on so many issues that just because someone disagrees with a point of view.
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British Columbia flag / Getty Images

First let me acknowledge that this may be long but I hope I can offer a perspective as a locally-elected person who just like every one of us is trying to manage through these frustrating, concerning, and difficult times.

I am not looking for sympathy, understanding or even agreement, but feel after two years of COVID in our society, and after the many calls, emails, and texts I have received, I would take the opportunity to share the perspective of someone trying to figure out all sides of this issue.

I really wish it was as easy as so many say that I just need to pick a side. I’m writing to try to explain why that’s not so easy for me on some of the issues around COVID.

First, I want to share a sample of the kind of the correspondence that comes to me:

“I voted for you, and I am against the mandates so you should be taking my side”

“I voted for you, and I see too many people not getting vaccinated or not wearing masks. Why are you not making them?”

“I voted for you, and my loved one just died. It’s your fault for not making people get vaccinated”

“you are a lying politician so it doesn’t matter what you say anyways so don’t waste your time answering any of us”

“I didn’t vote for you and never will because I hate Trudeau” (which again shows just some of the misunderstanding of the differences between our federal and provincial governments)

(Of course I left out all the name calling and foul language that accompanies many of these)

I spent 25 years of my life before entering politics working and volunteering in the South Peace to try to make it a better place.

That is why I was asked to quit my job and became MLA. I also thought it was another way to help people in the region I call home. So I do not consider myself a career politician as I am labelled by many.

I am a Canadian - and a Proud one.

I am a Peace Country guy. And a proud one!!

In elected life, though, you learn very quickly, sometimes the hard way, that everything you did before is no longer who you are. Instead, whenever you say something, you are now being judged and you probably just made someone mad at you by that comment. I can say that as a community person it was (and still is) very hard when somebody is upset with me because of something I have done or not done. That’s because the intent is to actually try to fix things or help.

I should also say, I have never met an elected person at any political level in any party who ran to try and make things worse. We all want to try and do the right thing to help people and our communities. Where we differ is our ideas of how to get to “better.” But too often we hear you need a “thick skin” in politics, and that if “you can’t handle the heat get out of the kitchen.” Too often the attacks are on the person and not on the policies.

Now, there is a reason why almost every politician at almost every level has struggled to jump into the COVID issue in a decisive way. People who take a position on COVID issues are facing personal attacks, ended friendships, and sadly even threats and insults. I have been on the end of these. So have my colleagues. Yet none of us are the actual decision makers on the issue – not that the decision makers themselves should face personal attacks like these. No one should.

Raising concerns about the lockdowns gets us accused of not supporting science, healthcare workers, and labeled as not caring if people get sick and die. Voicing support for the lockdowns gets us accused of attacking people’s rights and stripping them of personal choice and responsibility. It’s a lose-lose to even try to discuss the issues it seems. For people who are in one of those camps it might appear to be easy to pick a side. As a person elected to work for every person in the region, which side should I take?

I really struggle with the fact that we have gotten to such a divisive place in society on so many issues that just because someone disagrees with a point of view, they are wrong and deserve to be personally attacked. Don’t get me started on social media and the negativity that seems to consume so much. Which is also why you will notice, even though I see and read most of what’s said on Facebook and other platforms, there is no point in most cases of engaging as an elected person, which is too bad as it could be used as a very good communication tool. And I do have to say that contacting me or my office with threats, vulgar language, or inappropriate positions such as racist or anti-Semitic comments, will not be tolerated and do not deserve a response back.

On almost every issue I have faced in the past as MLA, or even a Mayor and Councillor, I thought I knew what the majority of people wanted me to do, which allowed me to take a position, and then be accountable to that position. COVID has been something completely different – in each of our lives, in its impacts, and as an issue that has a level of seriousness and magnitude most of us have never faced. My goal is to find that path to ensure people are safe and healthy.

In this case, being so divisive, I know that taking a side would only be more polarizing and could make things worse for people I represent. I am elected to try to represent all sides, especially in a time of crisis and a health emergency. I have taken an oath to represent this riding, and I take that role extremely seriously. I have and will continue to take any and all concerns to Victoria to champion for each and every constituent, so long as the concerns are expressed in a clean and respectful manner. In fact, I want to thank everyone who has respectfully reached out to me by email, phone or in person with their issues during this time, and I will continue to take your views as they are presented to me to the Provincial government. I believe I have worked hard to try and have everyone’s voice heard but that does not mean I have to agree all the time. It is impossible to agree with everyone nor will everyone agree with me. Nor does it mean we always get the outcome we may want.

I also want to say that I was impressed and thankful to see so many people out recently, locally, expressing their opinions in a respectful way at the truck rally. I have always supported everyone’s right to protest or rally provided it is done in a legal and respectful way. I have been part of many of these myself over the years.

These last few years have been hard on everyone regardless of their personal opinions on the COVID issue. It is unlike anything most of us have ever been through. It’s been stressful for families, for friendships, on physical and mental health, on business and society in general. BUT… I am confident we are almost at the end and my hope is we can all find a place to move forward, respect our differences, and get back to what’s important—being with our families, growing a strong economy for all of us to prosper, and building healthy, livable communities for the next generation!!!!

The Legislature is resuming sitting, so I am in Victoria which takes me away from the riding almost all of the time from now until June. Please know that I always have my finger on the pulse of what is happening in the South Peace, and I want to hear from you about the issues.

It is as easy as reaching out to my office either by phone (250-782-3430) or by email (mike.bernier.mla@leg.bc.ca).