Fifteen years ago, I began to spend my summer holidays at Shawnigan Lake. I’d fallen in love with a man whose family history on the lake goes back to the 1940s, and I’d soon fallen in love with the lake as well. Our children have learned to swim in the Shawnigan, often splashing amongst swarms of their cousins.
One of the biggest turning points for our family was when I was offered a job to teach at Dwight School – looking out at the lake from what was to be our kitchen balcony, I phoned Blaise and said, “I’m standing in our new home.”
We dove into our new lives, embracing the beauty of this place and getting to know the people in our community. We were captivated, and we knew very quickly that Shawnigan was to be our home. As we settled in, we became increasingly aware of a potential threat. Two years later, when SIA’s draft permit was released by the Ministry of Environment, I realized that my skills and experiences – gained through years of volunteer work and activism – would help me be an effective advocate for Shawnigan in our fight to protect our watershed.
As an advocate, I educated my school community and organized letter-writing events that generated hundreds of heart-felt letters to the Premier and Minister of Environment. I spoke out in the media, wrote articles, attended rallies, and sat through countless hours of the Environmental Appeal Board hearings, after which I would strategize with others on what our most effective next steps should be. When the Times-Colonist would not tell the contaminated soil story from the Shawnigan point of view, I phoned the editor to ask him why. He told me to write our story, and then he published it. In every interview I gave and all of the articles I have written, I reiterated one absolute truth: the people of Shawnigan would not give up on this fight.
I was elected Area Director fo in November 2014. I continued to advocate for Shawnigan’s future. I worked with many in the community towards long-term protection of the watershed, and creating open, transparent government that is responsive to the needs of the people of Shawnigan. And I worked to help build community – in the face of the injustice of the fight we were in with our own provincial government, it seemed essential that we worked hard to focus on our strengths as a community. In our efforts to see the contaminated landfill permit cancelled, our focus was on the future we wanted for our community, rather than accept an unwanted future imposed upon us.
It was a huge victory for the Shawnigan community when the permit was finally cancelled on February 23rd, 2017, nearly four years after it had been granted. The effort that it took, and what was revealed during the fight, motivated me to run for MLA. The process failed our community, and no community in BC should have to endure this kind of failure – and yet many are.
In Cowichan, we have many challenges and needs. We have a region with high rates of child poverty, ahospital that is in need of replacing, a river that struggles through longer and longer droughts, concerns over a proposed LNG plant in Saanich Inlet
When Blaise and I have grandchildren, I very much look forward to seeing the fifth generation of Salmons swimming in Shawnigan Lake.