Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau column: Aggressive drop-ins force MLA to move constituency office

A group of people opposed to COVID public health measures entered that shared space

Last Wednesday, it was with sadness that I gave notice to the Matraea Centre manager [in Duncan], letting her know that we will be moving our constituency office out of the building, and finding a new location. We have loved being in the Matraea Centre, working alongside people dedicated to the health and well being of our community.

As we look for a new location for the constituency office, staff will continue to serve people remotely, and can be reached by phone (250-715-2792) and email sonia.furstenau.MLA@leg.bc.ca. As soon as we find a new location, we will provide an update here and on our website.

There has been a significant increase in interactions in our constituency office that have left people feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in their workplace. As the Matraea Centre has a shared common space with the other service and health care providers, it is not fair to the others in the building to have their workplaces disrupted by individuals or groups who are not acting in a respectful manner.

Last Wednesday, a group of people opposed to COVID public health measures entered that shared space, and when they were informed that neither I nor my staff were on site, they chose to continue to disrupt the other people in the shared space. I had earlier that day recommended to my constituency staff that they work at home because of an unrelated incident that made me concerned for their safety.

Hearing about the disturbance and distress caused by the group who came into the Matraea Centre was when I made the decision that we will need to find a location in which people coming to our office will not be disrupting or disturbing others. It has also become clear that we will need additional security measures in place so that constituency staff can feel safe at work.

A constituency office is first and foremost a place for people to reach out to if they are having a challenge with accessing a provincial service, or if they need support as they navigate provincial services. This can include help with how to access services, guidance for application processes, or support when services aren’t meeting a person’s needs. It is a non-partisan office — the staff are there to serve any constituents who need help or assistance.

Our office has served people with a wide range of issues, from helping to secure housing to providing support with WorkSafe BC claims to helping small businesses navigate COVID supports. The constituency assistants approach each case with kindness and care, and they do everything they can to help people who come to us. In the past year, staff have worked on well over 200 files for constituents.

In providing this assistance, they should never be expected to tolerate abusive or aggressive behaviour, and yet this is unfortunately becoming more common.

There are times when our office is not able to help, but the staff will always do their best to guide people to the right office or agency. Many times, we will advocate not only for an individual, but for change at a legislative level. One example of this is the efforts we made to raise the issue of birth alerts, advocating, along with many others, for a change to this policy. This resulted in a province-wide change.

We are all living through incredibly challenging times. Two years of a global pandemic, worsening impacts from climate change, growing inequality that makes the housing crisis even worse — the toll on people’s physical and mental health from these overlapping crises is enormous. And at the same time, we see the incredible acts of kindness and generosity every day in our community, and the commitment that so many people have to help others and to serve.

Each of us make choices all the time, and our choices affect those around us. A word of kindness, of appreciation, lending a hand to help — these small things can make an enormous difference in another person’s life. And we must also remember that an angry reaction or response, a moment of unkindness, can also have a terrible toll on another person.

As we navigate more uncertainty, let’s remember that our community is shaped by each and every one of us, and our choices have very real consequences for other people. This is the season when we remember that connection, generosity, and kindness are the most important gifts we can give each other; this year, let’s give those gifts with great enthusiasm.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley and leader of the BC Green Party.

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