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NDP advice to avoid using 'British Columbians' is 'divisive politics,' MLAs say

Updates to the province’s "Terminology in Indigenous Content" style guide have sparked some backlash from MLAs across the province.

The guide was updated in late January and now includes “clarification” around using the term British Columbians.

“The term 'British Columbians' is often used to reference people living in BC. This term excludes Indigenous Peoples who may not identify with it,” the document says.

“For many, they identify as members of their own sovereign nations and do not consider themselves part of one that has actively worked to assimilate their people.”

It goes on to add that “British Columbians” also excludes other groups such as newcomers and refugees.

“We recommend instead saying 'people living in BC’,” it says.

Ellis Ross, BC United MLA for Skeena, brought the matter up during the Feb. 22 legislature morning question period.

“Mr. Speaker, the NDP government in our province has introduced a new rule,” Ross said.

“They’re saying calling ourselves, and I quote, ‘British Columbians’ isn’t right because it’s exclusionary.”

Ross criticized the NDP government citing the housing crisis, a lack of doctors and an affordability problem.

He said instead of fixing those problems, the NDP was spending time and money to try and control what words British Columbians could and could not use and “creating division.”

“We’re all Canadians. We’re all British Columbians and we’ve got bigger problems to solve,” Ross said.

“This effort to erase history and foster division is offensive.”

NDP Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon addressed the comments, acknowledging that there were some serious issues happening in the province but thought using valuable time talking about “a terminology statement on a website” was not the best use of the government’s time.

“There are important issues for us to be dealing with. Let’s talk about housing, let’s talk about childcare, let’s talk about the important things we want in our communities,” Kahlon said, essentially dismissing the matter.

“But spending time talking about something that is really not an issue in anybody’s life right now is a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is a waste of people’s time.”

<who> Photo Credit: Screenshot

Ross responded by saying that he has worked with Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities and not once did any of the people he’s met or worked with been against the term British Columbians.

“This is identity politics. Creating division just like the Land Management Act amendments that they just backed off on,” Ross said.

“I agree we’ve got bigger problems to solve but controlling what we say in terms of who we are and where we come from? That’s not a problem that British Columbians are facing. Whether we’re born here or moved here, we’re Canadians and British Columbians. There’s no need for this type of language coming from the NDP government.”

Renee Merrifield, BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission, told NowMedia that she thought it was “nonsensical,” agreeing with her colleague’s views on the “divisive politics.”

“Calling all of us British Columbians is a way to unify us all and to welcome newcomers. That's another aspect to that terminology piece was that it could be seen as isolating newcomers or isolating Indigenous and that's just simply not the truth,” Merrifield said.

“It's a way of welcoming and we need to be proud of our heritage. We need to be proud of our history.”

She acknowledged that BC citizens and the government had to learn from “past mistakes” but had to move forward together and one of the ways to do that was to be welcoming to all who call BC home.

She said the answer from the housing minister was “basically we don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, I think it's something that we should talk about, because that is what's permeating government right now is this division and hitting one group against another and it really shouldn't happen that way,” Merrifield said.

“We need to be focused on relationships and bringing everyone together.”

In the question period, Ross said the premier and his government needed to focus less on “drawing people apart” and more on reconciliation.

Kahlon continued to dismiss the matter and the House moved onto other questions.

NowMedia has reached out to the BC Assembly of First Nations as well as the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, who passed our request along to the Ministry of Citizens’ Services.

We did not hear back in time for publication, but will update this story if and when we received a statement.

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