Roly Russell talks about his first two years as an MP – Grand Forks Gazette
“The only one that’s consistent is a lot of emails,” said Roly Russell, when asked about a day in his life as MPP for the riding of Boundary-Similkameen.
Since winning his seat in the 2020 provincial general election, Russell has come out on top across the riding. But he did not always want to play politics.
Science and environmental conservation have always been Russell’s interests. After studying conservation biology, forestry and ecology at post-secondary level, Russell pursued a career in academia, doing research and teaching to raise awareness of climate issues.
“For me, personally, through my life trajectory, (it’s) recognizing the urgency of climate action in particular, and seeing the opportunity to help be part of the solution there.”
Sustainability has always been a priority for Russell. He said his scientific background helps him in his political roles, especially when it comes to decisions on climate issues.
“Getting out of the world of science brings a very different view of how we come to make decisions or figure out what is true or not. So it also has a significant impact on how I operate in this policy area.
Originally from Grand Forks, Russell has a unique understanding of the inner workings of rural communities. Immersed in a small-town community since childhood, he knows well how rural communities work.
Russell said Boundary-Similkameen is a unique riding. The region is made up of several smaller towns, unlike many other constituencies which operate around a larger town or community.
Russell is the Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development. Through this role, he champions and represents the needs of rural communities.
As an MPP, Russell divides his time between the Legislative Assembly of Victoria and that of Grand Forks. While in Victoria, he worked to debate bills and represented the people of the constituency in parliament. When the Legislative Assembly is not in session, Russell travels the constituency. He said providing people with accessible ways to communicate with him and his team is a top priority.
“One of our goals is to understand how…we make sure there are very few barriers for people to come to us with their concerns so that we can try to help.”
Russell’s pre-election campaign period was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020. This presented some challenges in being able to connect with communities, he said, but also opened up new ways to communicate through online platforms.
For Russell, meeting new people and connecting with communities is a highlight of the job.
“It’s like a very, very public job interview, which lasts about a month,” he said when asked about the election process.
When Grand Forks flooded in 2018, Russell was Chairman of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) and Electoral Area Director for Rural Grand Forks/Area D. When the flood hit the community, Russell played a role in rallying the community around recovery efforts. He worked to coordinate local groups and support them in economic and social recovery efforts.
Russell emphasized his appreciation for the many community members who contributed.
“I have tremendous respect for the people who have stepped forward into these roles to help navigate the community through this. And it ended very well for us, I think, in terms of having the right people at the table.
After becoming an MP, Russell had to deal with flooding in Princeton, in the fall of 2021. The second time around, Russell had more knowledge on how to handle disaster recovery.
“Having been through this for our own community here, I knew some of the questions to ask, that they would want to ask, even before it became clear that they had to ask them.”
Managing disasters, particularly weather events caused by climate change, is a top priority for Russell, both in and outside of his political roles.
“A few years ago, the challenge was to make sure communities understood the threat well enough to properly prepare for it. Now, I think it’s pretty painfully obvious to everyone just how much of a problem climate change is in terms of the increased frequency and unpredictability of these kinds of weather events.
Floods, fires and heat waves have become far too common for residents of British Columbia. Russell said preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery are all essential to managing these disasters.
Levee systems and forest fire departments are examples of disaster mitigation that can help prepare for such events, he added.
After years in academic science and working with municipal government, Russell decided that working with the provincial government was the best way to bring about the change he hopes to see in the world.
“My goals for the term are really to help contribute to improving the way we do things like forest management, like climate action, and like delivering health care in rural communities. And recognizing that at the same time, it’s about understanding how rural communities work and better meeting their needs in a meaningful way.
Russell recognizes that young people have a lot of potential to make change and have their voices heard, and he encourages teens who are interested in politics or activism to explore the opportunities.
He was very impressed with the questions students at Boundary Secondary School (BCSS) asked him during the campaign. Russell said these questions were “the best questions [he] I was asked.
Russell encourages young people to pursue their interests and passions in life and be the change they want to see in the world.
“It’s about finding a way to make your future what you want it to be, instead of doing what you’re maybe told you’re good at or what you should be doing.”
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