The year 2020 started off as it always does, with the grand tradition of the annual New Years Day Levee at Government House. With our faithful dog MacDuff by our side, His Honour and I welcomed more than a thousand guests to enjoy each other’s company and share some holiday cheer. How we long for the chance to gather again— to shake hands, to embrace, to sing and dance together, and to once more express our friendship and love for one another, face to face.
2020 has been a year of uncertainty and great sacrifice for many. However, with the dawn of the New Year and the emergence of new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, we have every reason to expect that 2021 will find us in a much better place. And what a relief that is!
As the year draws to a close, I must say how very proud I am of the way in which British Columbians have pulled together in response to the challenges of COVID-19. We have witnessed countless examples of generosity and compassion throughout our province; been inspired by the selfless work of our front-line workers; and been deeply moved by the humanity of those who house and care for our most vulnerable citizens.
We are grateful for the cross-partisan teamwork demonstrated by our political leaders and the competence of our public health leaders who have worked tirelessly to adjust their direction and communication to us, based on emerging science and changing circumstances.
Cultural and faith organizations have found creative new methods of connection, generously reaching out to engage us as a community and keep us hopeful, positive and together; businesses have moved heaven and earth to keep our supply lines open, our shelves stocked, and our economy functioning.
We know better, now, how to value the unheralded work of all the people upon whom we rely; those who go quietly about their daily tasks without fanfare or acknowledgement. Let us not forget them when this reality has passed from view, as it surely will.
With the rhythm and pattern of our daily lives disrupted, we have all struggled to adjust to the restrictions required to protect each other. Weddings, live performances, graduations, and other celebrations have been cancelled or postponed. There have also been business closures, weeks of school interrupted and the tragedy of final moments, without the comforting presence of family and friends. This time has been difficult for all of us, but especially so for those who have lost family members and friends. We hold them in our hearts.
Many are also facing job loss or financial difficulties in their businesses and personal lives, with all the attendant stress and anxiety this must bring. They will need our help to rebuild and we must be there for them.
The spring and summer months brought a disturbing rise in race-based violence and discrimination, which prompted us to create the Different Together pledge and social media campaign. I was heartened by the broad-based and positive response to this campaign, with leaders at all levels of government, business and social services publicly pledging to uphold the Canadian values of diversity and inclusion and oppose racism and hate in all its forms. This is work that will continue in 2021.
Food insecurity has also been exacerbated by the pandemic, with Statistics Canada reporting in June that close to 15% of all Canadians had lacked sufficient food at least once in the previous month. Inspired by the Victory Gardens planted across Canada during the First and Second World Wars, we created the Government House Victory Over COVID-19 Garden to provide fresh food to the most vulnerable in our local communities. The Victory Over COVID-19 Garden built on the longstanding work of the Friends of Government House Gardens Society, who have also contributed fresh produce to local charities.
Throughout it all, I was delighted to recognize extraordinary British Columbians through our awards and honours programs. Post-secondary students throughout BC received the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. The Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, a partnership with the BC and Yukon Book Prizes, was presented to Julie Flett and Joy Kogawa – two of BC’s exceptional authors. The BC Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards named Upper Bench Estate Winery’s 2019 Riesling as Wine of the Year. We also recognized the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality and celebrated leaders in the Canadian LGBTQ2S+ community.
In partnership with the BC Achievement Foundation, I launched the British Columbia Reconciliation Award, recognizing individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to advancing reconciliation. The concept for this award was initially proposed by the Honourable Steven Point, 28th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, and I was delighted to work with him and a committee of Indigenous leaders to bring this to fruition.
I did my best to further our work on democracy with the launch of the University of Victoria Democracy Dialogue series, bringing together a diverse group of students to discuss questions about youth participation in political process and strengthening civility and respect across partisan divides. With our partners at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, we developed an exciting program called Conversations on Democracy, which has been paused until we are again able to gather in person.
In addition, I have given many speeches and addresses through various technology platforms. Universities moved their convocations online and I installed new Chancellors and Presidents, participated in numerous public dialogues, and joined roundtable discussions with business and community organizations using virtual platforms.
This past July, we closed Government House to accommodate extensive infrastructure renovations to upgrade mechanical systems and security. The project will take more than a year to complete and has required that we vacate the premises and relocate to temporary accommodation and office space.
Thanks to the Friends of Government House Garden Society, the grounds have been beautifully maintained to their customary dazzling standard and continue to provide important respite to neighbours and visitors. They will remain open, provided that public health directives continue to be respected, and it gives me great pleasure to see our friends and neighbours enjoying the beauty and serenity of the property.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of swearing in and reaffirming the Members of the Executive Council of British Columbia and presiding over the Opening of the First Session of the 42nd Parliament. I was honoured, as well, to be appointed Honorary Captain of the HMCS Malahat, and to join a remarkable cadre of Honorary Captains across the country.
As always, I wish to extend my personal thanks to my Honorary Aides-de-Camp, the Friends of Government House Gardens Society, the Government House Foundation, the LG Youth Advisory Council, and all those who support the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the activities of Government House. I am most grateful to you all.
Finally, I am wishing you all health and happiness for the season and the New Year. Please stay safe in the time ahead and thank you for all that you do to support and care for one another. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve British Columbians in 2020.