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Retiring MLA set to pass insights to next generation in Greater Victoria

With retirement on the horizon, Murray Rankin reflects on political career and advice for high school students
Murray Rankin, MLA and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, outside his office at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

With retirement comes a reflection on one's legacy. It also comes as a time to pass along wisdom to the next generation of change-makers.

That's what MLA and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin, who is retiring in October, will be doing when he gives a talk at Oak Bay High School on June 20.

Rankin, a law professor at the University of Victoria for 13 years with expertise in environmental, Indigenous, and public law, acknowledged the "enormous challenges" facing the youth today. These include climate change, a "real threat", to the opioid crisis and affordability concerns that are making people "very anxious."

"When I was growing up, it was the nuclear bomb. We thought there was mutual assured destruction .... and now it's climate change, which is a real threat. There are difficulties in our community in so many ways ... So my message is for people to try to rise above it, find ways they can focus on things that are important to them and do that. Keep moving forward. Because if you can find a cause bigger than yourself, that's I think really the secret for happiness," he said.

A legacy in law, reconciliation and environment

Rankin is doing a lot of reflecting these days on a career that tackled many of said problems as he announced on June 2 that he will not be running for re-election.

In his announcement, posted on X, Rankin said highlights of his career included work in Ottawa crafting the modern medical assistance in dying legislation, chairing the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, and presenting the private member's bill in the House of Commons to ask that September 30th be officially recognized as Orange Shirt Day.

Orange Shirt Day - aka National Truth and Reconciliation Day – was initiated in Victoria by Eddy Charlie, a residential school survivor.

Rankin said he had no idea it would become as big as it did.

"It just grew across the country," he added. "It's partly, I think, and sadly, because of the findings of the residential school encampments that the interests of Canadians grew."

Rankin said the biggest highlight of his provincial politics career was overseeing the government's implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

He said in other Canadian provinces there are treaties, but most of British Columbia doesn't have them.

"And so, the land question has been perplexing for a long, long time. Plus, there's a recognition that First Nations are sadly way ahead on statistics involving incarceration, a lack of education, unemployment and now, sadly the impact of the opioid crisis."

As a result, he said the government of the day brought forward the law that declared that the United Nations Declaration would be part of B.C. law.

"And that had never been done in North America before. In fact, only Bolivia in the world had done this," He said. "I had the job as the first minister to come in since they made this declaration, unanimously in the legislature, to figure out what we are going to do about it."

Rankin noted he wanted to pass bills that would make an impact so 89 "concrete, tangible" items in an action plan were created.

One example of how he said the act has made a difference is the fact that the history of residential schools is now taught in high schools.

"John Horgan famously said, 'I got a master's degree in history, and I learned about residential schools in a gymnasium in the Cowichan Valley.' Now you can't graduate in our province without having a knowledge of that experience," said Rankin.

As a former educator, Rankin said bringing public awareness to these issues is really important.

Biggest challenges of his career

One of the biggest challenges of his career Rankin said was finding the right balance in moving forward on the kind of reforms that people need while making sure they are taking into account important things.

"Economic reconciliation is absolutely critical, that First Nations are given opportunities," he said. "Some people think we're moving too quickly. Others will tell you we're not moving anywhere fast enough. And so, getting the balance right to make sure that the business community, which is important in the economic reconciliation, buys into this."

A passion for environmentalism

Rankin said his passion for his field started with his mother.

"My mother was an environmentalist back before there was such a thing. I mean, she could identify every bird. Rachel Carson's famous book, Silent Spring, was one that she talked about."

University of Toronto did not offer environmental law courses when he attended, but Rankin eventually found his way to that field.

"Now, every university has courses, and I was honoured to – after I went to Harvard and studied environmental law – I was the first person to teach environmental law at the University of Victoria."

Rankin co-chaired the Environmental Law Centre, a student-run clinic that does environmental litigation and advocacy. He also acted for First Nations with environmental concerns in his legal career, including arguing in court against a gold mine in Haida Gwaii that was being considered for development that would've had a "serious impact" on fisheries.

Plans for retirement

Though Rankin said his retirement plans are "to be determined", he said he and his wife Linda are in talks of how they might give back to the community "in a different way". 

Linda is the past regional vice president of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and is now taking landscape architecture at the University of Guelph while advising groups on environmental issues.

He also has plans to spend with family: two grandkids, one of whom lives in Uruguay and the other in Victoria.

But for now, he is continuing his work at full speed ahead, while reaching the younger generation of the next generation of leaders and change-makers with valuable insights.

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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