Fixed election dates, as we have in BC, are supposed to take the political gamesmanship out of the Parliamentary system in the run up to the election. Instead of a government waiting for the stars to be aligned before calling an election, one is held every four years and the exact date is fixed.
Unfortunately, to the BC Liberals, the fixed date has been seen as an opportunity for the government to manipulate the Legislature as a campaign tool. The throne speech, with its 30 year fantasy for liquefied natural gas, the bogus budget which failed to balance, the legislation on seniors, on law and order, on forestry are all set pieces for the BC Liberals to go into the election.
Our job in opposition is to hold the government to account, to question it and to raise concerns of our constituents about legislation, and its defects. There have been a number of bills passed in the Legislature this week, our last of this truncated session, in which there is no corresponding line in the budget to pay for them. There’s no money identified to implement a bill which is supposed to deal with the crisis in the justice system; there are questions over money with moves to integrate the ambulance service with emergency room provision; and there continues to be questions on how other legislation will be paid for.
The BC Liberals brought in a hurried bill to establish a seniors representative but under this new law s/he will report to a government minister. The NDP have again tabled legislation that would create a fully independent officer who could advocate on behalf of seniors in the way that the Children’s representative is independent of the Legislature. I spoke on the bill that expands the mandate of the Representative of Children and Youth, bringing in changes to allow her to advocate for a wider group of young people, changes that were initially promised 15 months ago.
There is the general scepticism, justified with what happened after the last election, that what the government does and says before an election will be very different from what it will do after an election. After all, this time four years ago, the HST was not on anyone’s horizon.
This scepticism slips towards cynicism when people see that not only is the BC Liberal government using the Legislature as the place in which it is launching its election platform, but that it continues to spend $17m public, taxpayers’, money to advertise their campaign manoeuvres. We continued to raise this in Question Period through the week, as well as continuing to challenge the government over a dubious land deal made in Prince George.
Then there is the corrupt “quick win” strategy to try to gain votes in ethnic communities. The report into this covert campaign run from the Premier’s office was released on the last day of the legislative session. It is damning, detailing an arrogant abuse of ethical and legal standards through manipulation of the public service and taxpayers money with political operatives being paid by public funds. A minister has been forced to resign. So have very senior members of Premier Clark’s staff. As columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote, “the culture of crass, partisan evasion remains very much on display in the Clark administration, starting with the person at the very top of the chain”.
And yet the BC Liberals have still not explained how they can pull $1 million out of literacy projects which benefit all our communities; they have not been able to say how they will restore forest health when the Ministry responsible has had almost $40 m taken out of it; they have not been able to answer questions about apprenticeships when they are cutting money to training.
As critic for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, I talked about changes to legislation intended to increase the ability to provide protection for children in cases of domestic violence. This springs from two reports of the Children’s Representative into the deaths of children where there was domestic violence. I did, however, voice concern that this legislation might in fact deter women fleeing abuse from accessing help through transition houses because of the fear their children might be apprehended.
I also raised concerns about the Community Safety Act, which could undermine civil liberties. It uses a civil law approach to deal with what could be criminal issues and relies on neighbours to report on other neighbours.
I joined our ferries critic at a meeting with chairs, or their deputies, of coastal regional districts. We discussed the need for a long-term vision for our ferries, the need to integrate them back into the highways system and the need to tackle the punitive level of fares. I had the opportunity to recognise those directors from the North Island when the House resumed its session.
I was also able to celebrate the Centenary of Rotary by telling the Legislature about the good work done by our North Island Rotary Clubs.
This was our final week in the Legislature before the election. I will be around the constituency for the coming weeks and can always be reached at email@example.com, by phone at 250 287 5100 in Campbell River or 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy, or friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.