A hard year ahead for B.C. politics

The B.C. Liberal government and its rivals will define themselves in a harsh 2012.

The last time teachers had a contract imposed

The B.C. Liberal government enters 2012 with the weight of its “golden decade” heavy on its shoulders.

Having delivered a throne speech and a raft of legislation last fall, the government must pick up where it left off and build a February budget from the wreckage of the harmonized sales tax. This takes place as growth and revenue projections decline, and demand for government services continues to rise.

The NDP opposition finds itself in a front-runner role, and now faces pressure to detail its long-promised practical alternative. A revived B.C. Conservative Party must also move beyond protest to problem solving.

Here are some of the immediate problems that will face the legislature when it resumes on Valentine’s Day.

Education: It seems inevitable that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation will once again have a new contract imposed. In December, school support staff joined the parade of public sector unions that accepted the two-year “net zero” wage mandate.

Deficits that forced that mandate have ballooned again due to the HST mess, and the October throne speech hinted strongly that “net zero” will be extended in all but name in 2012.

Little noticed amid the usual labour noise, Education Minister George Abbott has launched a broad plan to “transform” education. Along with “personalized learning plans” and “flexibility and choice,” the plan promises “regular teacher performance evaluation sessions.” Buckle your seatbelts, parents.

Health care: Premier Christy Clark hosts the annual premiers’ conference in Victoria Jan. 16-17. The provinces divided sharply in December, as the three western ones backed Ottawa’s imposition of a new funding formula, while those from Manitoba east protested the news that six-per-cent annual increases will slow a bit in five years.

B.C.’s more immediate problem is a shift to per-capita funding that phases out targeted money for things like our dedicated hip and knee surgery program. Provinces are now supposed to create such innovations for their own sake, without further federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

That change costs B.C. an estimated $256 million a year, starting in 2014. The B.C. Liberals have this year to find savings, or face the task in an election year. And NDP leader Adrian Dix is restricted by his vow to make only spending promises that add up.

Energy and environment: As with the minimum wage, the B.C. Liberals are forced to tinker with the carbon tax. Taxing schools and hospitals to fund natural gas and cement companies’ emission projects has to stop, as Environment Minister Terry Lake has admitted.

Clark and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon must be tempted to borrow an NDP suggestion that carbon tax revenues be redirected more broadly to transit and energy-saving refits. But this means spending the money instead of reducing income taxes, as legislation currently requires, and both parties must face the fact that this entails a tax increase.

A storm is about to begin up north as federal environmental hearings open on a proposed oil pipeline to Kitimat. Clark remains carefully non-committal, the NDP bitterly opposed.

But the parties actually agree on liquefied natural gas exports from the same port. The NDP signaled cautious support for the plan before Christmas, with greater scrutiny of drilling and water use.

We in the media do a poor job of reporting when parties agree. Debate will soon resume on B.C.’s new Family Law Act, aimed at avoiding courts and conflict, with bipartisan support. Fixing B.C.’s impaired driving legislation, to keep that out of our clogged courts, should also be expedited.

B.C.’s traditional blame game won’t make the problems of 2012 go away.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

No taxes paid by Neucel, Doug Bondue Arena in Port Alice closes

“Neucel owes us a million dollars and it’s pretty hard to stay status quo when you’re short a million.”

Dragonboat society requests new location for 80 square foot storage shed in McNeill

“Part of my concern for using lot B is that it could become a parking lot for them…”

Klatt a force on the field – helps Bantam A Tyee’s win provincials

David Klatt played in every game last weekend down in Nanaimo.

Port McNeill releases in-depth Beach Drive landslide report

“It’s very positive,” said the town’s Public Works Foreman Julian Allen.

Bood votes in favour of wage increase for incoming mayor

If you asked anyone “to take a 5.3 per cent pay cut, no one would take that.”

A look at B.C. wildfire smoke from space

NASA provides a timelapse of smoke covering B.C. from space

Court hearing on Humboldt Broncos fundraising to test Saskatchewan law

The money has yet to be distributed because Saskatchewan has legislation known as the Informal Public Appeals Act

Fredericton police release scene of shooting spree, but ‘damage’ remains

Residents of a Fredericton apartment complex may not be able to return home just yet

Bus crash in Ecuador kills 23 people, injures 14

The bus hit another vehicle in an area known as dead man’s curve on Tuesday

Trump lashes out at Omarosa, calls her ‘that dog’

Manigault Newman continues promoting her White House tell-all and releasing secret audio recordings

UPDATE: Bridge collapses in Genoa, Italy killing at least 20

Five more people are injured and in serious condition

Man plows truck into Houses of Parliament in London

UK police treat Parliament crash as terrorism, man arrested

Child dies in boating incident in Okanagan

A North Vancouver family was boating on Kalamalka Lake in Vernon when the incident occured

B.C. Wildfires 2018: Province calls for federal aid

More fires have burned in B.C. already this year than did in all of 2017

Most Read