It was another tumultuous week in BC politics, with the government continuing to try to explain away scandals. As this short session of the Legislature draws to a close, the BC Liberals are still trying to stem the damage from the Premier’s crass, political ethnic vote strategy and are also trying to explain which minister knew what, on land deals for a signature project in Prince George. Further, there is the sad situation, revealed by the Privacy Commissioner and the scandal over government’s ethnic vote strategy, where the government has been caught using private emails and verbal conversations to avoid public scrutiny. These tactics deliberately end run Freedom of Information rules so no paper trail of government decisions and policy development can be accessed.
The passing of the budget was hardly a victory for the battered government benches. The BC Liberals still have a strong enough majority to win votes in the Legislature and as this was a confidence motion – which would have led to an early election if the government were defeated – it was not surprising that it went through.
However, everything this government is doing now is fundamentally rooted in politics, and what it hopes will be “quick wins” for the BC Liberals. We continue to challenge them.
With just another four days of the Legislature sitting before we are expected to stop ahead of the May 14th election, the government has been jamming through its legislation: some of it is little more than window dressing, and some very important. On Thursday, we debated the Health Authority Amendment Act, which expands the definition of who is a nurse, to include licensed practical nurses (LPNs). It goes without saying that all health care workers – nurses, LPNs, care aides, technicians – should be respected and valued in our fragile public health care system. However that respect requires consultation and this government failed to consult on this bill: neither with the HEU, one of the unions affected, nor with the health authorities. In my speech I argued that thorough consultation is the foundation for sound public policy.
On the fragility of health care, I talked about ongoing overcrowding at the Campbell River Hospital and the need for our new hospitals to have an adequate number of beds. I also called on the Minister of Health to release the business plan on which the hospital project is predicated; I argued that with $600m public money being spent on the hospitals – 40 percent of which is coming directly from local taxpayers – we have a right and a duty to examine the plans for our hospitals to make sure they are able to provide the care we expect.
There are a number of bills in front of us about legal changes. I spoke on Bill 11, which allows for free criminal record checks for volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults; I did voice concern that there is no matching budget line in the government’s deficit budget. The Justice Reform and Transparency Act establishes a Justice and Public Safety Council to examine and suggest improvements to the functioning of the justice and public safety sector. This too could be good, but again is being established with no funding earmarked in the budget. So it is too could be dismissed as a pre-election piece.
And there was the Community Safety Act, which I mentioned in my report last week, which concerns me for its potential impacts on civil liberties. It is setting up a civil investigation system to do the work that, on the surface, should be done by the police.
Earlier in the week we passed the legislation that changes the boundaries for Elk Falls Provincial Park, which will allow work to proceed on the John Hart Dam. I asked a number of questions about this, to find out how much land would be taken out and how much Hydro would contribute as a replacement. I also asked some questions about the creation of a new park on Denman Island and drew parallels with the ongoing work to link the Small Inlet and Wyatt Bay Parks on Quadra Island.
I marked Social Work Week with a statement to the Legislature talking about the pressures, because of workload, on many of the front line workers on whom the systems depends.
It was a pleasure to be able to welcome a school party from the North Island’s Avalon Adventist Academy, when a group of grade 5 to 7 came on a tour of the Legislature.
One of the issues which was not addressed in the Legislature was the announcement of another round of ferry fare increases – just a day after the first report on last autumn’s fall consultation was issued and showed the overwhelming view of ferry dependent communities that fares are too high and the system needs to be reintegrated into the highways infrastructure. In my view, the increase is outrageous.
I will be around the North Island this weekend and then back to Victoria for a final week of the Legislature. You can always reach me 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.
Claire Trevena, MLA (North Island)