It seems, sadly, to be my annual complaint: once again it is fall and once again the Legislature is not sitting. The BC Liberals have made a mockery of our parliamentary democracy, calling the Legislature into session at their whim. They have exploited people’s distrust of the political system and effectively said that our Legislature is completely unimportant.
I joined a group of Opposition MLAs – including Opposition Leader Adrian Dix and House Leader John Horgan – on the steps of the Legislature on the day we were supposed to return to do the people’s business. All 34 NDP MLAs would be willing and ready to be in Victoria to ask questions of the government, to debate issues important to the people of BC, to work together on bipartisan committees. This is what we are supposed to do; this is why we were elected. But the Liberal government thinks that 36 days in the House is adequate for accountability this year. Legislators in Manitoba, a province with a quarter the population of BC will have sat more than three times as long by the end of the year. The sad irony is that it was the BC Liberals who suggested fixed sessions of the Legislature; that should mean we are working in session in Victoria on behalf of the people of BC for a full six months.
I am angry about it and I hope that others, too, are angry. A parliamentary democracy should provide checks and balances. But a political party and a premier that prefer to govern without transparency, without debate, through diktat, are eroding our provincial parliamentary process. Continued public indifference to what is happening leads to authoritarianism, loss of rights, and eventually, dictatorship. I’m not being extremist: our rights can be lost.
While my calendar is booked with meetings, critic tours and events from now until Christmas, those should be in addition to our regular duties in the Legislature, not as a replacement.
In the last weeks I have been working on a number of issues, two of which come up on a regular basis: our new hospital and high speed, fibre optic internet connectivity. I have been in touch with the Minister of Health about the possibility of keeping parts of our existing hospital to supplement the new building. I hear regularly from the medical community that the new facility will be overcrowded as soon as it opens (our present hospital was well beyond capacity, with 97 patients last week: the new one officially has space for 96 people). I also hear of the need for space for seniors, for hospice care and for other ancillary health care services. It would make a great deal of sense to keep what we can of our current building, to supplement the new building, rather than find ourselves immediately desperate for new space.
The question of high-speed internet connectivity is becoming critical for our North Island communities. Although Telus is laying cable from Sayward to Port McNeill we have places where there is a 200 name wait list simply to get a subscription and other places where the promised “last mile” of high speed connection ended miles before the community. Access to high quality, high speed internet is as important for economic development in our rural communities as electrification was 70 plus years ago. I have put this front and centre in the Opposition’s economic strategy and am working with MLA colleagues to connect our rural communities.
I continue to discuss other traditional economic generators with communities. There is a real fear that the balance between logging and tourism is being lost in some areas of the Discovery Islands. While on the west coast, the Ministry of Forests assures me that Western Forest Products is rethinking its logging plans on the outskirts of Tahsis.
Contracts for the $1.4 billion John Hart Dam reconstruction should be awarded soon. This will be hugely important to Campbell River; but we want to make sure this is the case. I am writing to BC Hydro to ask that preference be given to local, unionized companies and that, wherever possible, apprenticeships be included in the construction process. The four-year project would allow an apprentice to complete his or her full training on one job in one place. More than 60 years ago, the original construction of the John Hart Dam was instrumental in the building and diversification of Campbell River. We need to ensure the community benefits as much or more this time around.
I am using some of the time we are not in Victoria to pursue issues related to my critic portfolio for Transportation, Infrastructure and BC Ferries. This week I will be looking at problems related to the pubic private partnership (3P) that built the Port Mann Bridge and start discussions about the next proposed, 3-P bridge which the premier has said will replace the Massey Tunnel. I will also be discussing local highway issues – from chipseal to aggregate, pot-holes to crossing lights (at the ferry) – with representatives of the Ministry of Transportation.
Next week will take me to Washington State for discussions with bureaucrats, politicians and users of their state owned ferry system. I will be trying to find out what does and doesn’t work – and how their success can be incorporated into BC Ferries. Our neighbour appears to have a state run enterprise operating smoothly without any pretense of being a commercial cruise ship company.
In the meantime, I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 250-287-5100 in Campbell River or 250-949-9473 in Port Hardy. If you are a social media hound, friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.