The Legislature started its spring session this week, with a quick three day stint before a break for the two weeks of the Olympics. The opening means that the government was able to set out its agenda in the Throne speech, but it won’t be until early March that we will find out more of the details with both the budget and the start of legislation being introduced.
I am deeply worried that thoughout the speech there is an underlying, pervasive threat of increased privatisation and the continued downgrading of our public assets. Of course the HST was flagged and boasted by the government side as one of the best things for BC.
The private power sector received a boost with the announcement of an undefined Clean Energy Act and a pledge to change the way the BC Utilities Commission, a public watchdog, operates. In addition, instead of a federal and provincial environmental assessment of major industrial undertakings, the throne speech made clear the government wants just one assessment. Taken together, this means the BC Liberals are determined to give their pals in big industry carte blanche to do what they want with our crown lands, rivers and streams.
It was clear from poor voter turn out at the last election that people want a vision from their political parties. Well, the people of BC certainly got a vision statement from the BC Liberals in this throne speech. What they received was a clear statement of neo-conservative values. Neo-conservatism is reflected in the so called family values which mean those families who have money, have choice; these values mean that the private sector plays a large role in our public health care; the values mean the commitment to the environment includes a downgrading of the environmental assessment process so that developers can receive project approvals more easily.
But the response from Opposition members has shown an alternative vision, a vision in which includes social and environmental values as well as economic ones. The economic chaos – and predicted jobless recovery – along with the reality of climate change means we have to start looking at the way we do business very differently. Now is the opportunity to start that, embracing values that are true for many British Columbians, values which reflect our public trust for our public resources, values that respect an equitable society, values that reflect an ongoing commitment to the environment, and values that reflect a strengthening of our democratic system.
We have to ensure that those values are widely understood and never ignored – but it will be a fight. We will return to the Legislature after the Olympic Games to face a budget which will be full of cuts to services. It will also be a budget which turns to the private sector for funding. Already the warning signs are there with references to public private partnerships (P3s) for health care, education and childcare. These P3s are often a hugely costly option. They rely heavily on investment from the private sector with the government effectively leasing back whatever has been constructed or whatever service is being delivered. Critics rightly question this P3 approach by asking: why rent if you can own?
Education and environment have been top of the official Opposition agenda in the start two question periods held this week. The ongoing cuts and school closures reverberate around the province, and it is expected that there will be more in the coming months. In North Island alone, three schools are slated to close. And concerns about the lack of environmental oversight in the oil and gas sector, raised in an Auditor General report this week, became the focus for our second question period.
Thursday saw the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, address the Legislature. It was an odd occasion, seeing as how he had closed Parliament in Ottawa but was willing to address MLAs in BC. The focus of his speech was the Olympics and, he wished out athletes well. And as I sign off this on the day of the opening ceremony I too wish all our athletes in the Olympics and the Para Olympics, the very best of their sporting competition.
As I mentioned, the Legislature will not be sitting for the coming two weeks as attention turns to the Lower Mainland. I can always be contacted at my Campbell River office (250 287 5100) or Port Hardy office (250 902 0325) toll free at 1 866 387 5100 or by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca.
Claire Trevena, MLA