It has been a busy week in the Legislature, challenging the BC Liberals on a range of issues - predominately the HST.
It is very troubling that despite having the referendum, on this regressive tax, start in June (it is a mail-in ballot so the voting can go on for some time), we are still not getting clear answers from the government on what the “return to the PST and GST” will look like. One of the problems with the HST is that the province has ceded control over what is and is not exempted from the tax to Ottawa. And we are not getting any answers from the BC Liberals - despite devoting nearly a week of time in Question Period to the issue - about whether some of those exemptions will be reinstated. Those include things like the HST on the cost of bikes, for a coffee or a meal out, for vitamins or on the cost of clothes for those families who need to buy adult size clothing for their tall children.
We’ve also taken on the issue of underfunding of courts and of legal aid. The Attorney General tried to argue that if we spent more on much needed judges to allow wider access to the justice system, we would have less money for education (although the three School Districts in the North Island would say that we already have less to spend). However, the cost of fixing our justice system has been spent many times over in some of the slush fund announcements the new premier made during her election campaign.
Last week she said that she’d end pay parking in Provincial Parks which is a good decision. But then this week a release of damning information showed the awful condition of those parks and the lack of staff to ensure they are maintained. We have some wonderful provincial parks in the North Island, but as most people know, the resources which go into them are largely the work of volunteers.
The BC Liberals have pretty well run out of ideas, so not much legislation is being tabled during this truncated session. Ironically, in light of the lack of money going to the courts, another get tough on crime bill was debated this week which further extends authority to seize the assets of criminals.
We also saw the introduction of new animal cruelty laws. These are welcomed by anyone who cares about working or companion animals. There is however part of me that wishes the BC Liberals would respond as quickly to the needs of the most vulnerable humans in our province - children, people with special needs - as it does to dogs.
We have been going through the budgets of different Ministries. This week saw questions about welfare, and heard heart wrenching stories about people who rely on programmes and services of Community Living BC, the agency which works with people with special needs, which is facing swingeing cuts.
I was questioning the Minister for Children and Family Development about a range of issues: from the Ministry staffing structure
through to how the government regulates care homes
. Underlying so much of the work of the ministry is the outrageous levels of poverty in our province. There is absolutely no reason we should continue to see the desperation which leaves us with the highest child poverty for seven straight years. The work of the Ministry would be lightened if there was a real poverty reduction plan for the province - as has been introduced in many other Canadian jurisdictions.
As it was Family Caregiver Week
, I talked to the Legislature about these unpaid, unsung heroes, mostly women, who are over-stretched and over-stressed. They need recognition and kudos.
I was also able to raise with the Solicitor General concerns brought to me about the DriveABLE programme
. This largely affects seniors who need to take a test to establish whether they can continue driving. The concern is that the tests are computer based and the closest location to the North Island for testing is in Nanaimo. The Solicitor General is confident that the methodology of the tests is fine but is acutely aware of the problems in accessing them. She said she will look at mobile tests and work on how to cover people’s cost for attending them.
I have meetings in Vancouver on Friday and then back for another week in the Legislature. With so little time allotted to this session it is important to get the North Island’s voice heard whenever possible over the coming weeks.
I can always be reached at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, in my Campbell River office at 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy at 250 902 0325, or toll free at 1 866 387 5100.