After just four weeks in session, the Legislature has been shut down by the BC Liberal government. We were supposed to exercise due diligence and scrutinise a $40 billion budget and some significant legislation and were allotted just 20 days to do so. This travesty of democracy accelerated in this last week when the government set time limits on scrutinizing and debating each piece of remaining legislation and the budget estimates. One of the first acts of the Premier, who was so eager to take her place in the Legislature, was to vote for that time limit and force closure. We had literally just minutes to discuss bills which should have taken days to examine. This is not due diligence and has transformed our democratic process into government by edict.
The week started with the debate on the government’s plans to change the HST. As I mentioned last week, what the government is doing is buying votes ahead of this month’s referendum. It is a crass manipulation of fiscal policy which will leave - as the Premier herself acknowledged before she was elected - a massive, $1.6 billion hole in the government’s revenues. And that hole, created in a desperate attempt to win the referendum, will inevitably lead to cuts in spending on health care, on seniors, and on education. I spoke against this venal approach to governing
before debate was cut off less than 24 hours after the motion was introduced.
So the HST that was brought in so arbitrarily after the last election was changed equally arbitrarily this week. Tax policy should be considered not just pulled from the air. We need fair taxation, not regressive approaches which hurt families across the board and impact small business throughout the province.
The government also rushed through the bill which will allow a review of BC Ferries. Again we only had an hour to debate this; an hour is not long when you are dealing with the crumbling infrastructure of the province. I told the Legislature about the impact of the ridiculously high fares on our coastal communities and said that the demand from North Island ferry users was that those fares be rolled back. Once again I urged that the review find ways for BC Ferries to be brought back under the Ministry of Transportation
The government quickly passed a treaty with the Yale First Nation. When the Nisga’a treaty was debated, months of discussion and committee time were devoted to it. The Yale treaty - which is challenged by some First Nations - was pushed through in little more than an hour. So much for the democratic process.
Likewise there was a miscellaneous bill which covers a number of changes to a number of pieces of legislation. There are often quite contentious items discovered in these bills, seemingly hidden because this sort of legislation usually covers a wide range of issues. We had just 15 minutes to talk about this bill - which included changes to forestry acts and changed the Child, Family and Community Service Act
to allow children to stay with care givers without the court system being involved. I spoke in favour of the changes but had some concerns about it.
As critic for the Ministry of Children and Family Development I had many questions of the Minister about her budget. Unfortunately - again because of the scheduling set by the BC Liberal Government - I had only 15 minutes to try to complete those questions. But at least I was able to raise the problems faced by families in Campbell River and elsewhere trying to find support for their special needs children
I had the opportunity to ask the Minister of Health about the proposed to deal with the chronic shortage of places for seniors in the North Island
. The minister repeated Vancouver Island Health Authority’s promise of 40 beds - but did not explain when or how those would become available.
And I took the liberty of recognising my home community - Quadra Island - in the Legislature this week, talking about the 113th May Day celebration
This was the last week in the Legislature until - we don’t know when. Before we do return there will be the provincial mail-in referendum on the HST (to get rid of the tax, people have to vote “yes” in the referendum) and there may be a provincial election. But, unfortunately, there will not be an increased commitment to our democratic processes from this government.
We are elected to represent our constituents and our constituencies, to be their voices in Victoria. The official opposition has an important role in the democratic structure to question the government, to debate and to examine legislation. The last four weeks has hardly allowed us to do that job. Indeed, in this last year the legislature sat for just 24 days. That is not healthy for democracy in BC; it is not healthy for our society.
I have critic meetings on Friday and early next week which keep me away from the constituency. But this Saturday I will have the pleasure to be at the opening of the House of Unity at Tsaxana near Gold River and at the graduation at North Island Secondary School. On Sunday I’ll be joining in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Tsa’Kwa-Luten on Quadra Island.
I can always be reached at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca or by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100 or toll free 1 866 387 5100; and find me on facebook - I’d be happy to be a friend - or clairetrevena on twitter.