After 200 days we are back in the Legislature and immediately the BC Liberal government held it in contempt.
The first day was the Speech from the Throne. This is usually the opportunity for a government to provide a vision for the province and set out its legislative agenda for the coming year. If there was a vision in this speech, it was most definitely blurred. It was a pessimistic diatribe in which the government predicated the future of BC on the development and export of liquefied natural gas.
In my response to the speech
I talked about the need for a real vision: one that dealt seriously with climate change, one that took on our dismal record of child poverty, one that embraced affordable public child care. The BC Liberal’s boasted record exports of logs to China; I said a vision would keep many of those logs in BC, keeping our small, family-owned North Island mills open and allow the prospect for new ones. A brave vision would guarantee high quality internet access to everyone – to generate business and opportunity. A common sense vision would be to make BC Hydro the proud public utility it once was.
And of course I talked about ferries. There was no mention of BC Ferries in the Throne Speech, nothing on the government’s agenda, except ongoing cuts to service and the continual increases in fares. Nothing to address the concerns from businesses and communities that no economic impact study had been done before these plans went ahead. No recognition that 20 percent of BC’s population lives in ferry dependent communities and our contribution matters as much as people in the Okanagan or the northeast. Ironically, the day after the Throne Speech it was revealed – through a freedom of information request – that BC Ferries spent more than $500,000 on advertising at Canucks games. I know that Canucks supporters in Alert Bay, Port Hardy, Quadra and Campbell River would rather have affordable fares than seeing their marine highway advertised at centre ice.
The BC Liberals moved from the Throne Speech to the first question period of the session, continuing to disregard the importance of the Legislature. With Supreme Court documents in our hands, we asked the Premier directly whether she and her government tried to provoke a teachers’ strike; the documents indicated that had been the case. The Premier refused to answer. For days she had been giving her side of the story to the media. The information we had contradicted what she’d been saying and she refused to acknowledge it in the very place she should have spoken, the Legislature. Instead the Attorney General stonewalled, covering up for her, repeating the mantra that the issue is now “before the courts”.
One of the reasons our democracy works because we have a balance of powers: the Executive which is the Premier and her cabinet; the Legislature, which is all MLAs and allows for an Opposition; and the Judiciary, our courts. We are rapidly moving into a dangerous position where the Premier completely disregards two arms of democratic governance and thinks all decisions can be made by the Executive. This is government by fiat and a decline to autocracy.
The government has also decided to change the time question period is held, moving it to 10 am rather than 1.30 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This might seem a small administrative matter, but it will make it harder for us as opposition to do our work. Many reports are released during the morning – such as the outcome of an investigation on the fire at the Babine sawmill, in Burns Lake, which came out at 11 am this Thursday – and so would not be able to be scrutinized in Question Period. Once again, the BC Liberals find ways to make themselves less accountable to the people of BC. We suggested that, like in the UK, a Premier’s question period be introduced once a week, but after this week’s performance it’s not surprising that motion was defeated.
In attempting to hold onto its existing power base, the government has already introduced a bill which will protect electoral boundaries in rural areas. Most MLAs represent a population base of on average 50,000 but at the moment when electoral boundaries are drawn there is leeway for seats in large rural areas with small populations. The government’s bill, which keeps the number of seats in the Legislature at 85, will set a number of these protected in stone – through the Cariboo and into the north. Most of these seats are at the moment held by BC Liberals.
Next week sees the budget which we will of course scrutinize carefully; I will be looking for anything positive for the North Island, for ferry dependent communities, and for the people of BC. I’m not hopeful.
In the meantime you can always get in touch by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, by phone at 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy or toll free at 1 866 387 5100. And feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.