One of the interesting aspects of being the official Opposition critic for transportation is that it enables me to reflect on similar needs for communities in what would appear to be very differing circumstances. For our province to have a healthy environment, economy, and social infrastructure we have to have a transportation system that works – that allows people and goods to move easily and effectively.
Sadly we don’t. That is one of the problems with the government’s intransigence over BC Ferries: by greatly increasing costs over the last few years, commerce and communities are choked. That is very clear in the regular figures we see showing declining ridership. There has been an 8% drop in ridership as fares have skyrocketed. Even BC Ferries' spokesperson admits it’s often cheaper to fly than to take the ferry – an absurdity and a clear example of “Liberal math”. They do not realize that trying to make a profit from this highway is killing communities.
There are similar debates about moving people and goods in the Lower Mainland. We have spent much of this week in discussing two bills about Translink, the authority that governs public transport, highways and bridges from the US border in Surrey up to North and West Vancouver. There are many diverse communities with many problems, and like it or not, this is where BC’s population is concentrated. For a healthy provincial economy we need to make sure that people and goods are moving efficiently through the various municipalities.
But as I mentioned when I spoke about
the two bills those needs are being ignored
by the BC Liberals. One of the bills tries to repair some of the problems created by the former Transportation Minister, Kevin Falcon, when he took responsibility away from the democratically elected Mayors and Council and placed it with an appointed Board. However the bill doesn’t wholly fix the mess that was created, still leaving a two-tiered system. This is exacerbated by a second bill which would mean that every time new funding is needed for public transit in the Lower Mainland, there would have to be a referendum – something none of the mayors in the area want.
I fundamentally disagree with deciding tax policy by referendum. Our system is not the same as the US where referenda are regularly used, and have caused serious financial problems for governments: California is the prime example. When people are asked flat out do they want new taxes, they tend to say no. And to decide the financing of public transit the same way is a slippery slope.
Local governments are going to see some changes because of another couple of bills which were debated this week. One will put municipal and regional district elections on a four, rather than three, year cycle. The second bill will give oversight of election spending to Elections BC. While this is a positive move, the same bill did not place campaign spending limits on candidates which would have been a wise move.
Question Period has been vociferous and varied. The BC Liberals continue to ignore fundamental issues. They can accept a massive payout to the former head of BC Lottery commission but not allow single mothers on welfare to receive child support. They continue to refuse to hold a public inquiry into the sawmill fire at the Babine mill in Burns Lake. And refuse to answer questions about the downgrading of the 911 service.
We are also raising the issue of the destruction of the Agricultural Land Reserve. Bill 24 is the BC Liberals' plan to separate the ALR into two zones, which will leave vast stretches of the province open to development; establish local panels with government appointees in oversight; and give the Minister a hands-on role in the Agricultural Land Commission. It will be debated when we return from an Easter break but we are hoping that there is such outrage across the province about the plan that the BC Liberals back down. At a time of climate change, when there is great awareness of the need for local production, we need to be defending and protecting out land reserve, not allowing it to be opened to development.
This week was National Volunteer Week and I had the opportunity to recognize the amazing range of volunteers in the North Island
. While I named a few people, the amazing numbers of people who get out into our communities and really make them work, is inspiring. Thank you.
I also was able to welcome a school group from Campbell River to the House and was pleased to meet and chat with them after their tour.
This weekend is the annual meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities, which I will be attending in part. Ahead of that I look forward to going to the North Island College, Timberline School Education and Industry Expo.
I will be around the constituency for the next couple of weeks as the Legislature will be on Easter break. I’ll be visiting a number of communities as well as spending some time in Campbell River. I will also be talking to local farmers and people working on food security across the North Island ahead of the debate on the ALR so we can show how important agriculture is to all of us.
I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, on Facebook or clairetrevena on Twitter. You can contact me the traditional way by phone: 1 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 1 250 949 949 9473 or toll free at 1 866 387 5100.