It has been an engaging week at the Legislature in Victoria, with debate on bills that will bring changes to the liquor laws and the new Societies Act which will govern charities and not for profits.
Question Period has swept from the somber to the surreal. Among the topics we discussed were the consequences of the very sad death of a young man in Surrey in a gang shooting and why the staff of the Minister in charge of freedom of information blocked freedom of information requests.
Much of my week in the Legislature centred on my shadow cabinet role, looking at the way the government is spending its Transportation budget. That means a lot of detailed questions as well as the opportunity for political discussions.
My focus on ferries was the capital budget – the renewal of the ferry fleet. I was particularly concerned that millions of dollars were spent on refitting the Queen of Chilliwack
, which used to run on the central coast and then the vessel was almost immediately taken out of commission. Meanwhile the Minister acknowledged that the 16 vehicle Nimpkish, which replaced it on the route from Bella Bella to Bella Coola, will likely be taken out of service in just two years.
I also raised concerns about the Minister’s efforts to reduce crewing levels. The minister has indicated that he is negotiating with Ottawa to reduce them, even though they are based on safety needs. In Washington State the crew numbers are lower because the US coastguard is on hand for emergencies.
And I asked about the $1,200 daily allowance for BC Ferries’ directors, which they receive when they attend meetings, as well as why they and their families have free ferry passes, while BC seniors now have to pay for every sailing they use.
And, I put some emphasis on the major highway projects
, especially the $600m Sea to Sky highway as well as the Port Mann bridge. The latter is 120% over budget at $3.3billion (and rising) while vehicles are still avoiding it and, unlike BC Ferries, there is a reluctance to increase the toll for fear of losing even more traffic.
It is very worrying that retaining walls on the Sea to Sky highway are already in need of repair, even though the rebuild of the highway is only five years old. I asked the Minister about this in Question Period
but he gave no credible answer, nor would he commit to assessing the safety of the rest of the retaining walls. Under the public private partnership under which the Sea to Sky was rebuilt, the province will be paying another $1bn for the next 25 years.
Earlier in the week I wrote to the head of the BC Utilities Commission
asking for a review of the two-tier billing system introduced by BC Hydro. I have heard from many constituents about how punitive this is for people who have no alternative but electricity to heat their homes. In addition there are no programmes available for retrofitting homes to reduce electricity costs.
And I continue to pursue improved connectivity for the North Island. Everyone knows that it is both economically and socially necessary, but it is a matter of engaging key people to make it a reality. The Minister responsible has not championed rural connectivity but I will continue to make this a priority.
I was also able to recognize the victory of the Campbell River Storm, who brought back the Keystone Cup to B.C. and the Island, beating teams from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern Ontario. Well done!
I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, or by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy on 250 949 9473. You can also friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter clairetrevena or check out my web page www.clairetrevena.ca