General News · 29th May 2015
This report marks the end of the spring session in the Legislature. The session left the perception it had been driven by a government bereft of ideas but desperate to stay in control. By contrast, the Official Opposition introduced a number of bills which would have strengthened our democracy, expanded our industries, improved the agricultural sector and dealt fairly with First Nations.
The last few days of debate in the Legislature are a microcosm of the manipulation of the parliamentary system by the BC Liberals.
Just after Question Period on the final Wednesday, the Minister of Energy tried to introduce a motion about construction of Site C. In the parliamentary system it takes two days for a motion to be tabled and then debated but this was impossible as there was only one day left in the session. The BC Liberals were deliberately manipulating the parliamentary process so they could try to score political points having just signed an agreement with the BC Building Trades.
While the government believes spending $8bn on building the dam and flooding prime farmland is intrinsically good, we are much more cautious. At the very least we want the formal process of a review by the BC Utilities Commission to take place. We also want to see, if this behemoth goes ahead, project labour agreements in place, as they are at the John Hart project outside Campbell River.
Another example of the BC Liberal’s manipulation of the system for their own ends was the discussion around the Government Information Act. The first iteration it was so badly drafted that the government itself tabled pages of amendments to be debated at the committee stage. Even the title of the bill was amended to the Information Management Act. We were opposed to the Act – which allows for an increasingly oral approach in government business, in other words leaving no traceable records. The legislation does not mandate a duty for the government to keep written records, which means it is impossible to trace information. We had seven amendments of our own which were defeated. In the end, the committee stage, during which all these changes were introduced and debated and the bill supposedly analyzed, lasted a mere 50 minutes.
We raised the importance of keeping records during our last Question Period, when we challenged the government on its policy of deleting all emails on controversial subjects. In particular, we cited the deletion of all emails about consultations the government had about the Highway of Tears.
The government’s unwillingness to answer questions is incredible. We spent a whole Question Period trying to ask the Minister of Justice about police handling of people with mental health problems. She stood up for the first one, and then refused to answer any other question; her colleague the Minister of Health was put up in her place.
We also spent a couple of Question Periods asking about needed changes to the system for children in government care who “age out” at 19, leaving them on their own with no family or other supports. This came into shocking perspective when a young woman who had been in government care nearly her whole life, who had moved 50 times and who had been abused, killed herself after she left care. Neither the Premier nor the minister responsible would commit to making any changes to prevent such cases happening again.
The parliamentary system does work when it is handled appropriately. While the government was successful in the changes it wanted to make to the Elections Act we were able to spend several days questioning the rationale and impacts of those changes as well as suggesting amendments.
The debates on bills finished early and the final two days were given over to the budget estimates of the office of the Premier. This seems like a fruitless exercise as the Premier uses every opportunity either to spin or simply avoid answering. For example, when John Horgan, the leader of the opposition asked about why she did not confirm George Abbott as head of the Treaty Commission, she started to talk about her “aspirational goals” on LNG and job creation. He asked that direct question four times and never got an answer.
I was able to recognize School District 84’s Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement in the Legislature. It was an honour to attend the event in Zeballos and to share with other MLAs the District’s achievement.
I have been appointed to the Special Committee to Appoint a Merit Commissioner which will entail some extra work back in Victoria. The Merit Commissioner’s job is to ensure that all public service appointments are based on ability; reading some of the reports from previous years it is clear this was not always the case.
We are not sure when the Legislature will resume sitting. We are supposed to have a session in the fall for two months which might happen. The government has indicated it wants to move on some legislation to speed up the sell-off of LNG to foreign companies.
With the summer recess I will be busy both in the constituency and through my critic portfolio, working on ways to try to improve our transportation infrastructure and make BC Ferries work for us.
I can always be reached by email Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy on 250 949 9473 or 1 866 387 5100 toll free. Feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.