People often repeat the line that “it is Question Period but not answer period” to shrug off the fact that Christy Clark and the BC Liberals don’t answer our questions in the Legislature. However, in a healthy democracy there has to be accountability and that means not just asking questions but also getting honest and full responses.
This week the Premier refused to answer questions about the health researchers who were summarily dismissed without justification four years ago. At that time, the BC Liberals misled the public saying there was an RCMP investigation. One of the researchers killed himself. Now the individuals and their families are trying to get legal help so they can fully participate in the Ombudsman’s investigation into what happened. While the Attorney General avoided giving plain answers about why the government was not providing the families assistance for legal counsel, the Premier sat in her place in the Legislature and simply smiled.
Often it is the Attorney General herself who stays seated when asked a question. This week that happened when, on International Women’s Day, we asked about provincial access to rape kits, resources in the Ministry of Justice to ensure reports of sexual assault are dealt with quickly. Instead of taking the question she let the Minister of Health respond.
Cabinet ministers sit with large binders on their desks ready to flick to the relevant section when we in the Opposition ask a question. In the binder are briefing notes and speaking points crafted by their backroom political team, which is why, so often, the answer has little or nothing to do with the question and everything to do with some political message being promoted.
One consequence is every we time we ask about the government’s mean decision to end bus passes for the disabled we hear the same trope about ‘choice’ – that by not providing a bus pass an individual supposedly is able to choose about where to spend their very meager disability benefit.
John Horgan, the Leader of the Opposition, introduced the Hydro Affordability Act this week which would offer real choice to people worried about whether they can afford to heat their homes and get food on the table. The bill would protect such people from skyrocketing hydro rates by offering a “lifeline rate”. It is similar to the special protection industry receives and with hydro rates surging upwards and would provide real assistance to those needing it.
We’ve also re-introduced a bill which would ensure the government had a duty to document. It would prohibit triple deleting emails, which was found to be the BC Liberal practice, by making it an offence to destroy government records. It would also ensure greater access to records by the public. This is part of a wider package of democratic reforms that we have been bringing to the Legislature for the last few years in an effort to make what is the people’s house, more accountable and representative.
There was some celebration about representation on International Women’s Day. While we do not have parity, both sides of the Legislature have a significant number of women MLAs. In Opposition, the NDP caucus is more than 40 percent women. Equal Voice, a non-partisan organization which works to get more women in elected office, marked both the success of women in politics and the distance we still have to go to achieve equality in our governments at an event organized by the Speaker of the House.
BC Firefighters came to the Legislature this week to talk with MLAs about the importance of post-traumatic stress disorder being recognized by the WCB as an injury firefighters suffer. It was a pleasure to talk with the Campbell River representatives.
I have yet again raised with the Minister of Health the issue of paid parking at our new hospital. The only reason that I have been given for paid parking being implemented is that every other hospital on the Island has it and so we should too. This does not take into account that our hospital is serving a wide area and most people have no option but to drive to it. Adding the cost of parking to that of gas makes health care less accessible for some, adds to people’s stress and is a burden to staff who will also have to pay for parking.
I also met with representatives of the Kidney Foundation, who were marking World Kidney Day at the Legislature and were encouraging MLAs and others to register as donors.
Friday sees me at my Campbell River office and then back to Victoria for another week at the Legislature, the last before we break for Easter. As always I can be reached by phone, email or on social media. The Campbell River office is 250 287 5100, Port Hardy is 250 949 9473, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am on Facebook and @clairetrevena on Twitter.