The Legislature resumed this week with pomp, ceremony and politics. The Lieutenant Governor was greeted with a military display before laying out the government’s agenda for the next five weeks – and, with an election coming in May, one assumes for the next four years — in the Throne Speech.
This time, however, the BC Liberal agenda was almost non-existent. Certainly there was no indication of what they intend to do over the coming abbreviated session and little about what they would want to do if re-elected. If anything the speech could be summarized as “watch this space: we’ve got a budget coming next week and all will be revealed then.”
Judging by the Throne Speech, the government has neither a plan nor a vision for the province. After 16 years in government, the BC Liberals have run out of things they want to do and they are not willing to fix the multitude of problems that their governance has brought – unless of course they are forced to, as with the Supreme Court’s ruling compelling them to put money back into education.
This approach also suggests that the BC Liberals believe that the people of the province can be bought, that a tax cut in the budget will put all to rights and they can have carte blanche to carry on for another four years. But the BC government more than makes up for that cut with the indirect taxes they’ve imposed. And nothing even hinted in the Throne Speech will undo the massive downloading of indirect taxes onto families over the last 16 years: including the increases in MSP, in hydro, in ferry fares and ICBC. In some cases, like hydro, the increases will continue mounting up for some time to come.
As I said in my response to the Throne Speech, this cautious approach contrasts significantly to “spin” delivered ahead of the last election. Back then, Christy Clark’s government promised a LNG bonanza with production in full flow by 2020, tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars into a prosperity fund, an end to the sales tax and that the province would be debt free. As I have often stated before, it was always a fairy tale.
The hard reality is the BC Liberals refuse to acknowledge serious problems the province faces. As I highlighted in my response, there was no mention of seniors anywhere in the government’s plan. I brought forward some serious concerns facing seniors in the North Island: from access to bathing to poverty.
Education was raised but the reality of what happens in our classrooms was ignored. The BC Liberals have long lived in a world of “alternative facts” and this is seen time and again when they talk about education. While funding has fallen by $1000 per student, the BC Liberals talk about how generous they are. I countered that with a description of parent advisory committees across the constituency having to fundraise for everything from whiteboards and tablets for the classroom to $50,000 playgrounds for the schoolyard. For the sake of their children, parents have been forced to try to make up for another massive gap in government funding.
The BC Liberals painted a rosy picture of our economy. I talked about the changes over the last 12 years in the North Island. Twelve years ago three mills and two mines were generating jobs, processing resources and investing in our GDP but now they are all closed.
The backdrop of our return to the Legislature was a damning report on the death of Alex Gervais, a teenager who was in the care of the government. We devoted two Question Periods to trying to get accountability and answers from the Premier and the Minister. Unfortunately, neither was forthcoming.
We also demanded answers about another privacy breach at PharmaNet, with the personal information of hundreds of BC citizens illegally accessed and the information stolen. The government’s response was that those affected would receive a letter from the Ministry of Health and they should go to the police. This is clearly inadequate.
Also in the highly politicized air, questions of integrity and cash for access continue to swirl. We introduced the Get Big Money Out of Politics Bill that would ban corporate and union donations to political parties as well as prohibit the Premier or any cabinet member receiving stipends from their party. It is inevitable that when big players pump big money into our political parties the perception is that they have influence over policy. The situation in BC has become so ridiculous that even the New York Times has dubbed us as the “Wild West” of political financing.
This was the centerpiece of a package of bills which we tabled to make our legislature work more effectively and democratically: from ensuring that the Legislature sits, as we are supposed to, in the fall to prohibiting partisan ads being paid for with public money (Just watch TV these days to see what I mean). All of these bills have been introduced before, but the BC Liberals have chosen to ignore the opportunity to work together to improve the system for everyone.
I am back in the constituency this weekend and then return to Victoria next week when the budget is tabled. As always you can reach me by email at Claire.Trevena.firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 250 287 5100 in Campbell River and 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy, on Facebook and sometimes .@clairetrevena on Twitter.