Our first week back in Victoria this year has been marked by independent officers of the Legislature producing damning reports on BC Liberal government policy.
On our first day back, the Ombudsperson’s office released a scathing indictment of the government’s approach to seniors’ care, which contained 170 recommendations for improvement. The same day the government came up with its seniors’ package: a vague six point plan.
However it does include a U-turn for the BC Liberals: after years of saying the province does not need an independent seniors’ advocate, it now says it will create the position. The NDP has been calling for such an appointment for years and in fact last autumn we tabled a bill which would have allowed for the office to be created. To expedite the creation of the position, we tried to get the government to adopt our bill this week. But they refused. It will likely take months for a seniors’ advocate to be in place but hopefully it will happen and the office will be able to independently represent this growing section of our population.
When the government does want to move rapidly it can. The appointment of a Local Government Auditor General is a case in point. The government introduced a bill to create this role at the end of our session in the autumn and we were back debating it this week because the Liberals want the person in place by the start of the financial year in April. They are so certain that this is the right thing to do and so arrogant about the eventual passage of the bill that they have started the process which will be used to appoint the person to the job by establishing a special audit council.
I argued against this bill after talking with people in local government across the North Island constituency. Local governments already have a great deal of oversight and a number of checks and balances. This new Auditor General will not be an independent officer: She or he will report to a minister and the appointment is being made through a special council set up by Cabinet. To be truly independent, a person has to be appointed by a committee of the legislature and report not the to government but to the whole legislature. In other words, these independent positions are supposed to be non-partisan. It is estimated the office will cost a minimum of $2.6 million a year – enough money for two courtrooms.
We have highlighted the chaos in our courts system in question period. Despite another review being launched by the government (which puts the number of reviews of their own policies and legislation announced since the new premier took office at about 50) and the appointment of a few more judges, the system is still woefully understaffed and under-funded. A healthy judiciary is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society; allowing it to whither as this government has done for the last 11 years is, in itself, criminal.
The end of the week was marked by another harsh report, this one on the health of our forests. It was produced by the provincial (independent) Auditor General. It paints a picture of wilful neglect of one of our prime resources. Our forests should be an environmental and economic mainstay for our province. Nearly two thirds of our land base is forested and yet the Auditor General found that the government has no long term plan for it. Perhaps the plan is to liquidate the resource as quickly as possible. I asked about the increasing amount of log exports during question period on Thursday. BC statistics show that 5.5 million cubic metres of logs were shipped out, unprocessed, from the province last year. That’s equivalent to fully packed logging trucks, nose to tail all the way from Victoria to Thunder Bay, Ontario – a four day drive. Or to put it another way, it is roughly equal to full trucks bumper to bumper stretching from Campbell River to Victoria 137 times. It is no surprise given this reality that mills are opening in China while they are closing in BC.
I am part of a working group in the Opposition Caucus which is looking a forestry issues. We know we need to stabilise the industry and create jobs here, using our resource. We are on the road when the legislature is not sitting to talk with people about what they see as the opportunities for their communities and the province over the coming months and years. We start this weekend with a swing through the Island and the Sunshine Coast. Next weekend we’re going to be in the southern interior.