MLA Report 9th March 2012

The week in the Legislature has been dominated by debate on Bill 22, the inappropriately named Education Improvement Act. In very simple terms, it attacks the right to free collective bargaining for teachers and, in its prescription on the size and composition of classes, it seriously undermines the quality of public education. It is an ideological tool being used by the BC Liberals to go after two things they appear to hold in contempt: trade unions and public education.

The BC Liberals have said they want a full debate on the Legislation, but very few government MLAs have chosen to join in. I hope that the Agriculture Minister, Don McRae, will make his voice heard. When he was a teacher in the Comox Valley, he wrote a heartfelt letter about the problems he faced daily in overcrowded classrooms. He said he could not give proper attention to his students because of the lack of support for those with special needs. I quoted his letter in my speech on the Bill as well as the voices of many teachers from around the constituency who have been in touch with me to explain what daily life is like for them and their student in the classroom.

It is the right of workers to organise and to bargain collectively; those rights were hard fought and made a huge difference in the way our society works. But with legislation like Bill 22, these rights are being destroyed. A strong, publicly funded, education system is at the heart of a healthy, just and equal society. It is the right of every child – no matter where they come from, what their background is or how much money their parents earn – to have a decent education.

The right to education is set down in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to access higher education according to merit. Unfortunately, many qualified young people don’t go on to post secondary in BC because they cannot afford it or are too frightened about the outrageous debt load they will incur. I raised this with the Minister for Advanced Education but it is not a priority for her.

I also asked about North Island College which, while it is one of the largest rural community colleges in terms of students attending as well as territory covered, gets proportionally almost the lowest level of funding. The Minister refused to commit to any increase to its grant which inevitably will have an impact on the services the College provides to our communities.

I recommended some action the BC Liberals could take to put flesh on the Premier’s presently empty, and cynical, campaign slogan of Families First. Time and again it is clear that this government does anything but look after the interest of families – whether by ignoring the frightening disparity between rich and poor or by deciding to keep the HST on so many necessities until next year.

We took on the government’s lack of commitment to the Missing Women’s Inquiry in Question Period this week. This too is becoming a travesty as the voices of the aboriginal women and their communities are getting lost while the RCMP have a myriad of lawyers to give them a strong voice.

We’ve also been talking about the disgraceful situation in the Burnaby hospital where patients weren’t told about a c-dificile outbreak, even though more than 80 people died from it. The erosion of our quality healthcare has gone hand in hand with the tenure of this government. I talked about the hopes of Sayward to establish a primary health care clinic and noted the necessity of adequate public funding for public healthcare.

Meanwhile the government continues to play its political games. A bill was introduced, by a BC Liberal backbencher from Chilliwack, calling for an elected senate These Private Members Bills rarely get debated let alone passed, but this one coincides with a by-election in the neighbouring Chilliwack-Hope constituency and will no doubt be used during that campaign.

On another matter, we have discovered a $3 million slush fund of unspent arts monies. We continue to ask the Minister responsible for the guidelines and oversight being used in disbursing this pot of money by the end of the financial year.

I have had a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Citizen Services who is responsible for internet connectivity, about the lack of high speed internet in many parts of the constituency. There have been a repeated number of announcements recently about an agreement with TELUS to ensure that 97 percent of British Columbians will have access to high speed internet; I have offered to work with the Minister and her staff to make sure this promise become a reality for the North Island.I won’t be in the constituency this weekend as I have meetings related to my critic role in the Lower Mainland. However you can always reach me at claire.trevena.mla@leg.bc.ca, by phone at 1 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 1 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy, or 1 866 387 5100 toll free; or you can friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.

Best regards
Claire