We had a surprise, short, summer session this week with just two items on the government’s agenda but a great number on ours.
And as people have said, you could tell it was a summer session because Premier Christy Clark brought her flip-flops: first a flip-flop on changing the human rights code and then one on dealing with the crazed housing market in the Lower Mainland.
We have been arguing for many years that the BC Human Rights code should explicitly include gender identity and expression. In our last attempt, just this spring, the BC Liberals said they would not make the change. Then a change of heart. For whatever reason – the cynics might suggest an upcoming election – the right move was made. The Premier, however, just came for the photo-opp, skipping the vote in favour of a BC Liberal fundraising event.
Through the spring session, the Premier and her cabinet also argued loudly against government doing anything to deal with the property market in the Lower Mainland in which housing had become a commodity, often for foreign investment.
Again, this week, a 180 degree turn. They brought in a bill that not only deals with a request from the City of Vancouver to allow it to bring in a vacancy tax, but also added a 15% tax on foreign ownership across the Lower Mainland. Further, it allows for establishing an independent body to oversee realtors.
Our fear is that focusing on the citizenship of people buying property doesn’t tackle speculative investment which is distorting real estate prices. Affordable housing is a huge problem in the Lower Mainland and with this legislation will continue to be so. And affordable housing is a concern for many people in North Island who see rents escalate well beyond what they can pay.
This short session allowed us to ask questions of Premier Clark and her government about the $1.1 billion BC Hydro debt which will inevitable be transferred to users through higher bills. We also grilled the BC Liberals on education, health care, housing and ferries.
I asked the Tourism Minister * about the debacle on the ferries to and from the Sunshine Coast. The main ferry on the route, Queen of Burnaby, was taken out of service for repair. This led to massive overloads, at one point a 7km tailback, hours long waits. Not only was this hugely frustrating but costly to residents and businesses. The new, Polish-built, ferry for the route was supposed to be in BC this summer; now it won’t be here until next year. The back-up ferry, the Queen of Chilliwack, was sold last year for an unknown, but expected low, price after $18m of repairs. The consequence of this kind of incompetent management and government oversight is the huge wait lines people around the Sunshine Coast and on Texada have been forced to endure because.
Unfortunately, we are not likely to see a Christy Clark flip-flop when it comes to ferries, no matter how much we need to see it being operated as a public service rather than a for profit company.
Some months ago I wrote to the BC Utilities Commission about two tier electricity pricing which hits our communities hard. I am pleased to see that the Commission is now reviewing the policy but it wants input form users. If you want to share your concerns you have until August 15th to contact the BCUC by email to Commission.Secretary@bcuc.com or on the website at http://www.bcuc.com/Register-Letter-of-Comment.aspx
I have met the Minister of Energy about decommissioning the BC Hydro dam on the Salmon River. Hydro had given a three year time frame for its removal. I impressed on him the importance of moving ahead swiftly with the project and he has assured me he will try to expedite it.
I’ve also had a brief discussion with the Minister of Jobs about trying to get more clarity on the situation in Port Alice where the mill remains closed.
And while the debate about paying for parking at our new hospital continues, NDP Leader John Horgan stated that if we form government next spring we would ensure there would be no paid parking at hospitals where there hasn’t been paid parking before.
I was pleased to be able to recognize the 50th anniversaries of Port McNeill and Port Hardy ** both in the respective communities and in the Legislature, sharing some of the attributes that make both communities special.
My office will be closed for the week of BC Day for staff holidays. And that week I’ll be camping in our beautiful parks and campsites in the North Island. The following week I’ll be back at work starting in Port McNeill, Alert Bay and Sointula. I’ll also be continuing to work on my critic files, travelling to parts of the province to discuss trucking, transit and ferries.
I can always be reached by email at Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone on 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy or 866 387 5100 toll free. I’m also on Facebook and on Twitter @clairetrevena.