The lack of a government agenda, or any vision from Premier Christy Clark, was magnificently apparent this week. We spent more than a day of the limited legislative calendar debating a topic that is firmly in the Federal realm: the trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The Federal Liberals have put this contentious deal to a committee for broader discussion. We suggested that if the BC Liberals wanted to spend time analyzing it, they should do likewise. The Premier disagreed and we ended up spending more than a day debating a Federal issue. I regularly talk about the fragility of our democracy and the importance of our democratic institutions. The BC Liberals have no respect for them and instead of doing the important job of governing on behalf of all British Columbians, they play petty, juvenile political games.
We, meanwhile, introduced two bills that will get likely get no debate on the floor of the Legislature. Once again, we brought in a Poverty Reduction Act and we also tabled a Sustainable Wildlife Management Act. The former has targets and timelines to reduce the appalling level of poverty in BC. The latter is a comprehensive approach to managing fish, wildlife and habitat that has been severely degraded by 15 years of BC Liberal government.
A great deal of the week was spent examining the BC Liberal’s budget and looking at their often reckless mismanagement of aspects of government on which we all rely.
First on the list this week was the Ministry of Energy which gave us the opportunity to ask about the BC Liberal’s handling of BC Hydro which is effectively bankrupting this once proud public utility: from the plan to spend more than $8 billion on Site C for power we do not need to the demands from Christy Clark for the utility to pay huge annual dividends to the government. The impact of this is felt monthly in everyone’s skyrocketing hydro bills. And the impact is even harder in the North Island where people automatically end up paying the second, more expensive tier of billing because, except for wood, there are no alternative power sources.
It’s been almost six months since we announced our Power BC plan which, working closely with communities and First Nations, would develop small scale power production producing renewable power the province needs. Hydro should not be a luxury but in a time of climate change it should be developed and used responsibly and in the best interest of the people of BC. That is most definitely not happening.
When it came to the estimates debate on education the issue of continuing downloading of expenses on school boards was core to our questions of the Minister. This has forced local school boards to make even more cuts because of the increased costs of hydro, of MSP and payrolls. I asked about the impact of that downloading on School District 72, which has led to two elementary schools in the district being closed. The School Board wrote to the Minister in early February and still has had no answers. Apart from saying he would be responding “shortly”, he gave little comfort to the trustees, administrators or parents of children going to school. The starving of our public education system of funding is going to have a long term effect on the whole of BC.
But the money not being spent on essentials such as education is definitely being channeled into what can only be described as vanity projects, such as the $3.5 billion plan to replace the Massey Tunnel with a 10 lane bridge. I spoke about the folly of the project, announced by Christy Clark with no consultation and no business plan three years ago. Construction is due to start just ahead of the provincial election next year. Other cheaper options, such as twinning the existing tunnel, were thrown out with no public discussion. The pretense of feedback to plans already decided upon are being clothed as consultations. But those who work and live on the coast recognize this Potemkin-like consultation having suffered through years of it when it comes to BC Ferries.
Speaking of BC Ferries, I asked the Minister of Transportation about plans to refuel the Polish-built LNG ferries onboard the vessels. This is not done anywhere else in the world for safety reasons but BC Ferries is asking Transport Canada for a variance in the regulations to allow it to use this risky method of refueling. I was astounded that the Minister knew nothing of the plan.
I’ve also been dealing with a constituency problem that’s arisen over the delivery of propane to fishing and logging camps, lodges, resorts and many homes along our coastline. The company that usually delivers has temporarily lost its permit. I’ve written to the Federal Transportation Minister and I’m working with our MP, Rachel Blaney, to ensure that Transport Canada expedites a new permit to ensure businesses and families get the fuel on which they rely.
I had great pleasure in telling the Legislature about the latest recipients of Campbell River’s Community Builders honours. A community depends on the commitment of people who live and work there and the six recipients richly deserved to be honoured.
We are having a break week from the Legislature – but not from work. I’m going to be at the Pye Lake Recreation site this weekend for the Grand Opening by the ATV club. And for much of the week I’ll be on the road: I have meetings planned in Port Alice, Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Gold River and of course Campbell River.
I can always be reached by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100 or Port Hardy on 250 949 9473, by email at Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend me on Facebook or follow me @clairetrevena on Twitter.