Debate in the Legislature ranges from the passionate through to the detailed, with a great deal of theatre in between. And this week, all the notes were hit.
Passion was shown during discussion on three pieces of legislation: Bill 17 which brings in a Bill of Rights for people living in care, Bill 19, which amends the Lobbyist Registration act and Bill 14 which amends welfare rules to deny welfare to anyone who has an outstanding warrant for arrest in Canada.
The idea of a Bill of Rights is one that no-one can really object to. But the sad irony is that it comes after years of cuts, increased costs for those living in care, the move to privatisation and the pressure on staff working in care homes. What is needed more than a Bill of Rights is money in the system, a commitment to cut waitlists, and, as the NDP has long demanded, a Seniors Advocate who will represent seniors wherever they are. I had the opportunity to raise some of these issues
in the debate .
The Lobbyist Registration Amendment act again follows pressure from the Opposition, but what has been delivered is too little too late. This act is intended to ensure that if an individual, company or organisation is lobbying government, it is done in the most transparent way possible. While the bill tightens the loopholes and increases penalties for those who fail to register, it comes after years of egregious practices which have led to the sale of BC Rail and the move to privatisation of BC Hydro among other things.
People are obviously concerned about whether people are abusing welfare rules, but under this government an increasing number of people have been denied welfare. The legislation we’ve been discussing, under Bill 14, links welfare to those accused of offences – that’s accused, not convicted. The government gave no indication of how many people they believe this would include, nor the offences. It’s very problematic and could cut welfare for people who are desperate; it also makes the people working in the income assistance offices part of the criminal justice system, because as front line workers, they’d be the ones enforcing it.
We have also seen another worrying piece of legislation on the welfare system tabled, Bill 18, Assistance to Shelter Act. This bill could force homeless people into shelter even if they do not want to go; although this is a backing down by the government who during the Throne Speech indicated people could be put in jail “for their own safety”. Once again this bill is a severe challenge from the government to individual rights.
Detailed discussion in the Legislature comes when we are in committee stage of a bill and that happened with some of the bills I mentioned in my report last week – the bill which will ban cell phone use while driving and that which restricts the sale of body armour. We have also had a very detailed debate over the amendments to the Police Complaints process, which gives more power to the independent office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to investigate complaints. This bill however relates only to police departments, such as Victoria or Vancouver, not the RCMP. The Solicitor General, Kash Heed, who should be leading the debate on this bill, has excused himself because of a potential conflict of interest.
The theatre of the Legislature is displayed during question period, although the questions are serious and usually not addressed by the government. This was certainly the case when we raised a number of concerns about the escape of farmed salmon in the Broughton
and got no commitments from the Minister of Agriculture – neither on the problems nor on the transfer of the aquaculture file to DFO.
And we were again raising questions about what we see as inappropriate spending on the Olympics – this time an untendered contract for an event at the private Terminal Club in Vancouver which will cost almost $600,000. We also questioned the premier’s invitation of a first nations children’s choir to sing at the games: the choir is still waiting for an apology from the government.
As most people know, the Olympic torch relay starts on Friday in Victoria and events are being held in different communities across the island. I’ll be at Campbell River’s new Spirit Square on Monday – to mark the opening of the square, to serve soup through the lunch hour and to be in the crowd when the torch comes downtown. While the BC Liberals have made devastating cuts to education, healthcare, social services and so many other crucial areas of our social fabric, it is still important to acknowledge our local athletes participating in the torch relay as well as all those who have worked so hard to bring a small part of the Olympics to our communities.
I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca , by phone at my Campbell River office on 250 285 2167 or at 1 866 387 5100. We’re still waiting for phones at Port Hardy; we’re open in there two days a week Wednesdays 12-4:30 and Thursdays 12-4:30 at 7215 Market Street (next to Blue Bytes computer store).
Claire Trevena, MLA North Islandwww.clairetrevena.ca