It’s been another busy week in the Legislature where a range of legislation has been debated: from the bill which will tighten restrictions on drunk driving through to bills which impact the forest industry in BC.
Bill 14, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act will impose tough roadside penalties for people who fail – or come close – to failing a breathalyser. It will result in immediate driving bans, major fines and the potential of criminal charges. Police can issue the ban at the roadside and appeals can only be made to the Superintendant of Motor Vehicles, and only after paying $100 to $200. While we in the Opposition are in favour of tightening the laws against impaired driving we did raise our concerns about the impact of this legislation on civil liberties.
Three pieces of Legislation which affect the forest industry were debated this week. Unfortunately we continue to see the government playing around the edges of the industry rather than tackle head on the crisis which is facing it.
I spoke to Bill 7 which changes various parts of the Forest and Range Statutes Act
. It could open the way for increased use of wood for bio-energy purposes and I was able to discuss opportunities this might bring for the North Island. However it also removes regulatory burdens from the forest companies and transfers more oversight of forest practices from the Crown to the companies. The government’s budget has caused havoc with compliance and enforcement in the Ministries of Forests and of Environment. Handing more oversight to the companies whose obvious primary concern is profit is not the way to go.
We also debated another amendment bill which brings in a new forest tenure: the First Nations Woodland Licence. These would effectively be for woodlots or community forests for First Nations. The minister acknowledged during debate that it would likely not assist First Nations in the North Island obtain tenure because so much of the land is already committed.
And we saw a long overdue piece of legislation brought in with Bill 21, the Forestry Service Providers Protection Act. The BC Liberal Government promised this legislation 18 months ago and during that delay many contractors in the North Island and elsewhere have gone under. This legislation will create a compensation fund for contractors if the company they are working for goes bankrupt and it adds various levels of protection for contractors. However we have serious concerns that the bill fails to protect all workers who might be affected and are looking to rectify that when we get to committee stage debate.
In Question Period, the NDP continued to raise issues concerning the cuts the BC Liberals have brought in: cuts which impact our hospitals, cuts which impact people on social assistance, cuts which impact education and the access to summer schools. We also continued to press the government to stop the HST before its full implementation in July.
The week also saw the reintroduction by Carole James, leader of the Opposition, of a bill which would change election financing. This has been brought in by the NDP every single session since 2005 and the Campbell Government still has not acted on it. The bill would end corporate and union donations to political parties. All political parties in BC would be financed by individuals. This bill, if accepted by the government, would mean far greater transparency for election financing and political party funding.
With just two weeks remaining in this fixed session of the Legislature there are still a number of bills which need to be discussed. Among them are Bill 17, the energy for export bill, and Bill 20, another catch-all bill which brings administrative changes to the Coastal Ferries Act, but does not bring our ferries back under the highways system.
Bill 17 will be a fundamental change in our public electricity system and it is extremely worrying that it is being left until the very end of the session which will limit time for debate. This Bill hands over much control of our energy production to the private sector and will increase the industrialisation of our rivers. It is also an acknowledgement of what we have long suspected, that the private power that will be produced is for export, not as the Campbell government was claiming, for our own use.
Power generation and distribution is too important for our communities, our economy and our province to be left in the hands of the private sector. We have to ensure that there is public oversight, public involvement and appropriate public control for the public interest.
I hope that everyone enjoys the long weekend and has a good and safe break. If you want to get in touch with me I can always be reached on any issue at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca or by phone on 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 250 902 0325 in Port Hardy and 1 866 387 5100 toll free.