It was a short week in the Legislature this week as we were not sitting on Monday, a blustery Victoria Day on the North Island.
But there were a number of significant bills debated through the week, as well as the opportunity to question the Minister of Health on local concerns.
We in the Opposition were successful in challenging Bill 21, which is the Forestry Service Providers Protection Act. This act protects contractors if a company they are working with goes bankrupt. Our concerns were that the Bill also meant the end of the Woodworkers Lien Act which protected the workers. We tabled an amendment to change Bill 21 to ensure workers were covered by its terms but we lost the vote. However the BC Liberal government did finally back down, and withdrew the section which would have repealed the Woodworkers Lien Act. So now we have Legislation which protects contractors while workers rights remain safeguarded.
We also started to debate the energy for export bill – Bill 17, euphemistically called the Clean Energy Act. I have yet to speak to oppose this bill but the NDP is overwhelmingly opposed to its provisions. The bill takes away the oversight of the independent BC Utilities Commission and puts control of Hydro agreements in the hands of the Minister of Energy and the Campbell government cabinet. When Leader of the Opposition, Campbell had repeatedly said that BCUC should remain independent and free from political influence; but when it comes to making the way easy for private companies to take over our natural resources for their power generating profit it is clearly a different story. It’s a bit like how during the election just last year, we heard that the move to private power production was to ensure that BC could be self sufficient in energy; this bill clearly states privately produced energy will be for export. Once again I repeat that we have bountiful clean energy and a public utility which should be supported, not undermined by privatisation.
And right at the end of the week we started to debate a very large “miscellaneous” bill which amends many pieces of legislation. It was the one which the Children’s representative had challenged in court because it undermined her ability to work freely. That challenge was upheld and the section of the bill was withdrawn.
But there are a number of other issues which are important in this bill. One of them is changes to the Coastal Ferries Act, which will put BC Ferries under public scrutiny by allowing information about it to be obtained under Freedom of Information. The bill also puts a cap on the massive executive salaries at the quasi privatised corporation but does not address the outrageous performance bonuses which have been granted in the past. And fundamentally it does nothing to address that semi private nature that the government has created around the service; it does not do put the service back into the highways system.
And the bill also raises concerns about privacy issues by creating the possibility that schools and school boards can bring in closed circuit tvs inside our public schools. While some boards of education have been discussion this possibility for some time, there are serious concerns about both the process suggested in this bill and the impact on privacy for our children. The Minister of Education has given no explanation why this should be brought in or its costs. All she has said is that it was in the BC Liberal platform last spring.
I was able to confirm with the Minister of Health that our new hospital in Campbell River
is still a priority for him as well as for VIHA when I questioned him in the Legislature. VIHA is in the process of drawing up its business plan and hopefully it will be submitted in time for the next budget round, next spring.
I also raised questions on behalf of people in the Comox Valley as well as those in the North Island who use St Joe’s. The Minister not only got the name of the hospital wrong, repeatedly, he gave no assurances that he would intervene and have the proposed cuts reversed. The Minister gave no indication the backbench Liberal MLA for the area has raised the issue with him at all.
Questions about changes to legislation which now allow for mail order optical prescriptions were raised by the Opposition at the end of the week. But again the Minister was dogmatically partisan about his decision and refusing to acknowledge that he may have made a mistake.
We have only one more week at the Legislature, with the fixed sessions, and a lot of questions still to be asked. We also have a lot of demands for the government to reverse many of its decisions, such as bringing in the HST, while the House is still in session.
I will be spending much of Friday with staff of the Ministry of Forests in Campbell River and in the evening be at the Awards Ceremony at the Campbell River Art Gallery. Saturday is the annual May Day festivities on Quadra Island where I have been honoured by being asked to MC the event: let’s hope for sun.
I can always be contacted through the office in Campbell River at 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy at 250 902 0325, or by email at claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca.
Best regards Claire