General · 1st November 2010
The BC Liberal government never ceases to amaze me in its arrogance, in its lack of understanding of how people really live, and sadly, in its unremitting undermining our parliamentary democracy.
The latest act, of course, is Gordon Campbell’s prime time television and radio address to the people of BC. The content I am sure most of you know: the HST is here to stay (until at least the referendum next September) because the Province desperately needs the money it generates. But the public purse can still afford a massive cut in income tax for the highest paid. Now for most people that simply does not add up.
But the move also underlines so much that is wrong with the BC Liberal government’s policies over the last decade: promoting regressive, flat, taxes such as the HST, where everyone pays the same no matter what his or her income, in the place of progressive taxes in which the more you earn the more you pay. The BC Liberal government is taking from the poor to pay off the rich.
Campbell said that the private sector would be the saviour for BC during the ongoing recession – once again people can shop their way to happiness. I don’t see that happening in the North Island: the Walmart parking lot is often full because it is about the cheapest place for families trying to make ends meet. Leaving people poorer does not provide opportunity or choice.
It goes without saying there is a role for the private sector in a mixed economy, but if the BC Liberals are talking about allowing the private sector to do what can be done better by the public sector they are simply being ideological.
Public services – such as education, health care, our roads, ferries and our parks – are central to society’s infrastructure. They are available to people no matter what they earn and in the case of the social safety net, are there for people in hard times. These are part of a civilised, just and equitable society; the sort of society I believe in and I think most people in BC believe in. But there is no magic formula, we have to pay for these services, this infrastructure. We do that through our tax system: taxes on individuals; taxes on corporations; and taxes on certain items determined by our society to be “bad” such as carbon, alcohol and tobacco. And once we pay these taxes it is no longer our money; it is public money, entrusted to the government to be spent wisely.
So the BC Liberal government decides to spend quarter of a million dollars of this public money, money BC taxpayers provided, on an infomercial for Gordon Campbell to tell us that we simply do not understand the importance of the HST, that there will be a tax cut for those who don’t need it, and that there will be an emphasis on early learning.
This money did not have to be spent if the BC Liberals had done what they were supposed to, and called the Legislature back for its prescribed fall sitting. Campbell could have stood in the House, as he was elected to do, and deliver the same announcement – and let the Opposition have the chance to question him and his Finance Minister on it.
And if the Legislature had been called back, we would have been able to challenge the government on another extraordinary expenditure; the $6 million in legal fees for the Basi Virk trial. Thousands of people have been excluded from legal aid, but two BC Liberal insiders get their legal costs paid. Further, the public still does not know the full, sordid story of the sale of BC Rail. The Campbell government paid public money to make sure no more embarrassing information came out by cutting a deal to pay the legal fees of Virk and Basi if they plead guilty thereby ending the trial. There is not even a semblance of justice in that. It is disgusting.
As an Opposition we could also ask for answers about who did know what and when; we could ask about the links to past and present cabinet ministers. So it is not surprising that the government does not want to reconvene the Legislature.
What seems to be forgotten is that it was the BC Liberals who decided nearly ten years ago we should have fixed Legislative sessions: in the spring to discuss the budget and in the autumn to discuss legislation. Instead we have a heavy spring session filled with the province’s budget and legislation and when we don’t finish debate on the legislation by the fixed end of the spring session, the government simply shuts us down and passes the bills. Compound this flagrant abuse of our system with the increasing presidential approach to leadership and the integrity of our parliamentary democracy is, seriously, in jeopardy.
I have been making the most of not being able to get on with the job of Opposition in Victoria by working within the constituency, and it has been a busy fall.
I think everyone is aware of the devastating floods and landslides around Port Hardy, Port Alice, Holberg and Zeballos. And we cannot forget the people of Kingcome who are still away from their homes, being hosted by families in Alert Bay, and uncertain of when they will be able to return to the village.
I would like to publicly thank all the Emergency Planning teams in each of the communities who jumped immediately into action, who helped neighbours and strangers alike to ensure their safety. I would also like to thank the Western Forest Products crews who worked in Holberg and the teams who reopened the road so swiftly in Zeballos.
I would also like to publicly thank those who have been so generous in supporting the families from Kingcome: all the people in Alert Bay who have housed people, the teams of people who provided a community kitchen for them, the amazing donations of food, clothes and other necessities.
Immediately after the latest Cabinet shuffle I met with the new Ministers of Aboriginal Relations, Forests and Environment to discuss with them the problems still being faced by the people of Kingcome, and the need to try to prevent similar flooding happening again. I am hopeful that a meeting between the Kingcome Council and Provincial government ministers will happen swiftly.
I also raised with the Minister of Environment the ongoing discussion over Metro Vancouver’s solid waste disposal policy; I urged him to give serious consideration to the proposed Waste to Energy plant in Gold River, describing to him the benefits for the community and the community’s commitment to the project.
And yet again I am in discussions with the Vancouver Island Health Authority over our planned Campbell River Regional Hospital. The stakeholders’ group, which I convened two years ago, wanted clarification on VIHA’s business plan. We want to make sure that services at our new regional hospital will be enhanced and there will be no cuts in our health care provision.
I am somewhat disappointed that effectively another year has been added to the time frame of building our new hospital; I think most of us had hoped that the proposal would have gone to the government this autumn to be considered for next year’s budget. But VIHA is now going out for further consultation to build its business plan. The Campbell River hospital staff continues to make the most of the cramped and physically deteriorating building in which they are providing high quality health care: but we need a new hospital urgently.
One of the problems remains that seniors are being housed in the hospital. Aside from the probability that the physical beds they occupy would be used by other people, a hospital isn’t the right place to provide seniors’ care. I am very pleased that a community group, including families and care providers, has come together on this issue. Its voice will be of great help when I am raising this with both VIHA and the Minister of Health.
The coming weeks take me around the constituency as well as down to Victoria for meetings. But I can always be contacted by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca or by phone at the Campbell River office on 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy at 250 902 0325 or toll free at 1 866 387 5100.