Once again the legislative session concluded with closure: another appalling mockery of the democratic process. Instead of allowing for reasoned debate, scrutiny and public input of bills, the government pushed through 17 pieces of legislation in just hours - from approval for the Family Day holiday to the new form of Provincial Sales Tax.
In fact, the final two days of the session were like a three-ringed circus. As well as debate in the main chamber, two other committee rooms were being used for discussion. To illustrate how absurd it became, our energy critic had to substitute to debate a piece of tax legislation introduced on Monday because the finance critic who should have been handling it was in another committee room debating the reintroduction of the PST. In addition the government limited the time allotted to debate and committee stage on each bill. Some bills received 30 minutes, others 20 minutes, some just 15 minutes!
It really is not surprising why people lose their trust in the political process when it is so abused by those in power; the very people who have primary responsibility for upholding the democratic process.
One of the debates which was curtailed was on the Coastal Ferry Amendment Act. I spoke against the bill
. It is a betrayal of those who live in coastal communities as it continues to allow ongoing fare increases as well as the possibility of schedule changes. But because of the limited amount of time, both in debate and in committee stage, we were unable to fully question the government’s long term plans nor were we able to offer amendments which could have ameliorated the impacts of the bill.
The strict time limits impacted all debates. One of the bills up for, very brief, discussion allows for the conservancy on the Upper Klinaklini to be removed. The Minister of the Environment did not bother explaining to the Legislature his reasons for this. It is a direct contradiction of his predecessor, Barry Penner, who had been very explicit about why the Upper Klinaklini should remain are protected area. I questioned the government’s lack of process when speaking on the bill
and questioned the Minster’s reasons for removing the area from the conservancy.
The Opposition steadfastly opposed Bill 37, which changed the way animal health was to be dealt with and which could have allowed for a great deal of secrecy. The government introduced an amendment to try to deal with some of the most egregious sections of the bill but in the end dropped it entirely. This is a real victory for all who wrote, called and campaigned against the bill.
The government seems to have lost all sense of purpose. This jamming through of legislation appears to be an apparent desire to get away from the spotlight that Victoria puts on its actions (and inaction) and it reflects a desperation.
And instead of having clear plans, strategy or vision, the government is simply reacting. After standing by as the Elk Falls mill in Campbell River was allowed to close, the government watched with equal inaction as Catalyst tried to pull itself out of a quagmire. While we may no longer have a mill in the North Island, there are a number of people who rely on pensions from Catalyst who were at risk of losing a large proportion of their income. Twice this week in Question Period I asked the government
why it took so long to even start to try to do something to help the people and the communities which rely on the company.
I was also able to get some answers about guaranteeing local jobs at the John Hart Dam. The Minister of Energy said that while it is too early in the process to confirm whether a project labour agreement will be in place, he did give assurances that local labour would be hired wherever possible to do the work.
As the critic for the Ministry of Children and Family Development I raised serious concerns brought to me about the new and very expensive data management system being used by the Ministry
. Social workers are reporting that it is extremely cumbersome and they are worried that children will be put at risk because it is hard to get information from the system. The minister seemed totally unaware of the chaos and talked about how the system will improve when kinks are worked out.
I also asked some questions of the Minister of Housing about changes to the Residential Rehabilitation Programme
which allowed people to get assistance to make repairs for safety reasons. This was often used by people who are disabled and in a transfer of responsibility from the federal government has left many people without assistance.
As I mentioned, the Legislative spring session wrapped up on Thursday afternoon. While the legislative calendar allows for a fall session, the government’s urgency to force through its legislation so quickly implies that we will not be called back.
I will be back in the constituency through the summer and look forward to meeting with many people and talking about what matters to the North Island.
I can be reached, as always, by email at claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100, Port Hardy on 250 949 9473, or 1 866 387 5100 toll free; or friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.