General · 9th May 2014
Two key pieces of the BC Liberals’ agenda, which will have a direct impact on the future of the province, were discussed this week in Victoria – Bill 2, the Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, and Bill 24 the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act.
The first is an attempt to undermine the independent Boundaries Commission. This bill allows the government to ring fence 17 constituencies and ensure their boundaries will not change. These are defined by the BC Liberals as “rural” and include the two ridings in Kamloops and two in Prince George which are all, incidentally, Liberal strongholds. Not surprisingly, they do not include the decidedly more rural North Island, nor Alberni Pacific Rim, nor Powell River which are held by the NDP. And they shouldn’t because constituency boundaries are not supposed to be the business of politicians. The Commissioners are supposed to be able to act independently and decide where the boundaries are to best serve our parliamentary democracy.
The government amended the act by further imposing on the independence of the Commissioners by “allowing” them to increase the number of seats in our Legislature from 85 to 87. Again this is not something which a government or MLAs should be deciding as it is self-serving. We as MLAs should not decide the number of seats or their location. This is why we have an independent Boundaries Commission.
The second bill, the Agricultural Land Reserve Commission Act is essentially about development. The BC Liberals want to split the ALR, which has served our province well for 40 years, into two zones. The Island, Fraser Valley and Okanagan would remain intact but the remainder of the province would be treated as a separate entity and it would be easier to pull land from the Reserve. The ALR was created to protect our land, because agriculture is essential to the health and wellbeing of all of us. An independent commission already has the ability to remove land from the reserve if the arguments are justified. This bill is simply unnecessary.
As I mentioned in my speech to oppose this act, there is in reality very little agricultural land in BC; only 5 percent of our land mass is designated ALR. To try to reduce that amount, at a time of climate change, at a time when we are increasingly aware of the need for food security, defies common sense. We should be protecting the Reserve not compromising it.
It is also typical of the BC Liberals that this major change was not foreshadowed in the election just a year ago. This is a major piece of legislation, but when people went to the polls just one a year ago they were not told that by re-electing the BC Liberals they would be voting to compromise the ALR.
The government did introduce an amendment that would limit some of the damage it planned to do to the Commission itself, but in no way does it make the legislation acceptable.
The essence of our opposition to changes to the ALR are concerns about food security. I raised this separately, talking about the different interpretations of food security: what it means for those who do not have enough food and rely on food banks as well as what it means in terms of growing our own food.
Poverty was once again a focus of Question Period, when we challenged the government on the clawbacks of maintenance paid to single parents on social assistance. There was neither action nor sympathy from the BC Liberals. Likewise there was no action when my colleagues and I challenged the government on the system wide collapse of the computer system (ICM) which serves the Ministries of Social Development and Children and Families using direct examples of the damage being done to people in the North Island and other constituencies. ICM has cost more than $200 million and has been plagued with problems since its introduction a couple of years ago. The crash over the last week has had a direct impact on every individual who is served by these Ministries – kids in care, people getting disability payments, parents on assistance -- those who are the most vulnerable.
I had the opportunity to ask the Minister of Transportation whether he was ready to fix the economic and social mess created by the changes to the Discovery Coast tourism route . Bookings in the region served by the route are down by 90 percent and the replacement vessel is completely inadequate for the needs. I was not surprised when I received the stock response that the government has had to make “difficult decisions”. Those decisions are made at the cost of our coastal communities and our marine highway.
I also asked the Minister of State for Tourism whether she would intervene to ensure the continued operation of the ferry, the Chilliwack, on the central coast to protect the tourism economy of the coast and Cariboo Chilcotin. Unfortunately, like her colleague the Minister of Transportation she turned her back on our marine highway.
Ignoring everything from agriculture to tourism as economic drivers of our province this government is clearly focusing all its efforts on the LNG bubble. This is not sound economics, nor is it sound public policy.
As I mentioned in last week’s report, I met with the CEO of the Coastal Community Credit Union last Friday. He assured me that he wants to meet with people in communities to find ways of keeping some sort of presence on the islands. That being said, he was adamant that the three effected branches will close. This Friday sees me in Courtenay with a meeting of the Island Coast Economic Trust followed by a meeting with Comox Valley farmers to further discuss the ALR and food security.
I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, on Facebook or clairetrevena on Twitter. You can contact me the traditional way by phone: 1 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 1 250 949 949 9473 or toll free at 1 866 387 5100.