General · 31st July 2014
In newsrooms, summer is often called “the silly season”. It’s a time when editors are desperately hunting stories to fill the newscasts and newspapers. And it is the time when governments hope that while everyone is out soaking up the sun, fishing, camping and ignoring the workaday world, they can slip out news they would rather people don’t know about.
The BC Liberals are masters at this. Just two examples from the last few weeks: one is the whitewashing over the clear conflict of interest displayed by the former CEO of BC Lottery Corporation. While he was still working at BCLC, he’d started having talks with his next employer – part of the major private gaming organization, Paragon. Yet when he left BCLC he received a $125,000 payout. An internal audit released earlier this month found a clear conflict, but the minister responsible, Finance Minister Mike de Jong, shrugged it off as though none of it matters. But it does. Integrity goes to the heart of government and is fundamental in people’s trust of the institution. The BC Liberals have been forever cynical about gambling; there was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth before they became government back in 2001 about the dangers of gambling. But under their watch, the opportunities to gamble in BC have exploded.
Another summer story that the BC Liberals would rather ignore was the announcement of the building of three new BC Ferries in Poland. There is no way that this can be interpreted as good news for BC, as it means hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars being shipped offshore. Before the election the Premier assured the people of BC that we would start to build our own ferries again and, indeed, the future for shipbuilding was so rosy we’d build ferries for other countries too. But when we did have the opportunity, the BC Liberals allowed their construction to go offshore. The reason BC Ferries continue to be built offshore is purely political: we have the shipyards with the workforces and the will to build them here but shipyards are no longer able to join together to work as a consortium even though that’s how it was done successfully for so many years.
The Provincial Shipbuilding Act I introduced in the Legislature in May would give priority to BC shipbuilders to build vessels used for public service. It would ensure a continuing skilled workforce with apprenticeships being built in to each bid. With more than 20 BC ferries alone needing replacing this would bring years of employment and an economic boon for BC’s shipbuilding. These are real jobs here in BC, not those being fantasized in the Premier’s LNG dream.
And of course underlying the BC Liberals’ summer of discontent is the ongoing dispute with the teachers: another politically manufactured war which serves no-one at all.
One of the key requests of the teachers is that the question of ‘classroom composition’ be addressed. I spent many days before the official end of the school year visiting teachers on picket line in all three school districts in the North Island. We talked about what the teachers mean by composition and how it impacts their ability to do their jobs well. Teachers say how much harder it has become over this last decade as the assistants and the aides they relied upon when teaching the diverse classroom composition that is common in BC nowadays have been withdrawn because of lack of money. I’ve talked with many parents who are equally concerned about what this means for their children.
I would hope that the BC Liberals take this crisis in the classroom seriously and ensure all students going through our public school system have equality of opportunity.
Locally it has been a busy July. Work started on the new hospital in Campbell River, although the official groundbreaking won’t take place until August. I remain concerned that this hospital will become as overcrowded as our current one, even with 37 new long-term care beds. We were promised 40 new spaces for seniors and others who need long-term care but we now have learnt that three are being designated palliative care, at Yuculta. I join Hospice in their disappointment about this; the work of Hospice should not be tied to a senior’s facility. I continue to press the government to show real commitment to the needs of people, whatever their age, in the North Island who are facing the end of life and require support from hospice care.
And we’ve had the announcement of the start of work on the John Hart Dam generating station replacement. Hydro is gearing up and I am very pleased to report that there will be a project labour agreement, which means unionized work. There is also a commitment to hire locally, so this will be a real economic boon for Campbell River.
The North Island constituency has the unhappy distinction of having the highest number of complaints in the province to BC Hydro about unaffordable rates and disconnections. As a result, my office received nine energy saver kits. While these are of course very helpful to people on a low income who cannot afford to pay for retrofit, they do nothing to tackle the real problems – a public utility so grossly mismanaged by the BC Liberals that rates have skyrocketed at a time when all publicly funded retrofit and fuel efficiency programmes have been cut.
I am very pleased that in the latest shadow cabinet shuffle I have retained my portfolio as critic for Transportation and BC Ferries. I will continue to advocate for a wise and equitable use of public funding and for the need to treat BC Ferries as an integral part of the province’s transportation infrastructure. I am also working with shipyards and workers to get my Provincial Shipbuilding Act passed.
My Campbell River community office will be closed the first week in August for staff holidays. The Port Hardy office will be closed from the second week of August; with staffing changes I hope to have it reopened early autumn. I will be spending some of August enjoying the campgrounds, lakes and beaches of our wonderful North Island. I am sure I will see some of you there.
As always you can contact me by phone at my Campbell River office: 250 287 5100, my Port Hardy office: 250 949 9473 (until 7th August) or toll free at 1 866 387 5100. Feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.