Tempers frayed more than usual at the Legislature this week. Once again it was because of a lack of answers from the government on a number of issues – from a massive overspend on an IT project for BC Hydro, to the failure of another expensive IT project in the Ministry of Health, to questions of integrity and conflict of interest in gaming contracts to the government’s Partnerships BC, the organization responsible for public private partnerships. Government ministers refused to respond directly, or even indirectly, sometimes changing the subject entirely when responding to questions on all these issues.
Outside Question Period two important pieces of legislation were discussed: debate took place on Bill 20, the Election Amendment Act and the Education Statutes Amendment Act entered committee stage. The focus in the media on Bill 20 has largely been about privacy and clauses that expand political parties’ ability to find out who voted, although obviously not who they voted for. While this is of concern, we have proposed an amendment that should tighten that up and protect individuals from prying. But I believe what is of greater concern is that the bill allows no limit on pre-election spending. As I said when I spoke on the bill this is very dangerous to our democracy, allowing big spenders to buy as much air time as they want and pushing those who have little money literally out of the picture. It will lead to the Americanization of our electoral system. We already see the BC Liberals using public money to promote its partisan activities. This proposed Act would allow those parties that have money to, in effect, try to buy the election through advertising. I also raised concerns about the BC Liberal’s decision not to extend voter registration to 16 and 17 year olds, even though this was the Chief Electoral Officer’s top priority in his report which sparked the bill.
We also discussed the education bill for several days because of our concern that it will put more control of education into the hands of the Minister, restricting the autonomy of locally elected school boards. We voted against the bill. This was the same week that we asked questions about the increasing number of school boards that simply cannot afford to run free school buses because of cuts in funding. The BC Liberals have taken too much money out of our public education system and continue to put public funds into elite private schools.
Another critical part of our social infrastructure – our public healthcare – was under scrutiny for much of the week as well as we went through the budget estimates of the Ministry of Health. I was able to ask a couple of questions . I wanted to know whether, when our new hospital in Campbell River opens, there will be enough staff to keep the operating theatres and other facilities operating to their full capability. This is of particular concern since Island Health has put out a request for proposals from private practices to provide day surgeries for the public system. I also asked about the commitment to public health – the recommendation is that 6% of the budget be spent on public health but the amount committed is less than half that.
And I reintroduced the Provincial Shipbuilding Act which I hope the government will support. The bill would give preference to B.C. shipyards to build, refit and maintain ferries and other vessels used for public transit and for public service (such as police boats). We built many ferries in BC in the past and, if shipyards were able to work in consortiums, we could do so again. Instead we have seen and continue to see millions of dollars in construction jobs be spent in Europe. The BC Liberals continue to talk about wanting to create jobs: this would be a simple way to build jobs for generations.
I also spent some time in the estimates debate with the Minister of Justice, trying to unravel a problem faced by a select – and unfortunate – few. If you happen to have a similar name and or birthdate as a convicted sex offender you are likely to need a criminal record check to verify that you are who you say you are. If you work with children or vulnerable people, you have to pay to get your fingerprints checked. This seems to discriminate in two ways – firstly the reverse onus in that you have to prove you are not someone else (which is counter to innocent until proven guilty) and secondly the fact that you have to pay for it. The Minister seems to see no problem with this and, in a rather crass approach, argued that her government was making life easier for people.
It was great to see the elementary school students from Kyuquot along with their teachers and some parents when they visited the Legislature on Tuesday – their first stop on a three day visit to the provincial capital.
We are back in our constituencies for the week after Victoria Day. I’ll be visiting Sayward and Zeballos that week as well as holding meetings in Campbell River. Following that there is only one week left in the spring session of the Legislature. I can always be reached by email Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy on 250 949 9473 or 1 866 387 5100 toll free. Feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.