The fall Legislative session is coming to a close. It has been two months where there has been little innovative legislation, but the time back in the Legislature has given us, as Opposition, the opportunity of a daily question period.
Challenging government on its actions is a central role for Opposition, and we were relentless this session focusing mainly on two areas. We spent weeks asking about the desperate situation within the Ministry of Children and Families with young people taking their own lives. We then spent more weeks showing how Christy Clark’s government has been covering up its actions, seemingly in all ministries.
Keeping a written record of decisions made and actions taken is simply good practice and good policy in whatever sphere one is working. When it comes to the decisions of a government, the body elected to work on behalf of millions of people, it should be essential. But clearly that’s not the thinking within Ms. Clark’s government. As far as she’s concerned it is just fine to delete all records of conversations, of meetings and of decisions.
The Privacy Commissioner, an independent officer appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislature, was fiercely critical of this practice. But instead of acting on her recommendations when her investigation revealed the broad and deliberate practice of deleting emails and other written material, the government delayed doing anything by appointing a former privacy commissioner to examine the situation.
The reality is that records have been knowingly removed. Whether those records are about the Highway of Tears, the lonely stretch of road from which many women have gone missing, whether they are about the health workers who were summarily and wrongly dismissed and their careers ruined, or whether they are about plans for the multi-billion dollar replacement of the Massey Tunnel, they have been wiped. There is no paper trail of decisions and consultations. Ms. Clark’s government says records about these subjects are “transitory”, in other words not important. We challenged them on that and argue they are important, as are all records which show how a government makes its decisions. Transparency is vital for a healthy democracy. The BC Liberals show their absolute distaste and distrust of that by allowing the continued deletion of records with one of the worst offenders being a close advisor to the Premier.
While we debated legislation during the session, much of it could be described as housekeeping and lacking any overarching vision for the province. Christy Clark’s electoral promises of having vast wealth generated by LNG and a prosperity fund from which we would all benefit are still distant and have the air of fantasy about them. Most of the legislation we dealt with involved amending existing laws. The notable exceptions were the Franchises Act, which we had introduced twice from the Opposition benches and which the government finally adopted as its own, and the Electoral Boundaries Act, which allows the number of constituencies to increase to 87.
However the Legislative system can work when given an opportunity. I have enjoyed sitting on the Finance and Government Services committee. This is chaired by a BC Liberal MLA, and has a BC Liberal majority. But we have been able to work collaboratively, hearing submissions from individuals and organizations around the province and then working together on the report so all our recommendations to the Minister of Finance are unanimous. Unfortunately, and to the detriment of our democracy, with one or two exceptions, the committee system is given very little opportunity to work in the BC Legislature.
Through the session I continued to raise the problems facing communities brought about by the mess at BC Ferries. I spoke in the Legislature about the need for a substantial reduction in fares as well as questioning the Minister about the cable ferry being brought onto the Buckley Bay — Denman route and about the sale price for the Queen of Chilliwack. He provided no comfort to ferry reliant communities on any aspect of our marine highway.
I also worked on other areas of the Transportation portfolio – the provincial highways and BC Transit – during our two months in Victoria.
I continue to advocate on concerns that have a direct impact on the North Island: the cost of parking at our new hospital, the provision of pharmacies in small communities, internet connectivity and, of course, economic development. The latter continues to be a concern for everyone I meet. Whether seniors in Port Hardy or young people in Campbell River, we need to work together on economic development in our communities. This has been underlined by Western Forest Products move to a shift system in the North Island, the shutdown at Myra Falls, the reduction in workers at the Quinsam mine and the continuing closure of the Port Alice mill. This is a resource driven region, we must to be able to access those resources and receive recompense for their use. We still see the large corporations address their shareholders concerns before the communities in which they are operating. All our North Island communities deserve a fair share.
I will be out of the mix from now into the new year as I am having a heart valve replaced. However, my wonderful staff will continue to be available to assist you. If you have a constituency concern please contact my Campbell River office at 1 250 287 5100 or my Port Hardy office at 1 250 949 9473. If you have a question or concern about transportation or BC Ferries, please call my Victoria office 1 250 387 3655. Or you can reach me by email Claire.email@example.com.
My very best regards and early best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year,