We will finally return to the legislature after the long weekend – the first time since our brief post-election session back in July. I often write about my anger at the manipulation of our democracy because of the lack of legislative sitting days so I will make the most of this limited spring session. And as the representative for the North Island and member of the official opposition there are a lot of issues I am looking forward to take directly to the government.
One of them is the arrogant abuse of power that has epitomized the last 13 years of this government. One of the top issues on our agenda will be the ruling from the Supreme Court on the war between the BC Liberals and the BC Teachers Federation. It is incredible that a government is chastised by a Supreme Court judge for deliberately engineering a dispute with a union so that government can make political gains. The judge ruled that’s what happened. And now the BC Liberals are going back to court to continue the fight. The current premier may try to disavow any involvement in this cynical and exploitative approach but at the time the dispute started she was the education minister.
The arrogance in the government’s approach to essential services for our communities will also be on my list – specifically the hike in hydro rates and cuts in services and increases in fares for our coastal highway system, our ferries. The reason we are seeing hydro bills rocket this spring is, once again, because of political interference in the public utility. This government decided to shift electricity production to the private sector, those massive run of the river public-private partnerships. What that means in reality is Hydro is forced by contracts to buy that power at peak prices. With no market to sell it on, that means the costs of these political and ideological decisions are being downloaded directly on individuals and businesses.
We see the same sort of outrageous arrogance with BC Ferries with the Transportation Minister now saying he will ignore what he was told by the overwhelming majority at so-called consultations in ferry dependent communities and go ahead with service cuts, imposing fares for the elderly and even put in gambling on ferries. The suspicions of many that the consultations were a joke has now been confirmed. The heart of the problem is the Coastal Ferries Act which established the ferry system we have lived with for the last dozen years. It was essentially the first step to privatizing our marine highway. And it is an unmitigated failure. What we are seeing now, with fares spiraling out of control and services being cut across the coast, is a direct result of that ideological decision in 2002. Communities all over the coast are reeling from the latest attacks on them. Port Hardy, for example, devastated because of the loss of tourism dollars and its economy will be further undermined because people living in Klemtu, Bella Bella and Shearwater no longer will be able to commute to use local services. No island community escapes this downward spiral: we are all ferry dependent.
As critic for transportation I’ve been working with local and provincial groups that are forming to fight the cuts. The Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce and the District of Port Hardy have been extremely vociferous. A group of Chambers of Commerce is trying to fill the gap left by the government by conducting an economic analysis of the impact of those cuts. It is shocking that a government that claims to be a good fiscal manager avoided doing the basic economic groundwork before making such major decisions. One suspects the BC Liberals knew that the outcome of an economic impact analysis would not support their ideological determination to further degrade our ferry service.
Another group of activists is going to take the fight to the lawns of the Legislature and will be there on March 11th. There must be a strong turnout to show that people are united in their opposition to this blatant attack on coastal communities or will again be ignored by the BC Liberal government.
When we are back in session next week I can take the many questions I have over the reason behind these decisions directly to the Minister of Transportation who is ultimately responsible for all our highway system. I’ll also be working with others on just how we can fix the mess the Liberals have created.
I am also hoping that the Minister of Health will remove his ideological blinkers and see reason in the continuing discussions about our new hospital. Planning for the building is still underway and yet we are hearing that there is no opportunity to increase the number of beds, despite the latest revelations that emergency patients are now being transferred from Campbell River to Duncan and Nanaimo because of overcrowding. The Hospital Stakeholders Group which I convene is now examining various options which could be presented to Island Health for retaining parts of our existing hospital to provide much needed extra space.
Some issues sadly cannot be challenged on the floor of the Legislature. The decision by the owners of New Horizons seniors’ home in Campbell River to bust the union there should be illegal. However since the BC Liberals took office in 2001 this has become commonplace in seniors homes, as profit has been allowed to displace human dignity.
I am also looking forward to meet with the Minister of Environment about ongoing negotiations for the extension to a park on Quadra Island and the continuing questions we have about conservation officers in the north end of Vancouver Island.
My last week out of session saw me in the Tri-Ports visiting schools, meeting business leaders and community groups, going to meet the hard working crew at Campbell River Search and Rescue, visiting the new Communitas supportive care facility as well as heading to Vancouver for meetings on rail safety related to my role as Transportation critic.
I hope everyone enjoys a restful long weekend. I will be splitting my time between Victoria, critic work and the constituency over the coming weeks but intend to provide regular updates about what is happening.
You can always get in touch by email at Claire.email@example.com, by phone at 250-287-5100 in Campbell River.