The Legislature runs smoothly as house leaders get together and plan out time allocation for the debates of various bills and budget estimates. Independent Member Vicki Huntington and I work with the BC NDP to ensure that we fit our speaking times in with their overall allocation.
It’s important that we do this for a number of reasons:
All of this has worked well since I got elected until yesterday.
The Office of the Premier’s budget estimates had been allocated to run the full length of both Wednesday and Thursday. As we always do, my office coordinated with the house leader’s office and we received agreement that I would be up questioning the Premier early on Thursday. And so my office and I prepared a number of primary and secondary questions. I recognized that I would likely get 15-20 minutes total but I was prepared for much longer if needed.
But what happened at the end of the first day is unheard of. The Premier rose “to seek leave to sit again” shortly before 6:25 (meaning that she noted that it was almost 6:30 and time for us shut down and pick up where we left off the next day). The motion to resume the next day passed. Normally that would be it.
But then, a note is passed to the Chair taking everyone by surprise. The Leader of the Opposition has essentially stated that he was done and then to everyone’s (including the Chair’s) surprise, “Vote 10: Office of the Premier, $8,998,000” (Office of the Premier’s budget allocation) was called for a vote and passed. The Leader of the Official Opposition was passing up the opportunity to question the premier the next day. And in doing so he threw me under the bus.
So why is this cowardly?
It’s cowardly for two reasons. First, the fact that the Leader of the Opposition would run away from an opportunity to question the Premier on a diverse array of issues is cowardly. It’s his job to do so. To run away is not leadership and so it is clear to me, he is not a leader of a government in waiting. He is afraid of challenging the Premier face to face.
If the Leader of the Opposition is afraid, that’s one thing. I was not afraid. I would have been willing to take much more than my allocated time on Thursday if extra time was available. I had prepared six longer primary questions (which would spin off into numerous smaller follow ups). I had other secondary questions that I would have loved to raise on a diverse range of topics, from housing through social services through education and so forth. And this brings me to the second reason why I think it’s cowardly.
Just because the Leader of the Opposition no longer wants to ask questions does not give him the right to go against a long standing tradition of organized time allocation and take away my right as well. The people of British Columbia deserve better leadership and better opposition.
Below I reproduce the text and video of the closing words that shut down debate. In the text and the video you’ll note the statement: By agreement with the opposition. There was no such agreement as I was scheduled to speak the next day. You’ll see in the video the confusion as a note is being passed along. You’ll over hear the premier wondering whether this was being done legally.
Since I didn’t get a chance to ask my questions to the Premier directly, I am appending the six primary questions at the end of this post in the hope that I might still get a reply.
Hon. C. Clark: With that, Mr. Chair, I rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
Hon. C. Clark: By agreement with the opposition, I move that the committee rise and report completion of the resolution and ask leave to sit again.
The Chair: We have another motion to pass. Shall Vote 10 pass?
Vote 10: Office of the Premier, $8,998,000 — approved.
The committee rose at 6:25 p.m.
The recent wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray highlighted for all of us the reality of what can happen with wildfires in such a short amount of time. A whole city evacuated. This has served as a big reminder of the dangers we face in this province with wildfires.
Not that we need it mind you, as many British Columbians have been evacuated from their homes already this year due to wildfire risk in the Northeast of our province. We all know, and the premier has stated, that climate change is contributing to an early wildfire season in BC.
So I am left confused when the risk is evident, the cause is known, and yet the direction this government continues to take is directly counter to dealing with the problem. Instead of preparing for the effects of climate change, and showing real climate leadership in the face of this evidence, we have your government doubling down on LNG and the extraction fossil-fuel resources.
Every projection we’ve seen comes to the same conclusion, if we create an LNG industry in this province our emissions skyrocket. We can’t be climate leaders if we promote LNG.
So my question to the Premier is this: given the risks climate change poses to our province, and the impacts it is already having, why is this government doing nothing more than paying lip service to the climate issue?
The tech sector of this province is in my view one of our greatest opportunities to expand our economy and bring high-paying low-impact jobs to British Columbia. Partnering the tech industry with the resource industry is another big opportunity for this province. While the government has made modest investments in attracting tech businesses to the province, I was shocked at the recent TPP political stunt. Not only was I surprised at the fact that this government endorsed the trade deal before it had even seen the final text, or that many members of her government seemed to have no clear understanding of which nations were even in the deal, but I was most surprised that the government unabashedly opposed a trade deal, that many feel will actually decrease jobs in this province.
Indeed, the TPP has many in the tech industry worried, primarily about intellectual property issues, internet governance rules, and copyright. To me this looks like the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth – we support you but we will undermine you for political gain.
So my question to the Premier: Why is this Premier’s government putting political maneuvers like the TPP motion ahead of truly supporting an industry like the tech sector that is critical to BC’s prosperous future?
Your office is tasked with guiding the province and leading the people of British Columbia. Yet there have been substantial reasons why British Columbians might be feeling distrustful of future BC Liberal promises.
For example, your government promised in 2013 that everyone who wanted a family doctor would be able to accesso one within two years. Well, we are well into 2016 now and fewer British Columbians have a regular doctor now than before the gov’t made that promise. In fact more than 200,000 British Columbians in this province are still actively looking for a family doctor.
Another example. LNG. 100,000 jobs, a debt free BC. Major promises, that have not in any way come to fruition.
It is an election year this year and I fear that the government will make some more lavish promises that are simply not based in reality.
British Columbians want to know where we really stand. They can handle it. They don’t want to be spun.
Is the Premier willing to admit that these promises did not have clear, independent evidence to support them?
Good leadership also requires preparing for the future. While I’ve touched on the lack of climate leadership shown by this government there are other areas where I think the government is doing a pretty poor job in terms of planning for the future.
Site C is the most obvious example of this. This pet project has been pushed through, despite substantial local opposition, largely for an industry that is failing to materialize. We don’t need the power, we aren’t likely to need that sort of power any time soon. Yet the project must go ahead – so now it is being used as a bargaining chip for Alberta Pipelines. We’ll let your pipeline go through, if you buy our power. Because we need a market for this power.
Through this single-minded approach we’ve seen clean energy investment and interest leave the province, we are saddling the province with major infrastructure debt, and we are losing prime agricultural land. All for a project we don’t need, all because of the fixation on pushing this project forward past the point of no return. This is reckless planning for the future.
Another example is this government’s retooling of our trades industry. They’ve taken a large amount of money from universities and directed it towards trades training. Yet it is simply a political game to say that one type of education is more valuable than another. A humanities education is invaluable in today’s society as it teaches creativity, adaptability, problem solving, the ability to research and the ability to communicate – these 21st century skills are just as needed as more trades education. To prioritize one at the detriment of the other is in my view a lack of foresight and sets the province up for failure down the line.
A third example is that we are all aware of how great a risk Earthquakes pose to the west coast of this province. We are all nervously anticipating “the big one”. We know it’s likely to happen, and we know that when it does it could be absolutely devastating. Yet where is the government in ensuring we are doing everything we can to prepare for this disaster? Yes there is a bit of lip service being paid, some small programs that promote earthquake awareness, and a bit of disaster training for our emergency responders. Nothing on the scale of what needs to happen.
These examples highlight the need for this government to start looking at the bigger picture. The long term health and success of British Columbians needs to be a priority. Not simply focusing on the quick political wins, but ensuring that every decision is made with the view that it will have an impact decades from now.
How does supporting short term political projects ensure that we are looking our for British Columbians long term interests?
This government seems to be in a never-ending battle with the education sector of our province. Taken to court, strikes, funding cuts, board resignations, the list goes on and on. Yet a strong education system is the foundation of a strong society. It teaches our youth the skills they need to succeed in this world. It also serves as an opportunity to level the playing field between those who come from privilege and those who do not.
The antagonistic relationship between this government and the education sector has been characteristic of this government. Although a similar antagonistic relationship has been seen with First Nations, and other more specific groups. My concern with this approach is that it works against the interests of everyone. By dividing society into “rag tag groups” and “the forces of no” it does nothing to work constructively with their legitimate concerns.
Does the Premier acknowledge that this antagonistic approach does nothing for anyone, but just entrenches the other side more firmly against the government? Does the Premier have any ideas she can bring forward to begin to repair the relationship between this government and our education sector?
I’m sure the Premier stands with me, and most if not all members of this house, in believing in the principles of democratic governance. Yet, if that is the case, why has there been such a reluctance by this government to remove corporate and union donations from our system?
If there is one thing that is completely wrong with our electoral system it is the fact that big money is still allowed in it. The federal government banned corporate and union donations, and imposed strict limits on individual donations, a decade ago. Other provinces have followed suit and British Columbia is quickly developing a reputation, that money can buy influence in this house.
I completely understand that the current system benefits the ruling party, however, as I end my time in Premier’s Estimates I want to emphasize to the Premier that her government has the ability to do the right thing. There is no good reason why this money should be allowed into the political operations of our province. Governing parties are given a mandate by the people of British Columbia on the strengths of their ideas. The influence of money cheapens that principle significantly.
Why is the premier resisting a ban to corporate and union donations to political parties in this province?