Claire Hume and I are very saddened to hear of Gwen Barlee’s passing. Gwen worked closely with us to help us draft an endangered species act during the spring, 2017 legislative sitting. We had no idea and she gave no indication that she was ill. Gwen was incredibly generous with her time and knowledge, patient and kind with her explanations, and tireless in her resolve to protect endangered species. We are so grateful. Thank you, Gwen, for your service to our province. We will think of you in the wilds of British Columbia and work towards the reintroduction of our Endangered Species Act in the near future.
As published in the Times Colonist on Sunday, June 11th.
On June 22, 87 MLAs will take their seats in the legislature. Some are returning to serve their sixth or seventh term, and many others are just beginning their first. All will serve in a new era of B.C. politics.
British Columbians voted for a minority government, with the B.C. Greens holding the balance of power. In the days that followed, all three parties acknowledged that this presents an historic opportunity to do politics differently.
The results of this election are a clear opportunity to break with the bad habits of the past — political calculation, polarized debates and cynical decisions that prioritize the interests of big-money donors — and to work together to put forth good public policy that will make a difference in the lives of British Columbians.
In order to make these changes a reality, British Columbia needs a stable government. The Green caucus was faced with the responsibility of determining which of the other two parties we would support in forming this government. After lengthy discussions with both parties, we came to an agreement with the B.C. NDP that will provide stability while enabling collaboration across party lines.
Our agreement is based fundamentally on the principle of “good faith and no surprises.” We made this basis of our agreement not only to ensure that we can maintain a stable minority government for four years, but also so that this stability is founded on trust and collaboration.
The principle of good faith and no surprises has enabled minority governments from New Zealand to Scotland to collaborate to enact good public policy.
If all MLAs honour their commitment to work together, it will work for B.C., too.
This begins with a new way for developing policy. Under our agreement, the NDP is required to consult with our caucus as it crafts policy. Through these consultations, we will evaluate their proposals and provide input so that it can earn our support. There will be times when we support legislation introduced by the NDP, and times when we do not, because we will evaluate each bill on an issue-by-issue basis.
Our agreement identifies many areas where we agree on principle, from banning donations of big money, to reforming our electoral system, to reinvigorating our forestry sector, to making sure our children have the public education resources they need to succeed.
British Columbians can expect to see action on these issues in the early days of their new government.
While we will collaborate on many issues with the NDP government, we will remain a distinct caucus. There are many other policy areas where the Greens will advance ideas not shared with other parties. Our caucus ran on a bold, principled platform with a strong vision for B.C., and we will work hard to implement its best ideas.
We will also consider legislation proposed by the other opposition caucus, the B.C. Liberals, and support their bills if we believe they are in the best interests of British Columbians.
In the previous government, we worked with the Liberals to advance legislation to require that post-secondary campuses develop sexual assault policies. Together, we also banned employers from requiring their employees to wear high heels. These examples prove that when we work together across party lines to advance the interests of the people we all serve, government is at its very best.
But before all of this can happen, a new government must be formed.
Christy Clark, as leader of the incumbent government, has indicated that she would like to follow protocol and test the confidence of the house with a throne speech. The first step in following protocol is to elect a Speaker from the government. If the premier is serious about following protocol and working together across party lines, the Liberals will put forward a Speaker and introduce a throne speech in a timely manner.
The Green caucus will honour our agreement with the NDP and support them in forming government.
The first sitting of the house presents an opportunity, perhaps once in a lifetime, to do politics differently. We look forward to working with our colleagues on both sides of the house to uphold our commitment to serve the people of B.C. who entrusted us with their vote.
Andrew Weaver, Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen are the three members of the B.C. Green caucus.
Today in the Legislature I was up in Question Period. I questioned the Minister of Justice, Suzanne Anton, about the lobbying and donation practices of the fossil fuel industry and the effect on government decision-making. I also asked about reforms needed to regulate the lobbying industry in BC and bring it in line with federal standards.
My question follows reports in the media over this week that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients, as well as a recent analysis that maps the influence of the fossil fuel industry in BC politics, highlighting extensive lobbying practices and vast amounts of political donations. Both reports can be found at the end of this article.
Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the Minister’s answers. She merely restated that we have a registry of lobbyists in BC. We do have a registry, but its usefulness as a tool of transparency is severely limited, since lobbyists are not required to report the meetings they hold with public office holders. Moreover, we have no code of conduct for lobbyists to regulate practices such as gift-giving to public office holders. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists recommended both of these measures, back in 2013, as important ways to make lobbying practices more transparent in BC. Yet the government has ignored these recommendations and the Minister of Justice was unwilling to engage on this serious issue.
A. Weaver: Vast amounts of money are flowing from fossil fuel companies to both the B.C. Liberals and — to a much lesser extent, mind you — the B.C. NDP.
Between 2008 and 2015, 48 fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated $5.2 million to the government and official opposition and reported more than 22,000 lobbying contacts with public officials between 2010-2016. With seven of the top donors also ranking among the most active lobbyists, there is a substantial overlap between those who give money and those who get meetings.
To further that, 28 percent of lobbying by the top-ten most active lobbyists has been directly with cabinet ministers — an unrivaled level of access — and the Minister of Natural Gas Development is the most targeted member in the entire Legislature.
In light of this, my question to the Minister of Justice is this. How does the government expect the public to trust that their interests are being protected and that these practices are not buying lobbyists and their clients special treatment?
Hon. S. Anton: It may be that the member was not here yesterday to know that we actually established the first-ever lobbyist registry in 2002 to establish transparency so British Columbians could see who is doing the lobbying. There never was a registry before that. After some years of experience with that registry, we updated it in 2009, creating one of the strongest regimes for lobbyist registration in Canada.
The updates increased the registrar’s powers and duties so the lobbyist registrar now has the power to conduct investigations, to compel testimony and to compel documents. In other words, the lobbyist registrar has the tools that he or she needs in order to make sure that the registry is conducted properly and that the lobbyists are conducting themselves in accordance with the rules, which is what I expect, which is what we expect as a government.
A. Weaver: I’m glad the minister talked about the lobbying registry, because frankly, we are one of the weaker in the country of Canada. B.C. lacks rules to regulate lobbying practices and ensure transparency.
We know that extensive lobbying is ongoing in B.C., but we have no code of conduct for lobbyists. Moreover, we have no requirement in B.C. for lobbyists to register actual meetings with public office holders. All they have to do is register who they plan to lobby. Other jurisdictions in Canada have much stricter standards.
It’s clear to me that with our rampant cash-for-access system and allegations that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients — largely to the B.C. Liberals but also to the B.C. NDP — that we need much more stringent rules. We need standards against which the public can hold lobbyists and their contacts in the government to account.
My question to the Minister of Justice is: will the minister commit to transparency on lobbying practices, including requiring lobbyists to report on actual meetings held with government officials and creating a code of conduct for lobbyists?
Hon. S. Anton: The matter that the member referred to about contributions is very clearly, if that were to happen, a breach not of the lobbyists act but of the Election Act. The Election Act in section 186(2)(b) says that “an individual may make a political contribution with the money of another individual, but must disclose to the individual required to record the contribution under section 190….”
In other words, you can make a payment on behalf of a third party, but the third party must be disclosed. It must be very clear that it is that third party’s money which has gone to the payment. That is a breach of the Election Act. It is very clearly a breach if that is conducted. I think that that’s the conduct the member is referring to.
In fact, to the lobbying act itself, the 2009 updates to the act put very strict and significant penalties into that act for breaches of the act.
Mapping Political Influence: Political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in BC, Corporate Mapping Project, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Available at: http://www.corporatemapping.ca/bc-influence/.
Lobbying in British Columbia: The Way Forward: Report on Province-Wide Consultations and Recommendations for Reform, Elizabeth Denham, Registrar of Lobbyists. Available at: https://www.lobbyistsregistrar.bc.ca/handlers/DocumentHandler.ashx?ID=447.
‘Fairly limited’ transparency rules for lobbyists in B.C., deputy registrar says, Liam Britten, CBC News. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/lobbying-lobbyists-b-c-1.4014551.
British Columbia: The ‘wild west’ of fundraising, Kathy Tomlinson, CBC News. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/wild-west-bc-lobbyists-breaking-one-of-provinces-few-political-donationrules/article34207677/.
Today in the legislature I questioned the Minister of Advanced Education on what I perceive to be a wasteful use of taxpayers resources. In the United States, the Trump news channel bills itself as the world’s first media outlet dedicated to positive news about Donald Trump. Here in B.C., we have our own. It’s called the Province of B.C. Channel.
You’ll see from the discussion below that this channel has been a colossal failure. Yet it is clear that a substantial amount of money has been spent producing these professionally produced videos. My questions were designed to find out how much these videos were costing the taxpayer.
My questions followed three that the Leader of the Official Opposition posed to the same Minister regarding pre-election advertising using taxpayers’ money. The Minister responded each time by berating the BC NDP for their record in the 1990s. That is why when I stood up I started off by saying that I thought it was 2017 not 1998.
Below I reproduced my exchange with the Minister in video and text format. I was quite disappointed with his answers.
A. Weaver: Last time I looked, it was 2017 and not 1998.
In the United States, the Trump news channel bills itself as the world’s first media outlet dedicated to positive news about Donald Trump. Here in B.C., we have our own. It’s called the province of B.C. channel.
This alternate news outlet is not drawing an awful lot of viewers, and we have to wonder why it exists. For example, of the 39 videos that have been posted, 37 have been complete flops. The B.C. jobs plan video got 148 views in three weeks.
The video of the Premier responding to the federal government’s marine strategy was viewed 118 times in three months. A Health announcement of $5 million on spending to boost paramedic response to B.C.’s overdose crisis got 135 views in two months.
The government of B.C.’s channel even produced a one-minute video of the Premier highlighting her in the Hong Kong Terry Fox Run. It got, in one year, 448 views.
My question is this, through you to the minister: how much is this channel costing the people of British Columbia, and why does it exist?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: The member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head constantly talks about being evidence-based. Well, let’s talk about some evidence.
First of all, the reason why the videos remain available is so that members of the public and the media can hold us to account for what has been said in the past.
Madame Speaker: Just wait.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: …the member seems to think that the only vehicle for people to learn in the world today is to go dig around in the government website for videos. He forgets that the public don’t consume their news that way these days. They find it through social media, through television — through other forms of communication.
That’s why we have been able to see the increases that we have. The property transfer tax exemption campaign ran for three months and saw a 34-fold increase in traffic in registrations for the service. That’s evidence, Madame Speaker.
A. Weaver: The minister clearly doesn’t actually know his file because this is not on the ministry websites. It’s their own province of B.C. news channel.
You know, the minister also says people get their news from other areas. This clearly is a large waste of taxpayers’ money. They’re professionally produced videos put out to the public that aren’t being used. As an example, my right-to-roam legislation, which I put forward, has received 100,000 views in less than a week.
My question, back to the minister, is: why are they doing it, who is paying for it, how much is it costing, and when are they going to take it down or actually make it accessible to a more diverse array of people?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: Well, given the quality of work we do and the quality of communication, we don’t need the Green Party bot to make 100,000 hits on our site.
We are not ashamed to say that we have introduced new programs that need to have the level of public awareness that is provided by a variety of communications channels. We maintain those communications vehicles for public scrutiny and for media scrutiny as time goes by. We are certainly not ashamed to have advertised and promulgated the information about the opioid awareness campaign, the property transfer tax exemptions, the single-parent employment initiative, the property tax deferment.
These are critical to British Columbians, as they go through their lives. They are entitled to know that they exist, they are entitled to get access to them, and they are particularly entitled to know that we run a balanced budget that provides $1 billion in MSP rebates. People are entitled to collect that rebate, and the member opposite should be proud of us for doing so.
Today in the legislature I was up in Question Period. I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Advanced Education as to what he was doing with respect to allowing universities and colleges to build additional on-campus housing. My MLA colleague Rob Fleming also wrote about this last fall. We’ve offered a way forward and I’m pleased to say the government has finally agreed that this is a direction it is heading.
I have been waiting to raise this issue in the legislature since last spring (as I suspect Rob Fleming has). Unfortunately, with no fall session I did not get the opportunity to do this until today.
Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the answer to my supplementary question as I was hoping to get a more thoughtful response as to what is being done to address the extraordinarily low rental vacancy rates in the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver.
A. Weaver: Students at British Columbia’s post-secondary institutions are struggling to find affordable rental accommodation. Yet at the same time, colleges and universities across B.C. are desperate to build more on-campus housing. The barrier to building such housing is access to capital and government concern about increased public debt and how it will affect our triple-A credit rating and, hence, the cost of servicing existing debt.
But if an external organization were to own the debt, there would be no risk to B.C.’s credit rating. Colleges and universities could service it through operating revenues generated from on-campus residence fees — a very captive audience that exists there. Housing more students on campus frees up off-campus rental units, thereby easing upward pressure on rents.
Will the government commit to exploring the creation of an external non-government organization that would own the debt, thereby allowing colleges and universities to build more on-campus housing?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: I thank the member from Oak Bay for his thoughtful and productive question, which distinguishes it from many in this room.
Now, the member is known to be a very clever man, but the ministry staff are at least a year ahead of him on this question. It’s actually interesting that yesterday I met with the president of the University of Victoria to discuss this very issue, because the prospects there are very strong for this exact opportunity to build student housing which will not form part of government debt.
The details of this arrangement need to be worked out. There are arrangements that need to be set up for the deal structure, for the financing vehicles. But I think the key point here is to congratulate the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for his insight, for his dedication to good public policy. I’m sure he’ll be so persuaded by his own genius that he won’t need to ask a follow-up question.
Well, I must say that was a somewhat patronizing response to a serious question. I would point out, in fact, that this lone B.C. Green MLA was several years ahead of the B.C. Liberals in identifying an affordability crisis in the province that they refuse to deal with.
There’s an ongoing affordability crisis not only in Metro Vancouver but here in the capital regional district. For many living in our two largest cities, home ownership is simply not an option for the foreseeable future. Yet at the same time, the private apartment rental vacancy rate in Victoria is 0.5 percent and in Vancouver it’s 0.7%.
My previous question offered one possible way for the government to reduce pressures on the existing rental stock, and I’m glad to see that they’re taking it up. But the question that I have is this: What other steps is this government taking to address the vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver and the CRD? And an answer that’s saying “build more stock” is simply not going to deal with the issue in the time required to deal with it. What is the government doing?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: The question actually reflects well into the member’s first question in that the novel housing arrangements for financing that we have come up in this government, courtesy of the Minister Responsible for Natural Gas Development and Housing, have provided this financing vehicle that’s provided 800 non-profit housing providers in more than 280 communities across British Columbia with support for more than 104,000 households.
The plans that the member calls upon are already being implemented. Since 2001 we have completed close to 24,000 new units of affordable housing, with more than 5,000 more units in development or under construction.
Thank you for the question. If you have any further, we’d be glad to answer them.