It has been eight months since we sat in the legislature. The government finally called us back to the legislature this week to hear an empty throne speech and debate a lame duck, damaging budget.
The throne speech usually sets out the themes for the upcoming legislative session; however, with the new leader of the Liberals – and so new Premier – not yet chosen, we heard a description of the last ten years of Liberal government that few in the North Island would recognise. It did not address the issues that people in the constituency tell me is important: what is happening to our forest sector, to our education system, to our environment or how to ensure people are able to earn a living wage.
And likewise the budget did nothing to deal with the very many issues which daily confront people – whether on Cortes Island, in Campbell River or Kyuquot. While the government claims it is a “status quo” budget it is anything but. Status quo means the situation does not change. This budget brings about many more cuts; cuts which people and the institutions on which they rely, cannot cope with.
A snapshot of those cuts includes money taken out of student aid, money taken out of the park service, and money taken out of the forest service. There’s neither money nor a plan to deal with poverty in the province, despite the growing divide. In fact the only acknowledgement of poverty was an acknowledgement by the government that more people will need income assistance over the coming years.
In my response to the budget, I talked about the terrible legacy of more than 10 years of the BC Liberals: I highlighted ten points, including the growth of poverty, the lack of true and ongoing commitment to the environment, and the starving of resources to health care and education in our communities.
This budget again highlights the need for a clear vision for our province, where our public resources are put to work for the good of our communities, where individual and community needs are assessed and addressed in a sustainable way. We must see changes in the funding formula for our school system, and we must see health care which invests in care for people living and working in rural communities if we want to see equity. Crown lands – our public lands – make up 94 percent of the province. Much of that is forest land, yet for years our forest sector has been neglected. We have to recognise that public resource is too precious, for our environment and for our economy, to continue to squander it.
But with just one week in the legislature those issues were not discussed in depth. However, as the official opposition we used question period this week to highlight many of the concerns we think have been ignored over the last months. Top of the list were the BC Rail corruption scandal and the ongoing troubling questions around radiology in Powell River and at St Joe’s, in Comox. We also had the opportunity to challenge the gross underfunding of the courts system, that led to the case being dismissed against a person accused of shooting a puppy on Quadra Island.
And we challenged the government to act on the HST now rather than wait until September for the referendum. The interim opposition leader, Dawn Black, tabled a bill which would allow the referendum date to be brought forward to June. The government ignored it, even though all the Liberal leadership contenders have said they would move the vote to June if elected.
I was also able to talk about the good work done by the Campbell River Food Bank. It would be better if no community needed a food bank, but since that sadly is not the case, the hard work and dedication of people working in Campbell River’s food bank, as well as the many donors to it, deserve recognition.
We don’t know when we will be back in the legislature. Much will depend on who is elected as leader of the Liberal party in ten days time. Meanwhile, I will be back in the constituency. The opposition critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Spencer Chandra Herbert will be joining me for two days of meetings across the constituency next week. Do join us on Wednesday Feb. 23 when we’ll be having a drop in at Shot in the Dark, 940 Island Highway in Campbell River from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
And you can always contact me by phone at 1 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 1 250 902 0325 in Port Hardy or toll free on 1 866 387 5100. My email address is Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org
Claire Trevena is NDP Member of the Legislature for North Island.