Herewith, the next two items on my year-end, Top Ten List of ‘baddies’ by the B.C. government. First instalment here. If it’s all just too gloomy, you can still access my list of good deeds by that same gang we voted in.
3. Democracy in this strange century is fragile at the best of times, but B.C. Liberals seem to have taken us into a new realm of non-accountability. What else to say about a government that has presented itself in the legislature for a grand total of 36 days over the past year 20 months.
While Premier Clark’s vow that B.C. would lead the country in job creation floundered long ago, it turns out we are still leading Canada in at least one category. Yep, when it comes to number of days failing to put bums in legislative comfy chairs, we’re number one! Cue the Seahawks’ seismic roar.
Despite the many issues and controversies that have cried out for accountability in recent months, B.C was the only province in all the land not to have a fall sitting of its legislature. Not surprisingly, Canada’s third most populous province ranked dead last in days when their elected assembly was in session, trailing even Mike Duffy’s brief nesting spot, mighty Prince Edward Island, with its 140,000-strong population. B.C. was also at the bottom of the provincial table in 2012 with but 47 session days. Cross-Canada totals here.
So, Premier, what happened? You used to love the legislature, so. (For the quotes that follow, I am indebted to the incomparable Vaughn Palmer, whose political recall easily outshines “the Google”.)
In 2005, during her “farewell to politics” speech, Clark waxed eloquent on “this chamber that I’ve loved so much”. Added she: “I have a profound respect for the work that this legislature does….The work that we do here is so important….I love question period. I love debate….I’ve loved every minute of it. I hope the MLAs who occupy this seat after me love this place even half as much as I have.”
Six years later, in 2011. after her “return to politics”, Clark’s passion for the legislature seemed undiminished. As newly-minted Liberal leader and Premier, she said could hardly wait to get back to where she once belonged. “As you know, I love question period and I hate to miss it,” she told nodding reporters. “Premiers in the past aren’t always tied to Victoria, but I want to be [there]. This is where decisions are made…” After winning a by-election to re-gain official admission to the exalted chamber, she proclaimed how “excited” she was to return. “[It’s] familiar territory for me.”
Alas, Clark’s long ardour began to fade with the reality of married life. Within a year, the relationship was off the rails, and the once-gushing bride was professing a loathing for the “sick culture” of Victoria and all that that entailed, her change of heart set off, no doubt, by one too many “positive” questions from Adrian Dix or perhaps the mere sight of Harry Lali.
So the fickle leader waved goodbye to the precincts she once adored and set sail for B.C.’s wide-open spaces, where seldom in heard a discouraging word and folks appreciate a beaming Premier in a hard hat. According to Ms. Clark, she is serving the province better by “meeting with the people” than spending time in Victoria doing the people’s business before those actually elected to represent them. But it’s a shabby, self-serving version of democracy that recalls the bad old days of W.A.C. Bennett, who disdained the legislature and those pesky opposition MLAs.
Meanwhile, a majority of MLAs continue to receive their $1,000 monthly stipends to defray accommodation expenses in Victoria, despite the paltry 36 days the house was in session. And backbenchers and opposition members struggle to find things to do to justify their $100,000 annual salaries. I hear some are finally reading War and Peace. Nice work, if you can get it. At the same time, veteran scribes report that cabinet ministers these recent months have rarely bothered to show up at all in their cobwebbed Victoria offices. Government by cell phone and email is so much easier. The ghost wandering the parliament buildings in Victoria is no longer Francis Rattenbury. It’s speaker Linda Reid, and she has a lot of spooky company.
4. The Agricultural Land Reserve, policed by an independent land commission, is one of this province’s great treasures. Not only has it saved the Lower Mainland from the appalling urban sprawl that has gobbled up good farmland and ruined the landscape outside so many North American cities, it has helped preserve vital agricultural acres across the province.
Before the election, the B.C. Liberals appeared to recognize that. Backroom strategists produced a pre-election document for caucus members that included the winning message: “Unlike the NDP, we have never politically interfered with the independence of the Agricultural Land Commission.”
Once the election was safely past, however, the tune changed. Bill Bennett, the rambunctious Energy and Mines Minister from East Kootenay, mused openly about all the land “covered by rocks and trees” that “flummoxed” land-owners can’t get out of the ALR. It got scarier. Given the task of directing the government’s core review of public services, Bennett quickly served notice that the sacrosanct ALR and the ALC were in his sightline.
Then we learned cabinet documents had been prepared proposing to erode the independence of the ALC and include government “economic priorities” as a valid reason to remove land from the ALR. All very, very worrisome.
Oh, by the way, in case you wanted to check out those positive words about the ALR that Liberal caucus members were told to hammer home during the election campaign, you’re out of luck. The B.C. Government Caucus Information Resource, dated March 7, 2013, has disappeared from the web.
To be continued….