COMMENT: Who's afraid of a little debate?
“Today’s BC Liberals” may have taken a little inspiration during last year’s election campaign from former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell when she bluntly stated in 1993 that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues.”
It’s why British Columbians could be forgiven for thinking that they missed something during the campaign after seeing some of the legislation introduced during the current session of the B.C. legislature.
Heck, in some cases, “Today’s BC Liberals” didn’t even communicate some of their plans through a Monty Python “Know what I mean? Nudge, nudge. Say no more” sketch.
And if they were forced up against a wall in the campaign and had no choice but to stake out a position, many of those lofty words run directly counter to what they’re now doing firmly ensconced back in office.
Here’s what “Today’s BC Liberals” told Metro Vancouver last year about the Agricultural Land Reserve: “In 2011, we reaffirmed our commitment to the ALR with amendments to the ALC Act and $1.6 million in additional one-time funding in order to strengthen compliance and enforcement and provide additional resources.” Nothing there about creating a two-tier land reserve.
Trawling for votes in B.C.’s coastal communities, this is what “Today’s BC Liberals” had to say about BC Ferries: “…we need to do more to ensure coastal communities have access to a high quality ferry service that affordably meets the needs of the travelling public.”
Not a hint about service cuts, scrapping free senior travel or putting a glorified tugboat on the Discovery Coast ferry route for the nine-hour trip to Bella Coola.
Even February’s Speech from the Throne opted for boredom over setting out the government’s agenda.
In the eight, four-day weeks that the B.C. legislature has sat so far this year, the government has tabled 26 pieces of legislation, most of them not having garnered a single syllable in that February speech.
One bill would create that two-tiered Agricultural Land Reserve. Another bill allows research in B.C. parks, for what and by whom is still a mystery.
Another piece of legislation will freeze the status of 17 provincial ridings ostensibly because of their rural nature, but in a bizarre twist the two ridings that make up Prince George and the two that make up Kamloops suddenly became vast, remote ridings and are thrown in as well.
The Local Elections Campaign Financing Act – fails to tackle the principal recommendation from the 2010 Local Government Elections Task Force: campaign spending limits. After one white paper, one discussion paper and four years of procrastination the government tables two bills on local elections in one day with a total of 101 sections in one, 213 sections in the other and the campaign spending elephant is still in the room.
And all of these bills – despite their significance to the province’s future – are being debated and passed in a matter of hours. Eleven have passed third reading.
It’s not a stretch to imagine that there was more debate among MLAs on the fallout over Speaker Linda Reid’s $733 muffin and snack rack than there was over the Park Amendment Act.
Which leads to the obvious question: why the rush?
The Agricultural Land Reserve has existed for more than 40 years. If the government’s plans for a two-tier land reserve are as innocuous as their talking points make them out to be, a few months of consultation won’t upset the apple cart.
The Minister responsible, Bill Bennett, has already apologized for the lack of it, saying: “I know that we could have done a better job of consultations and I take my mea culpa.”
That’s nice, but why not fix it with an all-party committee of the legislature and public consultations across B.C. with the goal of going to second and third reading in the fall session of the legislature?
At the end of the day, no one expects that an election campaign can touch on every issue, but when it does and the party that wins completely reverses course, voters might feel like they were taken for fools.
But then maybe it is the fault of B.C. voters for not fully appreciating that the B.C. Liberals might have been quite literal when they used the term “Today’s BC Liberals” throughout the last campaign.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca