~ by Claire Travena
Much of the focus for the Official Opposition in the Legislature this week was trying to get the government to take a position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. I, along with all my colleagues, signed a letter to the National Energy Board stating our opposition to the pipeline and to the lifting of the moratorium on tanker traffic in our coastal waters. While it may be good for Albertaâ€™s coffers, there is no upside for BC – just downsides. The risks to our coastal economy and environment are simply too great to allow it to go ahead.
For a government thatÂ just a couple of years ago portrayed itself as the environmental saviour of the country, it is dismaying that the new premier will not take a strong position on this. It is also discouraging that government will not deal fairly on other environmental issues. For instances, I joined the debate on the Pacific Carbon Trust. Instead of being able to focus on reducing their energy consumption, public sector institutions will have to pay into the Trust which, in turn, buys offsets for the large industrial polluters. It is essentially a shell game which rewards the big polluters.
In a blizzard of legislation, the government introduced eight new bills this week alone. Given there is only 12 working days left in this session, this onslaught can, at best, be called an under-handed tactic. This session has been going on for months. By not introducing most of these new bills earlier, the Liberal government is effectively compromising due process and proper consideration of the legislation.
Included in the new legislation is an omnibus bill which will bring back the so-called gag law which restricts pre-election spending by third parties – unions, associations and businesses. It feels a bit like groundhog day given the government brought in a similar gag law in 2008. That was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the courts. But the present premier thinks its worth trying again with a few tweaks. So we will likely have to wait for the courts to rule again.
A positive move was legislation which should reduce the cost of generic drugs which, in turn, should help many people as well as the overall health care budget. I spoke to the value of the bill but questioned why the government squandered an opportunity to introduce it two years ago. In the intervening years it has cost BC $157m in extra payments to the drug companies.
The government has also introduced legislation which could signal major changes to the school year.Â As I noted school boards already have the opportunity to change the school calendar and each time they do it involves a thoughtful discussion from those who are involved in education, from parents through to custodians. The new bill also allows for more distributed – or distance – learning. This is already available for a number of students in the North Island who want to take a class they would otherwise not have access to because of student numbers. But extending the system to younger and younger students could have major implications on their education and the way the classroom operates. I stated that I am concerned it is going to be cost cutting at the expense of student achievement.
I also participated in the debate about a replacement to the Pensions Benefits Standards Act. Pensions should not be politicized: they are a fundamental right to guarantee economic security in old age. I used the opportunity of the debate to raise the spectre that Catalyst pensioners face. Because their pension fund is under-funded they could lose 35% of their retirement income. If the company does go bankrupt, the pensioners will largely be forgotten in the grab for remaining assets. This is wrong and while some of the responsibility is with the federal government, the province has a role to play and so far has not engaged.
At the other end of the age range, I spoke about BCâ€™s terrible child labour laws which allow a child of as young as 12 to work up to 20 hours a week on a school week with little oversight. Canada has refused to sign an international convention which would restrict young people working until they are 15 years or older. But each province has the ability to ensure that there are strict guidelines on youth working. BC has not.
As deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Children and Youth, I was pleased to support the tabling of the committeeâ€™s report on the Review ofÂ The Representative for Children and Youth Act. This was a unanimous report, and showed how well legislative committees can work in dealing with issues in a non-partisan way when given the opportunity.
I was very pleased on Thursday to be able to recognise Janine Annett who completed her trek from Port Hardy to Victoria, walking the length of the Island to raise awareness of child poverty. Janine, who attends Ecole Phoenix Middle School, wanted to inspire her peers, but I believe she has inspired all of us. You can view her arrival at the legislature in a short video at http://youtu.be/XMdYHNFJXd8
I am in Campbell River for meetings in my Community Office on Friday and Saturday sees me at the official opening of the Quadra Island library branch and in the evening the Hospice Society Dinner.
I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 1-250-949-9473 in Port Hardy or 1-866 387-5100 toll free; or you can friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter@clairetrevena.