Spring Legislative Session – Costs Up, Jobs Down, Promises Broken

The B.C. Liberal government rises from the spring legislative session today after driving up families’ costs, shedding more B.C. jobs and breaking key election promises.

“While too many British Columbians are struggling to find family-supporting jobs, the B.C. Liberals choose to pile on new costs,” said New Democrat leader John Horgan.

Statistics Canada data shows B.C. had the worst jobs record in Canada this past year, suffering a net loss of 4,400 jobs.

Instead of helping the now nearly 150,000 unemployed British Columbians, the B.C. Liberals opened the session by imposing new increases to MSP fees, ferry fares and hydro rates. Since the B.C. Liberals were first elected, they have increased average MSP fees 92 per cent, ferry fares 63–­88 per cent and hydro rates 64 per cent. The government also refused to end the punitive clawback of child support payments for single parents on disability and other income supports, reinforcing B.C.’s country-worst child poverty rate.

“The B.C. Liberals not only ignore the needs of B.C. families, they ignore their own slogans,” added Horgan. “They broke their promise to protect our food supply and broke their promise to bring stability to B.C.’s schools.”

After promising to protect agricultural land during the 2013 election, the government is set to ram through a law without public consultation by the end of Thursday, stripping protection from 90 per cent of BC’s farmland.

And after promising to bring labour peace with B.C. teachers, the premier escalated tensions during bargaining by publicly accusing teachers of making negotiations “all about money… never about quality of education,” despite leading a government that took away the right for teachers to negotiate class size and composition to improve quality.

“British Columbians deserve a government that listens and makes their lives easier, not harder,” said Horgan. “It’s clear the B.C. Liberals aren’t interested in being that government, so I plan on spending the summer talking to British Columbians about how New Democrats can make their lives better.”

Jessica McDonald Appointed CEO of B.C. Hydro

The appointment of former B.C. Liberal deputy minister to Premier Gordon Campbell as CEO of B.C. Hydro shows the Liberals plan to continue to play politics with the public utility, say the New Democrats.

“B.C. Liberal mismanagement of B.C. Hydro has already driven up rates for British Columbians. Another Liberal appointment will only make things worse,” said New Democrat Leader John Horgan.

“Jessica McDonald has no experience in the energy sector,” said Horgan. “Her only relevant experience is as a deputy to the premier who put B.C. Hydro in the mess it’s in today.”

Horgan said he finds it remarkable that the energy minister refuses to let the independent experts at the B.C. Utility Commission review important projects, due to what he absurdly refers to as a lack of experience; yet he has no problem letting someone with absolutely no energy experience run the entire show.

“Before the last election, the premier said they had rates under control,” said Horgan. “As soon as the election was over, B.C. families and businesses were hit with a massive 28-per-cent hike.”

“British Columbians can’t afford more political mismanagement at B.C. Hydro,” said Horgan.

B.C. Liberals Election Promise to “Preserve Agricultural Land” Rings Hollow

During the election campaign the B.C. Liberals promised to protect agricultural land, but now they are doing just the opposite, say the New Democrats.

“Before the election, Country Life in B.C. magazine asked the Liberals specifically if they would protect agricultural land from development. They said ‘yes’ at the time, and now they’re saying ‘no,’” said New Democrat agricultural critic Nicholas Simons.

In the magazine, the Liberals promised to “work more closely with farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming,” and “maintain the excellent relationship we have built with the ALC.”

“Less than a year later, the government is pushing through legislation that does the exact opposite. Bill 24 removes protections for 90 per cent of ALR land, opening it up for development,” said Simons.

“And clearly their promise to work closely with the people who produce food in this province was an empty one. They failed to even consult with them before bringing in this destructive bill.”

Simons noted the Liberals’ about-face is reminiscent of their broken promise not to implement the HST.

“Before the 2009 election, they told British Columbians they had no intention of bringing in the HST. After the election, they brought it in almost immediately, causing economic turmoil as the tax was implemented and then rescinded. British Columbians are tired of being misled by this government.”

B.C. Liberal Government Shuts the Door on Independent Expert Review of Site C Project

Today, the B.C. Liberal government shut the door on independent expert review of the Site C project proposal, leaving B.C. Hydro customers on the hook for a loss of $800 million should the project go forward on the government’s timeline.

According to the panel’s report “B.C. Hydro projects losing $800 million in the first 4 years of operation,” under the government’s project timelines.

“Families are already facing a 28 per cent rate hike because of the B.C. Liberals’ complete mismanagement of B.C. Hydro,” said B.C. New Democrat leader John Horgan. “Now families will be on the hook for an $800 million loss because the B.C. Liberals are steamrolling ahead before the demand is there.”

The Joint Review Panel for the Site C project released its report last Thursday, recommending that the B.C. Liberal government “refer the load forecast and demand side management plan details to the B.C. Utilities Commission,” and have the BCUC review the proposed project’s costs.

Today in Question Period, B.C. Liberal Minister of Energy & Mines, Bill Bennett refused to refer the project to the BCUC to independently investigate alternatives that would limit ratepayers’ liabilities.

“Right now, we have Liberals telling Liberals what Liberals want to hear,” said Horgan. “That’s a reckless and irresponsible approach to such a massive project. We need an independent expert review to protect the ratepaying public.”

B.C. Liberals Reject Site C Review Panel Recommendation of Third-Party Oversight

The B.C. Liberals’ rejection of key review panel recommendations for independent oversight of the proposed Site C dam is further evidence this government would rather recklessly push its political agenda than govern responsibly, say the New Democrats.

“The Site C Panel agreed with what New Democrats have been saying for years. It asked the same questions I’ve asked and raised the same concerns,” said New Democrat leader John Horgan. “Instead of accepting what the panel had to say on the proposed project, the B.C. Liberals rejected independent expert oversight in favour of their political agenda.”

The Joint Review Panel for the Site C project released its report Thursday, questioning the need for power that would justify building the dam. The panel recommended that the minister consider “referring the load forecast and demand side management plan details to the B.C. Utilities Commission,” something New Democrats have been calling on the government to do for years.

“The bottom line is B.C. families are already going to pay 28 per cent more for electricity over five years, and now they’re going to be stuck with the bill for an $8 billion project that we may not even need.”

The panel also recommended that the minister have the BCUC look at the costs of the proposed project. The B.C. Liberals rejected that too.

“The Liberals are clearly uncomfortable with a report that doesn’t support their narrow political agenda, but it’s reckless and irresponsible to simply reject the panel’s findings,” said Horgan. “British Columbians want a responsible and balanced approach to major projects and this report shows the Liberals refuse to ask the right questions so B.C. families don’t end up on the hook for unnecessary costs.”

$200 million Integrated Case Management Experiencing Critical Failures

The $200 million Integrated Case Management (ICM) system has been experiencing critical failures for a week, putting children at risk, and throwing families living in poverty into chaos.

Instead of being honest with the public about what is going on and outlining their plan to fix the problems, the B.C. Liberals can’t even keep their story straight on what’s wrong and when it will be fixed.

What the Liberals say: “The system is back up and running.” – Minister of Citizen Services Andrew Wilkinson, CHNL, May 7, 2014

The Truth: “This morning yet again I was told: ‘Oh, it’s fixed, but it’s intermittent.’ Yet the front-line staff is calling me saying: ‘It can’t be fixed because I can’t use it.'” – Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, Hansard, May 7, 2014

What the Liberals say: The system isn’t down, it’s just intermittent.

The Truth: “Well, the latest is, and you’ve basically laid it out, that this program has been down or semi-down for the best part of better than a week now. Even when it comes up, it appears to be very slow and arduous in terms of the work that our members can do inputting files and, indeed, retrieving files, and then, bang, it will crash again, and when they go back and try and get in again, most of the work that they have done is gone now so they’ve got to start over.” – Darryl Walker, CKNW, May 7, 2014

What the Liberals say: This is just a hiccup. “To say there won’t ever be hiccups, is something we can’t do.” – Minister of Social Development Don McRae, CKNW, May 7, 2014

The Truth: “These aren’t just hiccups. This has been a disaster.” – Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, Hansard, May 7, 2014

What the Liberals say: “If there’s an urgent crisis, by all means, go into the offices still. The staff are working hard. They’re using that traditional paper and pencil method.” – Minister of Social Development Don McRae, CBC, May 7, 2014

The Truth: “We don’t have access to any paper files anymore, so everything is in the computer. We don’t have file numbers. We only have the person in front of me on the counter saying they’re in need, they need help, and we have no way to help them.” – Caller to CKNW who is a front-line worker, May 7, 2014

John Horgan Named New Leader of New Democrat Official Opposition

John Horgan has been named the new leader of the B.C. New Democrat Official Opposition.
“Along with our strong, united team of dedicated MLAs, I’m going to get right to work fighting for B.C. families, B.C. jobs and the B.C. economy,” said Horgan, the MLA for Juan de Fuca since 2005.
 
“The B.C. Liberals are making life less affordable for hard-working families, and they need a strong voice to stand up to them in the legislature, in their communities, and across the province. That’s what we’re going to do under my leadership.”
 
Horgan replaces Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix as leader of the Official Opposition.
 
“I want to thank Adrian for his hard work and dedication as leader of the Opposition for the past three years. Adrian has a relentless commitment to community and works harder than anyone I know. He has been instrumental in building a strong, unified caucus, and will continue to be a tremendous asset for our team going forward,” said Horgan.

Ban of Sale of Flavoured Tobacco Products Proposed

New Democrats introduced legislation today that would ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products.

“The current provincial legislation does not do enough to protect B.C. youth against the harmful effects of nicotine and tobacco use,” said New Democrat health critic Judy Darcy. “The B.C. Liberal government has so far refused to take action, so we are. Our bill builds upon the existing legislation and strengthens the laws around tobacco sales that specifically target young people.”

The Tobacco Control Amendment Act amends the original Tobacco Control Act to prohibit the sale of flavoured cigarillos as well as flavoured tobacco products. These products often are packaged to resemble candy and cosmetics and many produce a sweet smelling smoke rather than the traditional cigarette smoke odour.

Darcy, who was joined by students opposing flavoured tobacco products at the legislature today, noted that the Canadian Cancer Society has also been calling for a ban on flavoured tobacco products.

“Flavoured tobacco is a serious issue in British Columbia and one that especially affects teenagers and young adults who are specifically targeted with inexpensive candy-flavoured products that mask the unpleasant smell of cigarettes,” said Darcy.

“In order to protect young people from the health risks associated with smoking, we need a commitment from the provincial government. By introducing this bill, we’re giving the B.C. government the opportunity to show leadership and join other provinces like Ontario and Alberta who have similar bans on flavoured tobacco.

“For the sake of B.C.’s youth and public health in general, I hope this bill helps give the government the push it needs to take action.”

Annual Day of Mourning

New Democrats marked the annual Day of Mourning by introducing a bill to the B.C. legislature that would ensure companies are held accountable for workplace deaths.

“This bill would see corporate executives and directors held accountable for cases of negligence causing workplace death or serious injury,” said New Democrat labour critic Harry Bains Monday in the legislature when introducing the bill.

Bains said stronger legislation is necessary in B.C., because there has been a failure to secure a single criminal charge for any company despite many workplace deaths as a result of negligence.

“In 2004, 12 years after a mining disaster that took the lives of 26 miners, the federal government enacted the Westray Bill which allowed for employers and managers to be criminally charged for workplace deaths,” said Bains. “There have been more than 1,350 deaths in British Columbia since the Westray bill was passed, and yet no prosecutions have yet been made to hold employers or managers criminally accountable for unsafe working conditions.”

The Workplace Accountability Act would:

  • Ensure a Crown Prosecutor is dedicated and trained to deal with workplace fatality and serious injury cases so the likelihood of conviction may be determined more accurately.
  • Ensure both police and Worksafe BC inspectors are trained on section 217.1 of the Criminal Code. This would ensure that these parties understand this law and its application and would in turn lead to better collection of evidence to support Crown Counsel’s decision making.
  • Require mandatory police investigations of all workplace fatalities and serious injury cases, in order to determine whether criminal negligence exists.
  • Call for the Crown and police to develop a specialized prosecution policy for workplace fatalities or serious injuries cases, similar to what is done in domestic violence cases.

“Far too often, companies are given a slap on the wrist for their negligence and no justice is given to the victims or their families,” said Bains. “The Babine and Lakeland sawmill explosions killed four people and seriously injured 42 others, yet no one has been held accountable. Passing this bill would show that this government is ready to do something to bring about justice in such cases.”

B.C. Liberal Education Cuts

Just as B.C.’s school enrollment is set to grow over the next three years, the B.C. Liberals’ flat-lined education budget is forcing school districts to consider the elimination of at least 350 teaching and support staff jobs, as well as programs for students beginning next September.

“All districts, including growing districts like Surrey, Delta and the Central Okanagan, are contemplating more education job cuts because they face provincial funding shortfalls. Parent groups and trustees are telling the B.C. Liberals their budget will negatively impact the learning experience of our kids,” said Rob Fleming, New Democrat education critic.

Despite two Supreme Court rulings overturning B.C. Liberal laws on class size and composition, as well as expired contracts with the province’s teachers and support staff, a provincial education budget increase of only 0.4 per cent is causing districts to make budget cuts in excess of $56 million.

“Last year the Minister of Education ordered school districts to fund provincially negotiated contract costs for 22,000 support staff entirely through ‘internal savings,’ and with great difficulty they did,” said Fleming. “But in this provincial budget cycle they are drawing from the same well again and ordering school trustees to fund MSP increases, BC Hydro increases, pension adjustments, even provincial seismic school upgrades from a reduced budget – and that’s before any new settlements with teachers and assistants.”

In the Coquitlam School District a $13.4 million budget shortfall is forcing the elimination of 163 full-time jobs. The Sooke School District, despite being one of the fastest growing districts in the province, is being forced to cut $2.7 million. The Vancouver School Board has to tackle a $12.34 million shortfall that will grow to $26.6 million the following year. They are contemplating the elimination of 70 full-time positions, including cutting elementary school band and the district’s athletic coordinator.

Fleming noted that some districts are also considering a week long break in November – placing more costs onto the backs of families who will have to find and pay for day programs or take time off work.

“The bottom line is that B.C. Liberal cuts will eliminate teaching positions across B.C. and reduce programs that provide accelerated learning, English language support, classes in music and trades, and support for students with special needs.”