MLA John Horgan’s View from the Legislature
Speaking as Opposition House Leader, this session of the Legislature has been a whirl of activity. With three weeks remaining, it appears as though the BC Liberal government is anxious for summer and an opportunity to get out from under 11 years of baggage. The session has been marked by a lack of focus and a collection of random changes, that when strung together, give the impression of a government adrift. In February, the Premier bypassed the traditional Speech from the Throne and went to the radio airwaves to lay out her plan for the future. Three months on, the plan remains confused and driven more by photo opportunities than by substantive progress.
Question period usually generates the headlines, but the real work is making laws. A recent attempt at beefing up a thin legislative agenda gives the impression of policy depth with 8 Bills being tabled last week and more expected this week. As I write, 20 Bills are before the Legislature with only 11 days remaining in the session. Bills by themselves do not demonstrate a focused agenda. Often legislative changes are “housekeeping” in nature and are designed to update our statutes and modernize language.
Other changes have been designed to correct BC Liberal government mistakes of the past. For example, changes to energy policy around the notion of “self-sufficiency”, served to highlight the cost BC Hydro has been paying for electricity that we don’t need. The result has been higher Hydro bills for consumers. Another piece of legislation is a result of the courts throwing out the recent changes to our drunk driving laws.
What has been missing from the BC Liberal government agenda is legislation to repeal the HST. Nine months ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected the revised sales tax and government committed to get rid of it and return to the old tax, complete with existing exemptions. With less than three weeks left for debate, there is no sign of the Bill to remove the new tax and replace it with the old one. Even with the legislation in place, the BC Liberal government is going to keep the HST until April of 2013, finally removing it on the eve of the next provincial election.
An attempt to soften the impact of the HST on the housing sector has fallen flat in our area. The Provincial Budget introduced a rebate program for home buyers purchasing recreational property outside of Victoria and the lower mainland. Sounds like a good idea for rural BC. Unless rural is inside the CRD like Port Renfrew.
Port Renfrew is experiencing a transformation. Always a resource town - forestry, mining and fishing - times are changing. Port Renfrew is becoming a tourism and vacation home market. So the HST rebate would be a help to home builders that would lead to more jobs, right? Wrong. The BC Liberal government excluded Port Renfrew from the program. Lake Cowichan, just down the circle route, is in. Bamfield, at the end of the West Coast Trail is in, but not Port Renfrew. I wrote the Minister urging him to amend the policy, but the answer was no.
I did manage to convince the Minister of Natural Resource Operations to agree to review the Sooke Water Use Plan with a view to finding a solution to the proposed decommissioning of the Bill James Dam on DeMamiel Creek. In January, Federal Fisheries announced plans to abandon the facility, despite putting at risk 25 years of work by local volunteers at the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society. Area representatives, Randall Garrison and Mike Hicks, Sooke Council as well as the T’Sou-ke First Nation are working to convince the federal government to reverse a bad decision. Reviewing the Water Use Plans will help support our argument and protect the salmon.
People don’t expect miracles from government, just some competence and common sense. Let us hope the remainder of the spring session has a sprinkling of both.
John Horgan, MLA Juan de Fuca www.johnhorgan.ca