Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Cabinet follies; James risky business; and the Liberals go green

VICTORIA - Random notes from the somewhat quieter halls of power.

The Liberals need to either abandon the great open cabinet meeting experiment, or decide to do it right.
This week's televised meeting was useful enough, an extended public service announcement warning about that only you can prevent forest fires and drought. A succession of cabinet minister stressed the serious risk of both this year, even greater than during last year's disastrous summer. They made good points about the need to be careful in the woods, and use less water.
But it sure wasn't - I hope - a cabinet meeting. The ministers read long speeches. Environment Minister Bill Barisoff had some 700 bottles of water lugged in to show how much water an average British Columbians uses each day. No decisions were actually made. If that's how cabinet meetings work, we're in trouble.
The Liberals promised a monthly open, televised meeting to show how government works.
It was a good idea, even accepting that there would be stage management. No one should expect spirited public battles (although it would do a great deal to reassure voters if they did see cabinet ministers challenging each other and asking hard questions).
But the reality has been show-and-tell sessions, with this week's the most obvious example. It's time for the government to start doing it right, or abandon the idea.

The biggest winner out of the meetings so far has been Pro Show, the company that provided stage management - sound systems, lights, slide shows - for the Liberals' election campaign. The company was also hired to stage the open cabinet meetings, a contract worth about $25,000 a pop. There was a competition this year for the contract, but it was tilted heavily to ensure the Liberals' campaign technical team got the job.

NDP leader Carole James hit the campaign trail with federal leader Jack Layton this week, a risky decision.
Provincial and federal politics mix badly in B.C. (Just ask federal Environment Minister David Anderson, who has been slagging the Campbell Liberals in order to establish the difference.)
James is running to form a government, which means she needs policies that will attract broad support. Layton is running to win a couple of dozen seats at best, which means he needs to appeal to a much tinier group and motivate them to get out and vote.
The risk for James is that her endorsement of Layton's policies - like an inheritance tax, which most economists agree is a bad way to raise money - will move her to the margins in B.C.
It's a risk the Liberals hope to exploit, with one press release already accusing James of guilt by association on the inheritance tax idea.

Bad news for fading federal Liberal star candidate Dave Haggard, the IWA head, as the campaign unfolds. Haggard and the IWA have been helping the provincial Liberals privatize health care jobs by signing favorable contracts with the new private companies taking over the work, and forcing employees to accept them - and agree to pay IWA dues - before they are hired.
The Labor Relations Board has just ruled the union certifications are bogus, because employees had no right to decide if they wanted a union, or which one, and no chance to vote on the contracts (which slashed wages and benefits).

The Liberals were getting grudging credit from enviros this week for killing a plan for an open-pit coal mine close to the U.S. border in the Fernie area. Mines Minister Richard Neufeld made the announcement last week, finishing off a project that would have provided 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.
U.S. opposition was a big factor. Montana environmental groups were gearing up for a fight, and state politicians had even got U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to write Ottawa.
But MLA Bill Bennett had also raised concerns from people in his riding that the mine would be risky in an environmentally sensitive area that's needed for grizzly habitat.
Footnote: Best line at the open cabinet meeting came from Gordon Campbell. When Finance Minister Gary Collins asked how much rain would be needed to ease the drought, Campbell jumped in to say probably 40 days and 40 nights, a wry reference to the series of Biblical type plagues and catastrophes that have beset the Liberals.

No comments: