Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Liberals go green, centrist with Throne Speech

VICTORIA - There are going to be an awful lot of meetings if Gordon Campbell wins a second term.
The Throne Speech this week set out the Liberals' plans, mostly bathed in golden light and slightly out of focus like a TV commercial filmed on a California beach. That is the nature of Throne Speeches.
It's also appropriate, if Campbell is to be believed. For we are heading into a 'Golden decade,' the speech promised. (Fool's gold, said NDP leader Carole James, but then that is her job.)
All in all the speech like a big Liberal hop towards the middle, a greener, more caring party than we have seen since 2001.
The government that removed all controls on university and college tuition fees - which resulted in annual increases of up to 30 per cent for B.C. students - has changed course. From now on, tuition increases will be limited to the inflation rate, about two per cent these days.
The speech promised the insitutions would get about three per cent a year more from the province as well; the unanswered question is whether the allowable tuition increases, and provincial funding, will be enough to pay for the promised 25,000 new post-secondary spaces.
But an effective tuition freeze - already proposed by NDP leader Carole James - is a good vote-getter.
So are commissions and councils and task forces, the Liberals hope.  The Throne Speech announced at least five major new ones.
A BC Competition Council will bring together organized labour, employers, academics and regional representatives to address productivity and international competitiveness issues. (That does seem lifted from James' playbook; the Liberals have not been keen to involve unions.) An Asia-Pacific Trade Council will oversee new BC Trade and Cultural Centres overseas.
An Alternative Energy and Power Task Force will help harness the winds and tides, and a Pacific Salmon Forum will worry about the fish. (Take that, Green Party.) A  Premier's Council on Aging and Seniors' Issues will look at getting rid of mandatory retirement, among other issues. And a Provincial Congress on Public Safety  will tackle crime.
They're all good ideas. But they all would have been good ideas much earlier than barely three months before the election, and some - like the seniors council - replace similar bodies killed by the Liberals.
The Liberals also made a big attempt to paint themselves Green in this Throne Speech, a prudent move when close races may be decided by where Green voters settle. There's the alternative energy task force, a BC Conservation Corps program which will hire young people to work in parks, the salmon forum and talk about protecting rivers.
But there were still gaps in the speech.
Health care was the most glaring. The speech promised a welcome focus on improving our diets and exercise practices, an important way to create a healthier population and cut medical costs.
But that's long-term, and the speech offered little to address the immediate concerns of many British Columbians about waits for treatment and the expansion of two-tier health care. (The speech did, sort of, acknowledge that the Liberals have abandoned the campaign promise of 5,000 new long-term care beds for ailing seniors by 2006. Only 100 beds have been added, according to Health MInister Shirley Bond, and Campbell confirmed the promise won't be kept.)
There was also little mention of B.C.'s regions. Two years ago, the Throne Speech focused on about the Heartlands. This time, the word wasn't used. Campbell says that's because big actions have already been taken to help the regions; voters will decide if they've worked.
And the government offered no vision for the troubled and under-funded ministry of children and families.
The speech did promise valuable attention to the economy, promising a review of every sector to see how B.C. would be affected by tougher global competition - a necessary exercise.
The Liberals appeared to be trying to persuade voters they have moved closer to the centre. Carole James is making the same pitch for her party.
The test will be who can win swing voters decide they can believe.
Footnote: There were at least three specific promises aimed at regional voters. The Liberals said they would work with communities to find a way to re-open closed schools as drop-in centres or clinics, said a regional tourism initiative would come this month and promised action to help communities and families deal with the coming shortage of timber once the pine beetle infestation wipes out existing stands.

1 comment:

Gazetteer said...

Some of those way north, Northern California beaches can be pretty darn stormy and the water's awfully chilly, kind of like, say Hecate St, which is just another way of saying that no matter what they do with the focus the Cheeseburger in Paradise (vs. Marguaritaville and all that entails) thing might be a hard sell this time around.

btw - thanks for posting the info about the Union volunteer reporting requirement on S.Holman's site....didn't know about that change, and agree that it is a useful one.