Thursday, March 22, 2007

Politicians' sneak attack on library backfires

VICTORIA - There's something nastily symbolic about the politicans' plan to shut down the magnificent legislative library so they could have better offices.
Especially the sneaky way they were going about it.
The library is the coolest part of the legislative buildings, an annex designed by Francis Rattenbury 13 years after his main building was finished in 1898.
A hall directly behind the red-carpeted legislative chamber leads to a round, marble-clad room that rises four stories to a dome. Off to one side there's a reading room; files and computers are on the other; and behind the desks there are floors of reference material, much of it unavailable anywhere else.
The library has been in the current location since 1915. But late last week politicians revealed they wanted to shut it down. The rotunda would make a grand reception hall for the premier to meet visiting dignitaries and the rest of the space could be carved up for offices. Premier Gordon Campbell went through a couple of weeks ago on a personal tour to consider possibilities.
The plan might be unravelling in the face of public outrage. The NDP, which seemed to be on side, now says the library should stay put.
Space is tight in some parts of the legislature building and up to six more MLAs are expected after the next election as a result of the riding boundaries' review now under way.
And the library is likely used less often as people turn to Google, especially for recent information.
But the fact that politicians didn't try to make a proper case for shutting the library and have released no studies showing either the case for moving - or killing - the library is telling.
Instead, they secretly hatched the idea. The first public revelation came when librarians received transfer notices.
The politicians tried to say the closure was just for two years as part of seismic upgrades for the legislature.
But consider the weasley responses from Speaker Bill Barisoff, nominally responsible for the building.
"We're not closing it down," he told the Vancouver Province columnist Mike Smyth. "We have to move the staff out of there to do some seismic upgrading."
So, Smyth asked, the library will re-open once the work is done?
Barisoff paused, then carefully said, "There will continue to be library services in the legislative precincts, yes." Translated, that meant the library wouldn't re-open. Library services in the legislature precincts could mean a warehouse within five blocks and no staff and no access to the moldering materials.
(I hate it when politicians opt for those silly evasions. Barisoff, from everything I've seen, is a decent guy who would never try that kind of con on people in his real life. Why do they think it's OK when they're trying to put one over on you?)
Maybe there's a case for closing the library, one that goes beyond people's desires for bigger offices and more staff. Most MLAs have crummy cubicles, but they're not around that much.
But maybe there are other solutions to any space problems.
Cabinet ministers have large and posh digs. Perhaps they could be subdivided.
Perhaps the government doesn't even need staffers to stand in the halls, waiting to tape interviews between reporters and cabinet ministers, so more staffers can transcribe them. No previous government has needed that kind of surveillance of its ministers.
The unwillingness to own up to the closure suggests strongly that the politicians have no case.
The odd part is that the library has always seemed an example of how government should work. MLAs, bureaucrats, journalists and the public - anyone looking for answers to tough questions - get fast, excellent service and invaluable information.
It's a model of efficiency.
The politicians, the premier's office, the Speaker, they seem to have forgotten the building belongs to you, not them. Before they start the reno, they owe the owners some justifications beyond their own decide for nicer digs.
Footnote: The decision, officially, will be made by the legislative assembly management committee. That's the same secretive group of MLAs who hatched the doomed plan for politicians' pay increases of up to 30-per-cent - plus a costly pension plan. A little openness might go a long way in avoiding future such debacles.


Anonymous said...

WE sure elect a devious bunch. History , tradition doens't mean much . I do have a letter from the Opposition leader that was diffent than what Farnsworth, who is on that committee had said publically.

The NDP Leader and the Island NDP MLA say it should stay. James is the boss and I follow her position. Hell the place makes the little backwater Victoria a place to visit just to see the buildings,a trip to the Library is even more interesting.
Way back when Little fat Dave was boss, the opposition complained when he got the restoration of the buildings into high gear.dl

Dave Macmurchie said...

"Why do they think it's OK when they're trying to put one over on you?", you ask.

It's because they continually get away with it. Rarely if ever does an interviewer stand up on his or her hind legs and say, "This is plainly BS: do you actually expect people to believe this?"

Paul's rather mild rebuke of Bill Barisoff is a step in the right direction, but it needs extensive and vigorous reinforcement.

Anonymous said...

Paul writes articles, its us who are supposed to react by pushing our MLA's when they start doing things we don't like. My MLA, is the Opposition leader as I mentioned in he first post here. a email to her was answered within a couple of hours and her position is quite clear. I've passed her position to the librabrians that I know. what have others done? Hopefully the same.
Reaside's cartoon on the library is worth checking.

BC Mary said...

Paul: Thanks for paying your/our respects to the Legislative Library.

Too dang much secrecy in this government. Bill Berardino would probably agree.

I thought I heard a whisper the other day about a settlement at long last, twixt the government and the Crown Prosecutors. Any news on that?