Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Less than meets the eye to Campbell's big talk

Gordon Campbell offered up some spooky pre-Halloween rhetoric about the global economic crisis night, but outlined a pretty modest response.
Businesses will get about $190 million a year in tax breaks and benefits.
Individuals will get a one-time break. The three-per-cent tax cut scheduled for Jan.1 and with the two-per-cent cut introduced July 1 will both be made retroactive to the beginning of this year. That will cost the government about $144 million in revenue this year; nothing after that. For a taxpayer making $50,000, it's worth about an extra $140 this year.
The government will advance some infrastructure projects to keep people working, but Campbell couldn't say which ones. It will increase the payment to B.C. Ferries to restore sailings cut by the corporation and provide a one-third fare cut for December and January.
And it is working on some sort of voluntary, user-pay pension plan for people who don't have access to.
It's a reasonable, modest response to the economic woes. Consumers will have a little more money this year and businesses will get little breaks to help them through tough times.
The cuts are small enough that the province won't have any trouble maintaining current services and a big surplus this year and next. The government is on track for a surplus of about $2 billion this year. The measures Campbell announced will only knock about $350 million off that total.
The lack of focus on regions facing the toughest, especially forest communities, was notable. There is about $50 million in property tax relief for industry, which will be helpful. And the infrastructure projects could include resource roads. But most measures are broad brush.
The other notable aspect is the premier's decision to ditch the practice of presenting budget measures - which this was - in the legislature.
Campbell unveiled the plan in a speech broadcast on the legislature TV channel at 6:15 p.m. He had hoped TV newscasts would broadcast it live, but they said no thanks.
The whole deal was set up for political effect. Reporters were in a mini-lockup starting at 5:15 and forbidden from filing until after Campbell finished speaking. The aim, in part, was to make it tough for any opposition or expert reaction to make it into the evening newscasts or even into the papers. Reporters were on tight deadlines.
Campbell said the legislature would be recalled on Nov. 20 "to enact these measures."
But the fall session, which had been cancelled by the Liberals, was only to last until Nov. 27. If the Liberals stick to that timeline, MLAs had better bring their rubber stamps with them.
A longer session would allow MLAs from all parties to debate the measures and propose changes or different approaches. (And would allow the government to pass some critical bills it abandoned in the spring citing lack of time.)
Politically, it's tough to judge the impact of the announcements.
The tax cuts will be welcomed by businesses and many individuals. But people waiting for surgery, hoping for improvements to their children's education or with other priorities will wonder why those are taking second place to tax cuts.
Part of Campbell's goal, with six months until the official start of the election campaign, was to demonstrate that he and the Liberals are the people to manage the economy in troubled times.
Public reaction in the next six or seven weeks will be interesting. The measures are useful, but basically more of the same. The tax cuts were almost all planned and have just been implemented earlier than scheduled. The government says it plans no spending changes.
Carole James faces three challenges between now and the session. She has to convince voters that the NDP has the same competence. She has to demonstrate more empathy or understanding than Campbell. And she has to make a credible case for the potential for more creative, active efforts to encourage needed economic activity.
Footnote: Campbell also promised better deposit protection for people with credit union accounts. The pension plan for the 75 per cent of workers not covered by company or union plans appears to be very much work in progress, with no details. Campbell did say he hoped the user-pay plan could be in place by the end of next year.\

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bringing back the legislature

Just before 5 p.m. today, the release below went out to reporters.
Premier Gordon Campbell has decided the economic outlook is bad enough that he needs to address British Columbians. He hopes the TV newscasts will carry him live in prime evening news time.
But if things are really so bad, shouldn't the legislature start its fall sitting, scheduled to run until the end of November? All MLAs - Liberal and New Democrat would have a chance to offer ideas and raise questions. There are a half a dozen bills that should be passed, including an emergency fix of the Lobbyist Act. The forest crisis, construction slowdowns, homelessness - the issues go on.
A TV show, with a script and no questions, is politically useful; the legislature is democratic.
It's also interesting that Colin Hansen is doing the heavy lifting. He has an excellent rep inside and outside government for competence and integrity.


Oct. 21, 2008
Office of the Premier


VICTORIA - Premier Gordon Campbell will make an address regarding British Columbia's economy in the face of global economic challenges.
Premier Campbell's address will be broadcast live on B.C.'s Legislative Hansard Television. To find out what channel carries Hansard in your community, go to
It will also be web cast live from:

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Time: 6:15-6:30 p.m. Address by Premier Campbell
(A technical briefing with Finance Minister Colin Hansen will be held at 6 p.m. for media only.)

Press Theatre
Parliament Buildings


Court brings action on homelessness

Coming soon to a park near you - homeless people in tents, under tarps and sheltered by cardboard boxes.
That's the spectre that has people here in the capital in an uproar.
And the court ruling that cleared the way for park camping applies to all the communities across the province, large and small, where homelessness has become a big problem.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman called the decision "ridiculous." Some commentators frothed at the mouth.
But take the time to read the judgment - there's a link at - and it's hard to disagree with B.C. Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross.
She was hearing a case that's dragged on for three years now, due to delays by the city and the province. It challenged campers' 2005 eviction from a Victoria park.
At issue was a city bylaw that barred people from using a tarp, or tent or cardboard as a shelter if they had to sleep outside.
Ross found, based on the evidence in court, that there were some 1,400 homeless people in Victoria - including children. There are 140 permanent shelter spaces, though more are opened when temperatures plummet.
So, inevitably, people are forced to sleep outside. Some might chose to, but many don't.
Sleeping outside without any shelter creates suffering, illness and the risk of death, experts testified.
The charter of rights and freedoms prohibits laws that threaten Canadians' lives or impose suffering, without cause.
So the bylaw is unconstitutional. People, most of whom have nowhere else to sleep, have a right put up a tarp to keep the sleet off them and offer a little warmth.
It's important to note Ross didn't rule people could camp permanently in parks or displace other users. But they had a right to shelter.
I can't see any weak points in the ruling. Sure, some people are homeless by true choice. You can argue they shouldn't have the right to camp in a park when most people don't.
But it's wretched to be homeless. Sleeping outside is cold and scary; shelters are chaotic. You are almost always cold, dirty, sick, hungry and exhausted.
People rarely choose that life. They got knocked down and can't get back up again. They're addicted, or suffer with mental illnesses, or angry. They don't want to be sleeping in an alley, woken up at 7 a.m. by police, too exhausted and filthy to have any hope of sorting things out.
In the capital region, the court heard, 40 per cent of the homeless population were mentally ill; half were addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Since many were both ill and addicted, about 800 people were on the streets dealing with those kinds of problems. It makes them incredibly difficult to house.
It's not a question of them not wanting to just buck up and miraculously find a job and an apartment. They really can't do that.
And we haven't found a way to keep them sheltered, safe and out of our way. The institutions that were home to many were closed in past decades, without adequate community supports.
Coleman's basic point was that the court didn't recognize what the government was doing. He trotted out numbers about how much spending had increased since the Liberals took office.
But, as Gordon Campbell said in opposition, you don't measure government effectiveness by how much was spent. You look at results.
In Victoria and most cities around the province, homelessness and the related problems of crime and urban decay have grown worse over the last seven years.
Two days after the ruling, Coleman announced mats would be placed on floors to provide shelter for 45 more people; another 40 spaces of some kind are expected this week.
Until the court ruling, the government was content to have this people sleep outside - and to have them barred from putting up basic shelter.
Footnote: The problems' roots go back well before the Liberals were elected. But the Campbell government has failed to come to grips with the mounting homelessness and addiction issues in communities across the province until things had reached a crisis point not in communities, making the challenge much greater now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More on the homeless camping judgment

A very good column from the Times Colonist on the homeless camping judgment. The comparison to refugees seems painfully apt.