Friday, October 01, 2010

Campbell has little new for UBCM

The Union of B.C. Municipalities has evolved into the big political event of the year.
And the just-concluded gathering in Whistler was suitably weird, as you would expect in these strange times.
The meetings bring together mayors, councillors, provincial politicians, lobbyists and a few reporters, who swirl around a convention centre and bars and restaurants.
There are speeches and private meetings and votes on resolutions covering everything from whether to kill urban deer to the risks of offshore tanker traffic.
The Liberals put a lot of effort into preparing for UBCM. The premier traditionally speaks on the last day; Gordon Campbell generally has launched some now initiative or announced some politically popular measure.
Ministers are kept hopping - to a tight script - through the event.
That turned out badly for Murray Coell. The Saanich-Gulf Island MLA is B.C.'s low-profile labour minister. He spoke to the convention Wednesday and talked about increasing the minimum wage, frozen at $8 since 2002.
The government had focused on tax cuts and other "levers" to put more money into low-income earners' pockets rather than a minimum-wage increase, he said.
"But we are getting close to, I would say, running out of levers that we can use, so it's something we're definitely going to have a look at in the future," Coell said.
That heartened advocates for low-income workers, who have watched as B.C.'s minimum wage fell to the lowest in the country during the eight-year freeze. (While the premier's pay increased by more than 50 per cent.)
But the next day the minister was in full retreat. By "in the future," he meant someday, Coell said. For now, the lowest minimum wage in Canada is just fine. (Someone likely got yelled at about all this. Ministers' comments are generally crafted to sound meaningful without actually committing to anything. The initial minimum wage comments actually hinted at action, a mistake.)
Campbell's speech was foreshadowed by another weird development. Just before midnight Wednesday, Bill Vander Zalm and the Fight HST people put out a news release citing "reliable sources" and saying Campbell would announce a reduction in the harmonized sales tax in his speech and an earlier referendum on the tax.
The news release got some media coverage, although it's hard to see how Vander Zalm could have inside information from leak-resistant Liberals.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen quickly denied the rumour. The agreement with Ottawa fixes the HST rate until 2012, he said, coming close to calling Vander Zalm crazy.
The stunt made the Fight HST people look flaky. But it also undermined Campbell's speech before he said a word.
Whatever he promised, it would be kind of anticlimactic after reports - ill-founded or not - that he'd be announcing a cut in the HST.
As it turned out, Campbell didn't have much new to offer.
There was $3 million to help communities hit by the pine beetle disaster try to diversify their economies and a renewed commitment to transit projects. Parks will get extra funding next year and communities that hose the B.C. Games will get more money. The province will pick up the tab for criminal record checks for volunteers.
There will be some sort of big tourism marketing effort in the future.
About half the speech was devoted to reminiscing about the Olympics and looking ahead to the HST referendum.
Campbell likened the introduction of the HST to a bad figure skating routine, continuing his Olympic theme.
But that section of the speech was a tone-deaf performance. There was no apology or indication that serious harm had been done to political life. The imposition of a new tax that angered so many was the subject of a series of jokes.
Campbell fared better in making the argument the referendum should be about the tax policy itself and the benefits and costs.
That's going to be a Liberal theme for the next 12 months.
Footnote: Campbell offered strong support for Taseko's Prosperity gold mine project. It was approved after a provincial environmental assessment, but a federal review found significant problems, including the destruction of a lake and conflicts with native rights. The federal cabinet has yet to make a decision.


DPL said...

Sounds like Gordo didn't push the correct buttons to please anyone. and the less said about Coell the better because he says something then gets a call from King Gordo and he changes his tune. Like the other Liberal MLA's he knows who keeps him in his position and of course the person is Gordo. They don't call Coell "Useless Murrey" for nothing.
How often have we heard about the pine beetle project so far. I'm surprised he didn't do his bit about site c again. He is in deep trouble, put there all by himself.

Bill Z mentioned a drop in the HST which made lots of news so even if he planned to promise it, Gordo just couldn't bring himself to admit it.

Anonymous said...

The UBCM Convention had to wrestle with whether or not to diminish democracy by delaying civic elections to once every four years - from the present three year cycle, which was previously upped from a democratically effective two years - but there has been no word on how the vote went down.

Anybody now if we were further disenfranchised?

DPL said...

The UBCM voted to retain the three years. If Gordo is still around next year( and hopefully not)it will show up again. They also voted against the idea of a pipe line across BC to haul Alberta oil sands stuff. Gordo won't like that either

Anonymous said...

Were you even at UBCM Paul ? I didn’t recall seeing you there with the media who were in attendance.

paul said...

No, not there, sadly. Listened to the feed of the premier's speech.