From the files:
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Uranium a glowing problem for government
And the stumbles could get expensive for taxpayers, if a disgruntled company does well in court...
Randy Hawes and Christy Clark offered up two very different visions of what MLAs are supposed to be doing on Monday.
And our democracy, and society, would be a lot better if more politicians acted like Hawes.
In the morning, New Democrat Nicholas Simons introduced a motion calling on the government to halt the closing of group homes for people with mental handicaps. About 65 have been closed, almost 10 per cent, often forcing longtime residents into new, less supportive settings. Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation delivering services to people with developmental disabilities, is trying to cut costs.
The motion was a gesture. It will never be passed.
Liberal MLA Kevin Krueger, briefly the minister responsible for CLBC, spoke against it. The closures are good, he said, everything is fine. Nanaimo Liberal MLA Ron Cantelon offered the same general view.
A couple of New Democrats, as expected, supported the motion put forward by Simons.
And then Hawes spoke. He talked about the concerns his constituents had raised. A man in his 70s, with a wife slipping into Alzheimer's, had cared for their developmentally disabled son for 50 years. The father still wanted to care for his son, and his wife, and thought he could - if he get two more days a week of respite care. But CLBC couldn't provide it, so the man faced the "heartbreaking choice" of placing his son in care, which would cost the government much more, Hawes recounted.
A single mother, who had worked and raised and supported her mentally handicapped daughter who needed round-the-clock care, was told supports would be cut when the girl turned 19. The mom was told she would have to quit her job, go on welfare and try to provide the care her daughter needed.
Hawes said this just wasn't right. He said the former minister responsible, Harry Bloy, had told the legislature no clients were being forced out of group homes against their will.
That wasn't true, he said.
Simons's motion was simplistic, Hawes said.
But something has gone wrong, he continued. There should be a "top-tobottom examination of CLBC, which included the parents and the selfadvocates that originally set this up."
And while that's happening, Hawes said, the government should immediately provide services to those who need them.
"We need to give those families that today aren't seeing hope . We need to give them hope, and we need to give it to them now," he said.
About two hours later, CLBC was the topic in question period, the 30 minutes allocated for the opposition to raise issues with the government. The New Democrats, again, pressed Premier Clark for a review of CLBC and a moratorium on group home closures.
Clark said the government is spending quite a lot - about $50,000 per client a year, if you count welfare - on people with developmental disabilities.
But she rejected, again and again, calls for an independent review of CLBC - the "top-to-bottom examination" Hawes had urged.
And then Clark offered up something revealing.
New Democrat Carole James prefaced a question with a reference to the "heartbreaking stories from families about a lack of care for their children." She cited the case of a mentally handicapped woman forced from the group home she had lived in for 19 years.
Clark said the opposition is being negative.
"And you know what?" she said. "I don't necessarily begrudge them that. I used to sit as children and families critic. I know the game the member is playing."
I didn't realize Clark was playing a game back then, as I watched the debates. I thought the lives of children at risk were important enough that MLAs would be serious and honest.
Just like Hawes on the lack of support for people with developmental disabilities.
"In the over 10 years that I've been in this legislature, there's no issue that's caused me more loss of sleep or more concern for those most vulnerable people," he said. "We need to act now."
I'd rather have an MLA who loses sleep than one who thinks the legislature is a place to play political games.
Christy Clark used to be clear on gambling expansion. She was against it. The Liberals, and Clark, promised to halt gambling expansion in their 2001 campaign.
Now her government is continuing a 10-year effort to increase both the number of people gambling and the already large amounts they lose.
The B.C. government already has the dubious distinction of being the first in North America to introduce online betting, a form of gambling with heightened risk of reckless betting and addiction.
Now B.C. Lotteries plans another first, by developing apps for cellphones and other devices so people can lose money while on the move.
What's wrong with that, some would ask? If people are foolish enough to lose money on bets, that's their problem.
In opposition, Clark offered pointed responses to that position.
"Gambling is a creeping sickness in society," she told the legislature in 1997. "I don't think a government should decide to balance its books on the backs of gamblers."
The NDP government was considering gambling expansion to increase its take, then about $270 million.
Today, it's $1.1 billion.
"Does this government not realize that every dollar that they pull from the economy is another dollar that the consumer won't be spending here in British Columbia?" Clark asked. "This is money that won't be going to your local grocery store, clothing store or gas station."
OK, times change and new information emerges. A politician's principled stand in opposition fades when it's time to find more revenue to balance the budget. Clark might have decided that, indirectly, the losses stay in the province, even if local businesses are hurt.
But some flip-flops are hard to rationalize.
Here's Clark, again in the legislature, on the extensive research showing gambling expansion would hurt women and families.
"Those studies are all there that tell us over and over again that expanding gambling has a deleterious effect on women's health, on their personal safety and on their economic stability," she said. "Based on those studies, we know that."
Clark was right then. And the research findings haven't changed.
It's hard to rationalize choosing to harm the health and safety of women, and thus their children, in pursuit of bigger gambling profits.
Maybe Clark didn't believe any of the stuff she said; that it was just political posturing. But she and the Liberals seemed sincere. Certainly the campaign promise to halt gambling expansion was clear.
The government tried to justify online betting by arguing people would do it anyway, gambling on riskier websites outside B.C. That was a dubious claim; the fact those sites are risky deterred people.
There's no similar justification for introducing mobile gambling. The industry is in its infancy, with limited acceptance. The greatest interest is in jurisdictions where many people have cellphones and few have computer access.
But mobile gambling will help lure new, young gamblers. B.C. Lotteries, in its government-approved business plan, has targets for increasing the number of British Columbians who gamble regularly.
In 2010-11, about 61 per cent of adults - some 2.3 million British Columbians - gambled at least once a month. By 2013-14, the government hopes to increase that to 63 per cent, creating another 182,000 gamblers.
(The average loss per person, over a year, is $890. Somewhere between three and six per cent will become problem gamblers or addicts.)
Colin Campbell, gaming policy expert at Douglas College in Vancouver, called the plan "a deliberate attempt to target the youth market."
The lottery corporation has been advertising on websites offering free games widely used by the same group.
So much for families first, and Clark's view that gambling expansion is "a creeping sickness."
Footnote: Mobile gambling, like online betting, poses special risks, according to David Hodgins, head of the University of Calgary's Addictive Behaviours Laboratory. There is a greater risk of addiction, in part because of the easy access at any time, and a greater incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among online problem gamblers.
Teens seemed to show the highest likelihood for online gambling addictions. And the spread of Internet and mobile gambling continues the process of normalizing and legitimizing an activity that was once considered negative and damaging.