Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Capital punishment: Road kill victory, lame open cabinet and quiet days

VICTORIA - Free road kill, a lifeless open cabinet and a fogbound legislature. Notes from the halls.

Day one in the fall session, and we're talking about road kill.
Every day before Question Period about 10 minutes is set aside for members' statements, a chance for MLAs to talk about whatever they want for a few minutes. (Or at least whatever they want that the party strategists consider appropriate.)
East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett wanted to talk about road kill. Specifically he wanted to celebrate the fact that the New Era includes a partial return to the good old days when you could sling that dead deer in your trunk without having to pay any troubling fees, introduced by the NDP in 2000. (They argued that if hunters have to pay fees to kill animals, drivers should have to pay to scoop them up.)
Now the Liberals have lifted the fees for trappers, who like the dead animals for bait.
A blow for freedom, said Bennett. "Let us rejoice at the democratic spectacle of free trappers all over this heavenly province scooping up dead animals from our roadside ditches, no longer living in fear that a tax collector may be lurking," Bennett said.
The rest of us still have to pay - $61 for a dead deer, $25 for most species - but Benett hopes that will someday carrion will again be free for "British Columbians who wish to utilize road-kill for lunch, a fur coat or a living room rug."
Bennett offered more good news. A booming economy will mean more traffic and more dead animals, he said, and more chances to add new meaning to the promise to pick up something for dinner on the way home.

Maybe they should let Bennett help script the next televised cabinet meeting.
When the Liberals promised monthly open cabinet meetings it seemed like a good idea. The theory was that the public would get a chance to see decisions being made. The reality has been considerably, and increasingly, lamer.
I didn't expect sharp exchanges or big debates. The meetings were inevitably going to be managed, with the aim of making the government look good.
But I didn't expect this big a flop either, with the cabinet generally looking disengaged, sycophantic or irrelevant.
This week's meeting started out with a report on the federal-provincial health care summit, for example. Premier Gordon Campbell said what a good job Health Minister Colin Hansen had done; Hansen revealed that Campbell played a vital role. The results were rehashed, as if cabinet ministers had somehow been out of touch for the last several weeks.
Education Minister Tom Christensen reported on a useful plan to encourage elementary schools to hold open houses for three-year-olds and their families. It's a good idea, and cheap at $2,500 a school. But there were no questions from cabinet ministers about how the program would engage those families that need it most, or about whether programs were available to help kids catch up if parents realized help was needed.
Cabinet got a drought update, but weren't asked to make any decisions. They got a similar briefing on Avian flu and the mad cow disease scare. Both were fine; both could have ben covered with a briefing note to the ministers.
Then the televised meeting ended - after costing about $25,000 - and ministers adjourned to the real cabinet meeting behind closed doors, which lasted about six hours.

Half the NDP caucus - OK, Joy MacPhail - and a clutch of Liberal cabinet ministers missed the first day of the session, stranded in Vancouver by fog.
They shouldn't miss too many days. The Liberals are already hinting the session could be cut short for lack of business. Legislation on the new community living authority has to be debated, and other bills will set up the Northern Development Initiative, make some gesture towards fighting panhandlers and try to deal with privacy concerns around the U.S. Patriot Act.
But the focus is on the election now, not new initiatives.
Footnote: Premier Gordon Campbell, who doesn't make legislature attendance a priority, missed day one. He was speaking to a business group in Calgary. The sitting date has been fixed for more than a year.

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