Friday, December 07, 2007

Basi-Virk B.C. Rail case grows messier all the time

I take a look at the latest twists and turns, glance at why it's gone so wrong and remind readers what;s going on in a Times Colonist column today.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Taylor's departure caps rough session for Liberals

Some not entirely random notes on the legislature session just ended.
Yes, the legislature was sitting. The MLAs have been back here for four days a week since Oct. 1, with a couple of breaks. They will have sat 19 weeks this year.
It's been an eventful fall. The big news last week was Finance Minister Carole Taylor's announcement that she won't run in the 2009 election.
That's too bad. Taylor has been good for the Liberals and public life in B.C. since she was elected in 2005. It's not just her success in the job, including reaching agreements with public sector unions at a time when they were fiercely angry with the government.
She's shown that respect, courtesy and civility - and niceness - can be part of the job, even in the ugliest moments in the legislature.
I was won over early. Not long after Taylor was named finance minister, I called on a Friday with some question for the minister. There was no callback by deadline, but that's OK. Ministers are busy.
But about 8 p.m. I got a call from Taylor. She knew it was too late, but she wanted to apologize for not being able to get back to me in time.
Of course, the flip side to her departure lies in the questions it raises. Even one of the best jobs in cabinet wasn't enough to keep Taylor in the life. It's hardly a recommendation for smart, sane people considering a leap into politics.
All in, it was a good session for the New Democrats. When it started, there was a lot of sniping about Carole James' leadership. By the end, that had been silenced.
Partly, that reflected the problems the government faced over the last eight weeks. Every week brought new bad-news stories. There was the $400-million convention centre cost overrun and Solicitor General John Les' fumbling on the airport Taser death, gang slayings and policing.
Forests Minister Rich Coleman couldn't explain or defend forest land deals that enriched a few select companies by up to $1 billion, at the public's expense.
And Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen was hung out to dry as the Representative for Children and Youth reported the government has failed to act on critical recommendations from the Hughes report. (Christensen also faced revelations that the ministry blew $560,000 on a lavish head-office reno while it refused to provide needed money to help children who had been sexually abused.)
And as well as the usual problems in health care, the NDP raised questions about care-home quality.
There was still lots of good news on the economy. And it's hugely significant that the legislature approved the first two agreements reached under the B.C. treaty process.
But all in all, the Liberals were glad to get out of Dodge.
The session seemed to mark a turning point for a lot of the New Democrats. There was a sense up until now that many of the MLAs were intimidated by the job of holding ministers to account, nervous of making a mistake.
In this session, you could see them getting confident and comfortable, and as a result much more effective. There were a few MLAs who have been consistently effective - Leonard Krog, Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth, Bob Simpson.
Now there are another dozen who should make ministers nervous.
(One downside is that abuse and catcalling in the legislature rose sharply. The NDP opted for a more combative approach; sadly - at least for those who hope for civility in politics - it seems to have been effective.)
Meanwhile, another big potential time bomb for the Liberals is ticking down. The Basi-Virk corruption case is now scheduled to go to trial in March, amid more twists and turns about evidence and testimony. If it goes ahead, it will be an interesting backdrop for the spring session.
Footnote: Remember the government's $10-million Conversation on Health, an idea of Premier Gordon Campbell? The report was released last week - on the day after the session ended, when Taylor announced she was stepping down and while Campbell was out of the country. It's fair to say the government is not thrilled with what it heard from the public.