Sunday, February 10, 2008

Risky session ahead for Liberals

The MLAs will be back here this week, for the Throne Speech, the budget and all the rest of the spring sitting.
Of course, you might never have noticed they were gone. For people who pay close attention to provincial politics, this will be a big three months. For most people, not so much.
I find it interesting, although most days dispiriting. These are capable people, respected in their hometowns. The ideal would see them coming together to debate measures that would make life better in the province. They might divide along
party lines, but they would respect each other's intelligence and commitment - or if not, the fact that the voters had chosen them. They would be full participants in government.
It's not like that. Much of the session is a weird, ritualistic game, from the rudeness and shouting of Question Period to the set speeches for and against legislation. Useful things get done, but they're islands in a sea of
embarrassing foolishness.
Still, it's what we've got. And, as I said, some useful things do get done.
This session could be the last chance for the government to do take any significant action that requires legislative approval.
The next election will be May 12, 2009. The Liberals haven't been keen on fall sittings; next spring will be an election session, as much show as substance.
This will be the chance to make some good laws.
But that's been a problem for the Liberals. They were elected in 2001 with the basic hope that they would be better than the NDP government they replaced. Competent, in a word.
Generally, the Liberals were suspicious of government and convinced it should be smaller.
Those were broadly justified views and responding to them kept the Liberals going for the first few years.
Then what? Cutting the size of government can't be a perpetual task and at a certain point the public is looking for positive efforts to deal with their concerns.
The Liberals pitched their first budget after the 2005 election as a senior's budget. The 2006 effort was supposed to be a children's budget, an acknowledgement of the mess the government had made in services for families.
Last year, the theme was housing.
But once the snappy graphics and backdrops for the budget announcement come down, interest seems to fade.
It's hard to say that things have got better for seniors, children or the homeless or people struggling to afford housing in any material ways.
This year the theme is likely to be climate change, with a budget that proposes some concrete actions to build on the dramatic rhetoric of the 2007 throne speech.
That's a challenge. The business community is worried the government will go too far and hurt the economy. The public, having been told by Premier Gordon Campbell that this is a global crisis, is expecting some significant measures.
The Liberals will have some other measures to announce - things like the new proposal to encourage burning waste wood to generate power.
There should be announcements about what B.C. will do with its share of the federal $1-billion aid program aimed at helping single-industry towns hurt by the high Canadian dollar. The province is to get about $133 million.
The session also means the New Democrats have question period four days a week to raise tough issues.
There are a lot of good targets. There are the obvious traditional favorites for any opposition - health care wait times, the continued mystery about the direction of the Children and Families Ministry, Olympic costs.
And the NDP will also focus on public safety concerns, from the gang killings in Vancouver to the disorder created by the mounting populations of homeless, addicted and mentally ill people on the streets across the province. The New
Democrats think the Liberals are vulnerable on law-and-order issues.
It all starts next Tuesday with the Throne Speech. With barely a year to go
before the election, the stakes are high for both parties.
Footnote: The big, dangerous issue hanging over the government is the corruption trial in connection with the B.C. Rail sale. Campbell has dodged questions on the case so far, but the government's ongoing efforts to keep evidence from the
court and the special prosecutor's failure to meet the legal requirements for disclosing documents could blow up in the next two months. The trial is to start in mid-March.


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Anonymous said...

Watching Question Period today was interesting to say the least. The AG spent most of the time fending off questions about the long delayed Basi Basi and Verk trial. He once was a judge but is now just a political hack protecting his boss.
I wonder if the latest deal where due to shortage of volunteers for the Olympic event, they are trying to get government employees to take off work and get paid to volunteer. And this is a government that is activly recruiting new employees. My gosh it's only the first day back