Saturday, April 25, 2009

Van Dongen's bad driving

Four thoughts.
1) Why did John van Dongen wait a week before revealing his licence suspension to the premier and what does that say about his understanding of the seriousness of the suspension? (Though based on the many times he has condemned speeders - see Vaughn Palmer's column - van Dongen should be aware.)
2) Gordon Campbell's record continues to have an impact. He can't ask van Dongen to step down from cabinet for speeding when he kept the top job after driving drunk.
3) But, back in 1993 when Moe Sihota was racking up speeding tickets, the Liberals saw things differently. Gary Collins said Sihota should be out of cabinet (though the driving record was just one of the reasons he offered).
4) The Liberals also pressed Sihota to release his full driving record, which - after some misleading answers - he did. Van Dongen is refusing, a mistake which should give the issue a few extra days attention.
4) The suspension puts van Dongen in a small group of bad drivers. Out of 3.1 million drivers in B.C., only 25,000 a year lose their licences for speeding and other offences.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Residential care for seniors should be big issue

Eight years in power, and the Liberals are still fumbling  the issue of residential care for seniors. The Liberal New Era campaign pledge in 2001 was clear - an additional  5,000 new intermediate and long-term care beds by 2006. It was an important promise. When the time comes that you, or your  parents, can't live independently, you want desperately to have  residential care available, close to friends and family. That was far from certain when the Liberals took over, because there  just weren't enough spaces.
In less than a year, the Liberals started backtracking on the promise.  The numbers shifted, but the promised 5,000 beds turned into some  1,000 intermediate and long-term care beds and some additional  supports for seniors.
Even that was fuzzy and the government couldn't say how many beds were  actually needed.
I went through a couple of months of work in late 2004 and 2005 to try  and find out how many beds had been added. (The government had already  rewritten its plan to allow an extra two years to deliver the 5,000  beds or spaces or whatever.)
After leaping through an array of bureaucratic obstacles I finally  established that across the whole province, by the health authorities  own count, had added 100 long-term care beds in about four years. The  seniors' population had increased by eight per cent in the same period. The Liberals now claim they have delivered on the promise. But Health  Minister George Abbott confirmed this week that there were in fact  only 800 more residential care beds than there were in 2001. The  increase has come in assisted living spaces, which are certainly needed. But by the Health Ministry's own definition, those are not residential  care beds, as promised. So if the Liberals were correct and there were  5,000 too few beds seven years ago, the problem has certainly worsened. One of the striking things in the whole eight years of confusion is  the lack of the most basic information - like how many beds are  actually needed. The promises have been plucked from the air. There are some useful measures. One is wait times, which continue to  be a problem.
The Liberal campaign claims waits have fallen from one year under the  former government to 15 to 90 days. But the one-year number was based  on a previous system, in which people put their names on waiting lists  long before they needed care. Waits of three months are too long. People waiting for residential care are often unable to remain in  their homes for a wait of two to 13 weeks. In many cases, they simply  cannot care for themselves.
Until that wait is over, they are likely to be sent to hospital bed. That's extremely expensive. It is bad for the seniors, confined in a  strange environment. And it means surgeries are cancelled and people  wait in emergency rooms because acute care beds aren't available. In 2001, some 15 per cent of acute care beds were tied up  inappropriately in this way. The problem remains at similar levels. The Liberal platform promises 1,000 new homes for "seniors and persons  with disabilities" in the next year. The health budget does not  provide for any significant increase in care beyond current levels. The NDP platform goes farther, promising to re-open 300 beds in closed  facilities and adding 3,000 beds to fill the gap. The New Democrats  are pledging $275 million over three years, plus $210 million in  capital spending - an amount the Liberals say is inadequate. The New Democrats are also promising appointment of a Representative  for Seniors to address their issues and report on progress. A similar  commitment from the Liberals would be welcome; it is too easy for  seniors and their issues to be forgotten. What's missing in all this is a clear, five-year plan for seniors' care. And that should make most British Columbians, whether they are older  themselves or thinking about family members, quite uncomfortable.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Comparing the Liberal and NDP platforms

Plow through the Liberal and NDP platforms and you will find a surprising amount in common.
For starters, both agree the other guys are incompetent.
And at least based on their platforms, both parties would be cautious and steady. But an issue for both Gordon Campbell and Carole James is whether they can be trusted to deliver.
There are differences. The campaign's opening days were dominated by the New Democrat's promise to abolish the Liberals' carbon tax. A lot of environmentalists, who might have considered themselves NDP voters, are troubled by the pledge.
Rightly. The tax isn't perfect, but it is sound policy. A tax on fossil fuels will reduce use and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Both parties support that goal.
The New Democrats have also pledged to raise the minimum wage, from $8 - soon to be tied for the lowest in Canada - to $10. The increase is significant. But the Campbell government hasn't raised the minimum once in the last eight years (while raising MLAs' pay by 35 per cent). It comes across as at best indifference.
The Liberals' platform basically promises to keep on the same course.
That's as it should be. A governing party that pulls out a whole of whack of new initiatives for an election campaign is negligent. If they were good programs, they should have been introduced already.
So the Liberal platform talks about the importance of a stable, tested government. It promises to follow through with infrastructure spending and curb government spending - 11 of 20 ministries face budget cuts.
Health gets a significant increase, but that's about it.
The focus is on tailoring spending to fit the money coming into government. Two deficits and then back to a balanced budget - that's the law.
And it's a worry. The budget introduced last February is optimistic about government revenue.
That should make voters wonder about the Liberals' priorities. Are balanced budgets within two years more important than maintaining vital public services? (Even Stephen Harper thinks four years of deficits are needed federally.)
Put another way, will this be the Grinch-like Liberals of the first term, or the genial Campbell of the second?
The platform does offer some new measures. Proposals for kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds have been shelved, although the Liberals have committed to bring in optional full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds. A school curriculum review and greater emphasis on personal health and financial planning are promised.
The Liberals promise more community courts and money to fly offenders back to other provinces to face outstanding warrants.
But largely, this is a platform based on tightening belts and shrinking government.
The New Democrats' platform offers more new initiatives. It promises four new specialized day surgery centres, 300 additional addiction and mental health treatment spaces and 3,000 new long-term care beds for seniors.
The NDP also commits to a five-year plan to end the homelessness crisis, with budgets and timelines and targets, including 2,400 new social housing units in the first year.
It pledges to sharply limit raw log exports, take a hard look at run-of-river power projects and force aquaculture operations to shift to closed containment systems. All the measures carry some economic risks.
And the party proposes fixing the lobbyist legislation, establishing a Community and Jobs Protection Commissioner and a Seniors Advocate.
The proposals are all costed; the result, says the platform, would be three years of deficits before returning to balanced budgets.
A problem for both parties is that the budget starting point is the three-year plan the Liberals presented in February. That was optimistic about revenues and stingy in spending projections.
Which leads back to the credibility question. If tough times continue, would the Liberals choose to slash services over of running deficits? Would the NDP stick with a moderate course, or spend freely despite an increasing debt.
The platforms are useful guides, but far frm binding.
Footnote: The platforms are available online - see, and The Green platform, in my view, is interesting but of little real relevance. The party's chances of electing an MLA are slim, especially under the current electoral system. Green supporters would best use their time supporting the STV campaign.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Test drive STV for your area

I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't vote yes in the electoral reform referendum and try an alternative to the current system which has served us so dismally. Sure, the single transferable vote system isn't perfect, but look at the way we elect governments and our representatives now. It's an abomination.
I'll write about it, but meanwhile this site lets you vote under the system, based on the party's candidates and the proposed boundaries. It's a great way to explore the real impact.