Mr. Premier, I just wanted to take this opportunity to review the events of the past few weeks for your government, tie up a few loose ends and get ready for summer. It was nice to see a picture of you smiling like a starstruck teenager with Governor Schwarzenegger a couple of weeks ago. Did you get a chance to go for a drive in his hybrid Hummer? I’m also intrigued that you decided to spend such quality time with Arnold when BC has one of the world’s greatest environmentalists actually living here. Now I know David Suzuki isn’t nearly as muscular in his approach as the Governator, and I know that posing with David would not get you such hot, international press, but I am questioning why you would focus on the Governor of California when Dr. Suzuki – who apparently doesn’t drive a Hummer – and actually has a few degrees and some legitimacy in the field - would likely have been happy to meet with you to chat about your greenish plan and talk about how you are vitally interested in moving BC towards the light and having us emerge as a leader in the challenge of climate change and global warming. Perhaps, I just don’t understand the intricacies or the complexities of political life. By the way, did you chat with Arnie about California paying BC for the electricity they bought from us a few years ago? It seems they have misplaced the invoice. A few million bucks as I recall. Perhaps next time you two are in the political gym together exercising your mandates, you could mention this as it appears somewhat overdue. Thanks.
We are all still waiting expectantly to hear about the remarkable new “green” programs your government is considering for BC. I’m not totally clear yet how your government’s new approach to cutting down the ancient forests of Clayoquot Sound fits with this new vision you’re promulgating, but I’m sure if we’re patient, we’ll be brought up to speed.
Well Mr. Premier, to add to your political challenges, it seems that on June 8, 2007, the Supreme Court decided that your government’s Bill 29, the misnamed B.C. “Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act”, was essentially unconstitutional. As I read their ruling, the Justices stated that the law's provisions were a “mockery of the idea of consultation with unions.” They also said that “the B.C. government made little attempt to look for less-intrusive measures or to consult with unions before bringing in the legislation.” That has to smart! Now you and your government may very well be in the position of having to reimburse all those health services people whose union contracts got shredded when you and your Health Minister of the moment decided to unilaterally cancel all their legally negotiated union contracts. I wonder if this cost will impact all the delightful showcase items that the 2010 Olympics will be funding. It would be dreadful if paying people a decent salary got in the way of showcasing BC to the world in three years. I understand that the Supreme Court has given you and your government one year to fix the law. As I recall, you rammed this bill through the Legislature in just three days in 2002, having killed debate with your majority. You might want to spend more than three days this time. Heck, take the whole summer. Perhaps consider discussing this during a summer sitting of the Legislature to make up for the session that you cancelled last fall.
So now that we’ve tackled the annoying environmental problem and the union stuff that the Supreme Court re-directed your way, I’m wondering how you intend to address the BC Ferries problem. Unbeknownst to you I’m sure, BC Ferries has raised fares to an unheard of rate, and from all accounts, intends to continue this unbelievable gouging of coastal communities. Would you believe Gord, that the Ferry Commissioner, in his latest epistle to the converted, (the March 30, 2007 document “Background to the BC Ferry Commission’s Preliminary Decision on Price Caps for Performance Term Two”) actually stated that: “We (BC Ferries) have no statutory or contractual duty to consider affordability of the fare-paying travelers, or the broad social and economic impacts on communities when making our decisions.” When I wrote your Minister of Transportation concerned about the continuing and persistent increases in ferry fares for those of us who are dependent on this marine highway system, the Honourable Kevin Falcon responded with the following statements: “Taxpayers across B.C. contribute significantly, but the people who live in and love our islands and coasts must share these costs too. The independent British Columbia Ferry Commissioner reviews BC Ferries' spending to make sure that any proposed ferry rate increases are justified. The commissioner concluded that a fare increase is justified and BC Ferries' costs are reasonable. My ministry is now in negotiations with BC Ferries. You can be sure we will continue to work to maintain a lasting and financially-stable ferry system for our coastal and island communities.”
Gord, my question is, at what cost? The Mayor of Gibsons, Barry Janyk, forwarded a letter to you and your Executive Council on June 6, 2007 in which he passed on a unanimous motion of Council that read: “That a strongly worded letter be written to the Provincial Executive Council requesting a restoration of highway equivalency funding for B.C. Ferry Services Inc.” Mr. Janyk further stated: “I can affirm absolutely that the rapid increase to ferry fares is having an insidious and crippling effect particularly on rural communities on the Island and mainland coast. Should this trend continue I can unequivocally state it will lead to social and economic stresses that may be irreversible. You must find a way to address the galloping increase in ferry fares if our coastal communities are to thrive, let alone survive.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Mr. Premier, I would suggest that this ferry problem and the recent Supreme Court decision are going to remain big issues for you and your government. These along with the environmental issues that you have indicated you might get around to chatting about are not going to go away. I won’t even mention the ongoing legal issues around the sale of BC Rail. It’s likely a good thing that you don’t live on Vancouver Island. Even with the recent, rather generous salary increases that your government voted for yourselves, you might find the cost of commuting via BC Ferries a bit too expensive for your pocketbook, even though your Minister finds the ongoing escalation “reasonable.”
I look forward to our next chat.
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