special year end video message on Premier Campbell's website
concluded by saying: "Reach out and help someone who
isn't quite as fortunate as you are." That came from
the Premier who has presided over a doubling
in the number of homeless while welfare rates were frozen,
or in some cases cut. That came from the Premier who announced
rental assistance for low income workers, but said those
on welfare need not apply as they are ineligible. That came
from the Premier who had to be told by Ted Hughes that his
cuts to child protection services were wrong.
written version of the Premier's year
end message came in the form of an opinion editorial
that described 2006 as the "year of the agreement".
That description is bound to evoke memories of 2002 when
Campbell presided over the year of the broken contract.
In his year end interview with Keith Baldrey of Global TV,
when asked about his switch on aboriginal issues, Campbell
said he learned. That invites a look at whether the lesson
was about changing policies or whether it was just about
using less confrontational messaging.
Premier's op-ed piece mentioned the Central
Coast and North
Coast Land and Resource Management Plan, settlements
in 139 public sector collective agreements, the trade and
labour mobility agreement with Alberta, the federal government's
transfer of all social housing resources and responsibilities
to the Province, the softwood lumber deal, the new relationship
with First Nations, movement on control of First Nations'
education, agreement to improve First Nations' health status,
and the initialing of three final agreements in the treaty
process. If one doesn't look too closely at the details,
it would be possible to boast about those 2006 highlights;
however, the devil is in the details.
to the Premier's op-ed piece, agreements
between the Province, First Nations, communities, environmental
activists and industry groups will protect 1.8 million hectares
(an area more than three times the size of PEI) and create
the new Spirit Bear Conservancy, which will provide a lasting
home for the province's official mammal, the Spirit Bear.
It failed to mention that days before the announcement,
the province copyrighted the name "Spirit Bear".
Environmentalists who invented the names "Spirit Bear"
and "Great Bear Rainforest" deserve credit for
a struggle that lasted almost twenty years. While the formal
land use plan is important, it does not end that struggle.
The Provincial-First Nation land use agreements, which are
key to the Central Coast and North Coast Land and Resource
Management Plan, include a commitment to establish, a North
Coast Plan Implementation and Monitoring Committee (NC PIMC),
a Central Coast Plan Implementation and Monitoring Committee
(CC PIMC) and an EBM Working Group (EBM WG). Nothing in
government announcements or on the government website indicates
progress in the establishment of those committees. Work
on protecting the Great Bear Rainforest is ongoing. The
Campbell government will be tested in 2007 and beyond to
demonstrate that measurable outcomes have been established
against which progress in implementing the agreements can
be measured. Already in 2006 the Raincoast
Conservation Society reported that "Less than 20
per cent of salmon watersheds on the central and north coast
of BC will receive full protection under the recently announced
Great Bear Rainforest agreement." The Society's analysis
of 499 salmon watersheds found that 77% had less than half
of the watershed land base protected.
who support collective bargaining believe that a good deal
is one that is agreed to by both sides; hence, both the
Campbell government and the unions deserve credit for negotiating
agreements that affect over 300,000 public sector workers,
without the need for job action. A caller to a talk show
asked why no one was protesting what he thought were rich
settlements, four or five year agreements averaging 2% to
2.5% per year wage increases plus signing bonuses of $3,000
to $4,000. The answer is that there is no longer anyone
like Gordon Campbell in opposition leading the reactionary
political right in an effort to get elected. Imagine what
would have happened if an NDP government had awarded $1
billion in signing bonuses to public sector workers! It
is likely that there would have been demonstrations on the
lawns of the legislature. The reactionary right's support
can be taken for granted by Campbell.
bonuses are not new, but it is hard to find much precedent
for bonuses of $3,000 to $4,000. In 2008, when they file
their income taxes for 2007, many public sector workers
will report incomes that are lower than they had with their
2006 bonuses. On an income of $50,000, an increase of 2.5%
is $1,250. It takes three years of increases like that to
catch up to the year of the signing bonus. The agreements
take the government a year or two beyond the May 2009 election,
but they do not guarantee that public sector workers will
remain satisfied that long. When inflation is factored in,
most public sector workers will see their real incomes decline
after the peak reached with the signing bonus.
Trade with Alberta
28, 2006, the Britsh
Columbia-Alberta Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility
Agreement was signed. It comes into force on April 1,
2007, but the transitional period won't end until April
1, 2009. What it means for British Columbia probably won't
be understood until well after the May 2009 election. The
Campbell government claims that the "agreement has
the potential to add $4.8 billion to real GDP and create
78,000 new jobs in B.C. alone." What is not clear is
how that will be measured and reported on to British Columbians.
Consider one example: Alberta is granting pharmacists
the power to prescribe many medications, notwithstanding
the strong opposition of the Alberta Medical Association.
The agreement covers pharmacists. Will the agreement mean
that BC must grant pharmacists equal power? If it doesn't,
then what other standards and regulations will be exempted?
It will be years before anyone will be able to see measurable
results - good or bad.
Housing website reports that: "On June 19, 2006,
the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia
signed the Canada
- B.C. Social Housing Agreement transferring the administration
of 51,600 social housing units to the Province of British
Columbia." Over half, 27,400, of the federal housing
units were already administered by the province. Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) will remain responsible
for approximately 12,650 co-operative housing units and
just over 5,000 housing units on-reserve. The province will
gain responsibility for about 24,000 social housing units
that are currently administered by CHMC. While the Campbell
government boasts that this is an example of a successful
agreement, the jury is out on what it means for people in
need of social housing. The deal appears to put a 30 year
cap on the federal commitment to BC for social housing.
Lumber Agreement was only adopted after the Harper government
beat the Canadian lumber industry into submission with the
help of the Campbell government. The Agreement provides
a windfall for the provincial government when lumber prices
are down, as they are now. There is a 15% export tax when
the Random Lengths Composite price is below US$ 315, as
it is now. The duty can increase by 50% if the "surge
penalty" kicks in, which happens when quotas are exceeded.
The export tax is collected by Canada and remitted to the
province. In her second quarter financial report released
in November, Finance Minister Carole Taylor estimated that
taxes flowing to the province from the Agreement will yield
$208 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007. The
Agreement provides that none of those funds can be used
to help the industry that is hurt by the Agreement and by
low prices. What kind of a government would boast about
that kind of a deal?
Campbell government's about face in its attitude to First
Nations is truly breathtaking; nevertheless, the Premier
fails to acknowledge the extent of the change. It is fair
to say that matters affecting First Nations have finally
become non-partisan, after an unfortunate referendum conducted
by the Campbell government in its first term. There remains
a role for critics to hold the Campbell government accountable
for achieving measurable outcomes. Commitments on health
and education and the initialing of treaties are steps in
a process, but what counts is whether the gaps close between
the aboriginal population and other British Columbians.
Nations Health Plan could serve as a model of how outcomes
expected from government commitments should be specified
and measured. It promises that: "The Provincial Health
Officer will issue Aboriginal health status reports every
five years, with interim updates every two years."
Attention should be paid to those accountability reports
and corrective action should be taken when necessary to
assure that the targets aren't postponed or weakened.
Official Opposition didn't release its own version of a
year end review for 2006. As of January 1, 2007 the most
recent release on the website
for the Official Opposition is a call for a park feasibility
study for the Flathead Valley. The NDP's
website also ignored the traditional year end review
in favour of a focus on "credit card medicine"
and the growth of private health care under the Campbell
results were disappointing for many New Democrats in
2006 as the Campbell Liberals finished the year with a nine
point lead, 45% to 39% with 16% for the Greens. Of course,
the next provincial election isn't until May 12, 2009. If
the Opposition performs as it did during the brief fall
sitting of the Legislature, support for the Liberals may
waver. During those four days the government felt the heat
on political interference in a freedom of information request
regarding the Coroners Service, BC Hydro contracts for coal-fired
power plants, failures of private post-secondary institutions,
certification of home inspectors and private health care.
It is difficult, however, for the Opposition to make any
of its criticisms more than a 24-hour story; it takes new
information to sustain a story in the news media, and hence
keep in it front of the public. That allows the government
to set and control the agenda, particularly when the legislature
is not sitting.
the government's year end boast about agreements had more
to do with process than with measurable outcomes, the Opposition
may be able to re-visit those matters as it holds the government
to account for results. That should make 2007 an interesting
is likely to be a slow period on the political calendar
unless the government comes up with some surprises. The
Legislature will sit for a Speech from the Throne on February
13th and for the 2007-2008 Budget on February 20th. That
is when British Columbians will finally hear what the Campbell
government intends to do about welfare rates, the shelter
allowance and homelessness. It is embarrassing for a province
that is so rich to ignore those who are being left behind.
As the Premier said in his year end video, "Reach out
and help someone who isn't quite as fortunate as you are."