A hard year ahead for B.C. politics

The B.C. Liberal government and its rivals will define themselves in a harsh 2012.

The last time teachers had a contract imposed

The B.C. Liberal government enters 2012 with the weight of its “golden decade” heavy on its shoulders.

Having delivered a throne speech and a raft of legislation last fall, the government must pick up where it left off and build a February budget from the wreckage of the harmonized sales tax. This takes place as growth and revenue projections decline, and demand for government services continues to rise.

The NDP opposition finds itself in a front-runner role, and now faces pressure to detail its long-promised practical alternative. A revived B.C. Conservative Party must also move beyond protest to problem solving.

Here are some of the immediate problems that will face the legislature when it resumes on Valentine’s Day.

Education: It seems inevitable that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation will once again have a new contract imposed. In December, school support staff joined the parade of public sector unions that accepted the two-year “net zero” wage mandate.

Deficits that forced that mandate have ballooned again due to the HST mess, and the October throne speech hinted strongly that “net zero” will be extended in all but name in 2012.

Little noticed amid the usual labour noise, Education Minister George Abbott has launched a broad plan to “transform” education. Along with “personalized learning plans” and “flexibility and choice,” the plan promises “regular teacher performance evaluation sessions.” Buckle your seatbelts, parents.

Health care: Premier Christy Clark hosts the annual premiers’ conference in Victoria Jan. 16-17. The provinces divided sharply in December, as the three western ones backed Ottawa’s imposition of a new funding formula, while those from Manitoba east protested the news that six-per-cent annual increases will slow a bit in five years.

B.C.’s more immediate problem is a shift to per-capita funding that phases out targeted money for things like our dedicated hip and knee surgery program. Provinces are now supposed to create such innovations for their own sake, without further federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

That change costs B.C. an estimated $256 million a year, starting in 2014. The B.C. Liberals have this year to find savings, or face the task in an election year. And NDP leader Adrian Dix is restricted by his vow to make only spending promises that add up.

Energy and environment: As with the minimum wage, the B.C. Liberals are forced to tinker with the carbon tax. Taxing schools and hospitals to fund natural gas and cement companies’ emission projects has to stop, as Environment Minister Terry Lake has admitted.

Clark and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon must be tempted to borrow an NDP suggestion that carbon tax revenues be redirected more broadly to transit and energy-saving refits. But this means spending the money instead of reducing income taxes, as legislation currently requires, and both parties must face the fact that this entails a tax increase.

A storm is about to begin up north as federal environmental hearings open on a proposed oil pipeline to Kitimat. Clark remains carefully non-committal, the NDP bitterly opposed.

But the parties actually agree on liquefied natural gas exports from the same port. The NDP signaled cautious support for the plan before Christmas, with greater scrutiny of drilling and water use.

We in the media do a poor job of reporting when parties agree. Debate will soon resume on B.C.’s new Family Law Act, aimed at avoiding courts and conflict, with bipartisan support. Fixing B.C.’s impaired driving legislation, to keep that out of our clogged courts, should also be expedited.

B.C.’s traditional blame game won’t make the problems of 2012 go away.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

‘Gone are the days of leaving your vehicle and your house unlocked’

Agassiz RCMP tell residents to secure cars, homes during high crime season

Heat warning issued for Metro Vancouver

Inland areas expect to hit at least 26 degrees for daytime highs

It’s about to get hot: Special weather statement issued for Lower Mainland

Temperatures expected to rise and stick around till next week, Environment Canada forecasts

Highway crashes double in Fraser Valley, truck traffic also up steeply

Unclear if doubling of Fraser Valley highway crashes is linked to spike in truck traffic

France doubles up Croatia 4-2 to win World Cup

Played in Moscow Russia, latest Fifa World Cup marks the highest scoring final since 1966

VIDEO: Harrison Festival 2018 ends on a Sunny Sunday

Despite local union protest bumps, festival runs smoothly on 40th year

5 to start your day

Heat warning issued, man climbs a crane, a dog-sprinting event, and more

Non-union construction industry fears exclusion in B.C.

Premier John Horgan imposes ‘project labour agreements’ for public works

Climber with broken leg rescued after fall into ravine near Hope

The 26-year-old had a flare to show rescuers where he was.

Trump, Putin sit down a bit late for closely watched summit

Trump and Putin arrived Monday at Helsinki’s presidential palace for a long-awaited summit.

In TV interview, Trump claims queen called Brexit ‘complex’

Asked the queen’s view on Brexit, Trump said: “She said it’s a very complex problem.”

Exotic corpse flower begins to emit its putrid scent at Vancouver conservatory

A unique and exotic tropical plant, acclaimed for its size and abhorred for its smell, is blooming at a Vancouver conservatory.

CREA reports June home sales down 10.7% from year ago, but up from May

The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in June were down 10.7 per cent compared with a year ago.

Tens of thousands give heroes’ welcome to Croatia team

Euphoria gave way to a mixture of disappointment and pride for Croatia fans after their national team lost to France in its first ever World Cup final.

Most Read