Theresa and Kenny Michell at the B.C. legislature March 7 to describe their experience since Kenny was severely burned in January 2012 sawmill explosion.

Forget the issues, pass the muffins

The scandalous new MLA lounge with "free muffins" is part of a strikingly expensive refit to improve legislature wheelchair access

VICTORIA – Proceedings here at the B.C. legislature were briefly thrust into the spotlight last week, firing up the radio talk shows and twitter feeds.

No, it wasn’t the B.C. Liberal government forcing through legislation to allow industrial “research” for things like pipeline routes in provincial parks, or the debate on sanctioned wolf and grizzly kills. It wasn’t the teacher strike vote, as the scripted motions of that ritual combat are well known to weary parents.

It was muffins. More specifically, “free” muffins in a newly relocated and equipped MLA lounge, and a rack installed to hold the said muffins at a cost of $733.

This was portrayed as part of a spending spree by Richmond East MLA Linda Reid, elected Speaker last summer. In fact it’s just the latest phase of a strikingly expensive refit to provide wheelchair access, which Reid has championed.

The new MLA lounge replaces a seldom-used one at the top of steep stairs high in the 1898 stone structure. The new lounge is served by a ramp near the chamber exit to another under-used room in the library, and equipped with big-screen TVs to follow proceedings, similar to those installed in the legislature chamber last year.

Everything done here is expensive, from matching ornate woodwork to upgrading ancient plumbing and wiring. But the public, conditioned by media to expect corruption and scandal, would rather be outraged about free muffins.

Prior to this, MLAs had to troop down to the basement dining room to put muffins and coffee on their expense accounts, or have an assistant fetch them. The outraged talk shows didn’t mention that. There are access issues in the dining room too, a fact more difficult to ignore with Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux, Paralympian Michelle Stilwell and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan now elected to serve using their wheelchairs.

A costly new outside access ramp assisted Kenny Michell, who visited last week to tell his harrowing story of the Burns Lake sawmill explosion that nearly burned him to death in 2012 and left him in a wheelchair.

The NDP brought a delegation of survivors and family members of the dead from sawdust explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George. They supported the opposition’s demand for an independent inquiry, although their own demands ranged from counselling for long-suffering wives to seeing someone punished for alleged negligence.

The scandal pushed in this tragic story is that some evidence was not protected by WorkSafeBC and wouldn’t have been admissible in court. Prosecutors also said they had enough evidence for charges, but the companies or executives would be able to show “due diligence” that would likely result in acquittal.

What that means in English is that the explosion risk of extra-dry dust and air wasn’t fully grasped by either mill operators or WorkSafeBC. All B.C. mills are now subject to more scrutiny, and a coroner’s inquest will be calling witnesses this fall to see what lessons can be learned.

Back to pipelines through parks. This may seem like a scandal to urban B.C. residents who already fret about the possibility of the 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline, or one of several proposed gas pipelines, intruding on a park.

It’s not as well known that Trans Mountain completed a major twinning and upgrading project on the Alberta side in 2008. It crosses Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper National Park, without incident or scandal to date.

But back to muffingate, as it’s become known around here. I don’t know why people are so cynical and uninterested in serious issues. I wish I did.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Follow me on Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Two week lock down lifted for Kent Institution

A search at the prison found nearly 26 grams of hashish and a cellphone

Harrison Hot Springs to partner with Sts’ailes for reconciliation event

The event will be funded by a grant meant to build dialogue between cities and local First Nations

Chilliwack vintage shop swings open doors at new location

Marion’s Dressing Room the newest place to shop on Mill Street

Agassiz-Harrison Museum showcases refreshed galleries, exhibits

The museum opened for the season on the May long weekend

Ryan McMahon brings new tunes to Acoustic Emporium in Chilliwack

Album is ‘snapshot of a soon-to-be middle-aged man trying to beat the blues,’ says singer-songwriter

VIDEO: Quadriplegic man takes flight over Harrison Mills

Jim Ryan hasn’t moved his arms or legs for three years, but that didn’t stop him from paragliding

Support growing for orphaned Okanagan child after father dies in highway crash

Family thanks emergency crews for assistance in traumatic incident

UBC prof says report citing $89B home equity loss a ‘grassroots movement of the rich’

Report says longtime homeowners are being taxed out of their homes by the NDP

RCMP target speeders between Abbotsford and Surrey in month-long blitz

Officers throughout the province launch Swoop campaign

Baby boom seniors putting pressure on B.C. long-term care: report

B.C. leads Canada in growth of dementia, dependence on care

RCMP probe if teen was intentionally hit with ski pole by mystery skier on B.C. mountain

The incident happened on March 20 on Grouse Mountain. Police are urging witnesses to come forward

TransLink fares to go up on July 1

Fares will increase by a few cents to a few dollars

Roadside device to weed out THC can’t detect impairment, B.C. lawyer says

‘This fact alone is likely to have serious implications for Canadians’ Charter Rights,’ lawyer Sarah Leamon warns

B.C. firefighters rescue frozen dog from ice

The fire crew found a dog stuck in the at Lake Paul on May 20

Most Read