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Opposition MLAs refuse to help B.C. Liberals subvert public process

VICTORIA – New Democrats have refused to support the B.C. Liberals’ move to undermine the public consultation process around next year’s budget in order to support the out-going premier’s last-ditch attempt to buy votes.

“Last week, Gordon Campbell circumvented the budget consultation process in a desperate ploy to save his skin with an angry public. Clearly, British Columbians didn’t fall for it. Now that the premier has announced his resignation, the B.C. Liberals had a chance to show they respect the hundreds of people and organizations from around the province that made thoughtful submissions to the budget consultation process,” said Finance Committee deputy chair Doug Donaldson.

At a finance committee meeting Wednesday, New Democrats MLAs began by introducing a motion for the committee to denounce the premier and finance minister’s decision to subvert the process by making a premature announcement, spending previously announced unanticipated revenue on tax cuts before deliberations could begin. The motion was defeated by the B.C. Liberal majority who instead decided to side with the premier and finance minister.

“With the premier’s resignation, government members of the finance committee had a chance to do the right thing and send a message to Liberal party brass that they wouldn’t let the premier’s frantic moves undermine democratic values,” said Donaldson. “By standing with the premier, B.C. Liberal MLAs have shown utter contempt for all British Columbians who participated in the budget consultation process in good faith.”

In September, the B.C. Liberal government tasked the Select Standing Committee on Finance with consulting the public over how to allocate an estimated $650 million in available government revenue for the 2011/12 budget year, asking whether the public preferred protecting programs and services, cutting taxes, or reducing the deficit. Hundreds of British Columbians took the time to make presentations at hearings held around the province or through online consultations.

“Before the finance committee could even begin to discuss what we heard from the public, with his TV infomercial last week Gordon Campbell made it clear that he is not going to listen to what British Columbians want when it comes to the important decisions that impact their lives,” said New Democrat finance critic Bruce Ralston, a member of the committee.

“British Columbians might have hoped the B.C. Liberal MLAs would have learned their lesson with the HST deception, but with their actions today, clearly that’s not the case. The HST lie might have brought down Gordon Campbell, but all Liberal MLAs had a part to play in the deception, and all of them will pay the price for that broken promise.”

Ralston noted the budget consultation process was further undermined when committee chair John Les did not step down after being named the Parliamentary Secretary for HST Information to the finance minister in last week’s cabinet shuffle.

“By staying on as chair, John Les has fundamentally undermined the committee’s work. How can British Columbians trust John Les to chair the committee when he is being paid to be the finance minister’s lead spokesperson to justify the B.C. Liberals’ HST deception?” said Ralston.

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall noted that Finance Minister Colin Hansen had told the committee that “the report of the finance committee every year is a very important part of [the budget planning] considerations”.

“After months of consultation with individuals, businesses and organizations from around the province, the committee had their work completely undermined when the premier, in one fell swoop, took all the options off the table in a desperate attempt to buy support back from British Columbians,” said Mungall. “Obviously the premier’s resignation shows that didn’t work.

“The B.C. Liberals’ patronizing attempts are little more than the frantic moves of a government abysmally low in the polls and in chaos. People are sick and tired of a this deceitful government. It’s time for a new approach that deals people back in.”

After the B.C. Liberal majority on the committee voted against the motion, the New Democrat members felt the public consultation process had been undermined and refused to participate further.

B.C. Liberal MLAs on the finance committee are: John Les (Chilliwack), Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country), Don McRae (Comox), John Rustad (Nechako Lakes), Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver-Seymour), and John van Dongen (Abbotsford South).

The Carole James New Democrats are calling for a new approach that deals people in, including a strong, vibrant democracy characterized by open government and fair access to information.

The following is a transcript from the Nov 3rd Select Standing Committe on Finance and Government Services:

M. Mungall: I think what’s important to note here is that while maybe the House respects the right of cabinet to govern, cabinet is supposed to respect the public process and the public will. What seems clear is that last Wednesday, that respect was totally lost and disregarded.

It brought me back to an original statement that the minister had said to us as committee members. He said: “Don’t wait till recommendations are made to bring forward ideas. If you have ideas or if you hear of a good idea, just come and tell me any old time.”

I asked him: “Are you asking us to actually subvert the discussion process that we’re supposed to go through?” We take in all of this information coming directly from the public. I think that’s the most important thing to think about here — that we are speaking one on one with the public. That’s our job.

When the minister suggested that we can curtail that if we think there’s a good idea and go to him directly rather than have our discussions here, our deliberations, and put forward recommendations…. I asked: “Is he asking us to subvert the legislated process of this committee?” He said: “Oh no, I’m not doing that at all.”

Well, hooey. Look what happened last week. That’s exactly what they did. I feel betrayed. I was on this committee working in good faith on behalf of British Columbians in every single corner of this province. What I saw on Wednesday was that faith totally, totally shattered.

I have absolutely no trust that what we put forward any longer is actually going to be considered by the Minister of Finance. It’s clear that we have no value at this point, and I’m absolutely dismayed. I think the people who are more dismayed than the three members who are here today from the New Democrats are the people of this province, because they put in hundreds of thousands of hours. They put in their time and their energy to make presentations to us, and now the decisions about what’s going to be happening with the budget are already being made. I think that’s completely unfair.

How on earth can we move forward when that’s what has been done? The actions are clear. They speak louder than words. I think it’s absolutely unfair, and I think that if the government members truly cared about what the public wants to see, they would join us and say that this is unacceptable.

Our deadline is November 15. All they had to do is wait a couple more weeks before making some address on Global TV and making decisions and pre-empting our process. It’s absolutely deplorable what has happened.