Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hot Tub Time Machine, B.C. politics-style

Join me, as I hop into my Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to a time when life was simpler.

Winter was turning to spring in 2001. Phones weren't smart yet. The world didn't know what a Bieber was. The Canucks wore ugly uniforms. The Vancouver Olympics were only an idea. U2 was on tour with P.J. Harvey. Joey Ramone was dying of cancer. Paul Martin was Canada's Prime Minister. Al Gore should've been President of the United States. The World Trade Center stood tall in New York City. 

In British Columbia, the exhausted, drunk-on-power ruling party of the day was facing a throw-the-bums out election. On that year’s Pi Day, the last Legislative session under the second NDP era (1991-2001) began. The BC Liberals were on a roll, they could taste victory in the upcoming election. It was time for a new era. 

Officially known as the "5th Session of the 36th Parliament of British Columbia," it commenced with pomp and circumstance on March 14, 2001 with the Throne Speech read by Lt. Gov. Garde Gardom

It was the year after a Summer Olympics (B.C. wrestler Daniel Igali and triathlete Simon Whitfield came home with gold medals from Sydney 2000). The Premier had been in office a short time (Ujjal Dosanjh, just over a year). The government was claiming a balanced budget. Its themes were similar: Jobs, tourism, trade, apprenticeship training, prosperity for families.

The session wrapped up on April 11, 2001, before Easter weekend. Jenny Kwan, Harry Lali, Mike Farnworth and Sue Hammell were on the NDP government side. Today they're in the opposition benches. 

The opposition ranks in 2001 included such members of Today’s BC Liberals as Ida Chong, Linda Reid, Mike de Jong, Christy Clark, Rich Coleman, Kevin Krueger, Murray Coell, George Abbott, Colin Hansen, Gordon Hogg and Bill Barisoff.

Clark is now, of course, the Premier. Barisoff the speaker. John van Dongen was in the Liberal caucus back then. He split on March 26, 2012 to become an independent and has done yeoman's work to seek the truth in the BC Rail scandal.

Only two topics were included in Question Period on April 11, 2001. SkyTrain expansion costs and school district funding. 

De Jong and Geoff Plant grilled Farnworth, who was the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security (whey wasn't it economic development and social security?), about Millennium Line cost overruns. 
de Jong: In November the government received its project management report from Gannett Fleming and that report says that each additional month beyond the current completion date would add approximately $6 million in accumulated interest during construction costs. The report from February says that date is now five months behind.Since it's five months behind, that would add at least $30 million to the cost of the project. Will the minister responsible confirm that estimate, based on the NDP government's own documentation? 
Hon. M. Farnworth: One of the interesting things I think the opposition needs to realize is that when you have reports done and you have the project monitored in the way we are monitoring it and in the way it's being monitored by an outside independent agency on a quarterly basis, you're in a position to take measures to ensure that if there are unanticipated costs going to occur, you can mitigate those costs. You make decisions to ensure that they don't happen. 
The real question is: what would that side of the House do if they were on this side of the House? Would they continue with SkyTrain? Would they extend it to Coquitlam Centre? Those are the questions that Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and Coquitlam have been asking, and they don't get any answers from that side of the House when they're asked. 
G. Plant: There are still a few more questions that we'd like to ask. 
As of the end of December the SkyTrain expansion project had just over $44 million left in its contingency fund. But according to the February quarterly review prepared by the Gannett Fleming firm, all but $200,000 of that $44 million is already expected to be allocated. That means that with 40 percent of the project left to complete, there's only $200,000 left for non-forecasted items. 
Will the minister responsible tell us how on earth he expects anyone to believe that there won't be cost overruns for the project when they've already maxed out on the contingency fund, and they're barely halfway finished? 
Hon. M. Farnworth: I guess it's appropriate for that member, being from Richmond, to ask that question, because clearly he doesn't go to that part of the lower mainland. If he did, he'd see that it's nearly built. He'd know that most of the costs in the budget have already been committed, that it's there in concrete and cement. It's there going all the way into Vancouver. It's there going to Lougheed Mall. The costs have been allocated.He'd also know that the reason why -- and I'll repeat the answer for him again -- is that we have quarterly updates that are posted on the Internet. If he doesn't know how to use it, it's, and he can find them there. He'll know that the project is being built. It's being built to Lougheed Mall, and it's going to go to Coquitlam Centre.
The last question asked to the NDP government? It was by future education minister and premier Clark. 
Christy Clark
C. Clark: On to more commitments that the government doesn't intend to keep, and maybe on to more questions that the government doesn't intend to answer -- well, let's try it anyway. The School Act requires that this government give its budgets to school boards by February 1 of the fiscal year. And guess what. They missed the deadline. So they extended it by two months. And guess what. They missed the deadline again. And so now they're in contravention of the law. The minister says, when she's asked by school boards: "Oh, don't worry about it. The budget's in the mail." Yeah, right. And the dog ate your briefing notes -- right? 
My question for the minister is this: why does the government even bother making statutory rules about deadlines when it has absolutely no intention of keeping them? 
Hon. Joy MacPhail: Well, let me begin by saying that I hope the red light doesn't go on, so the hon. member can ask another question. 
Actually, the letter to the school boards telling them the allocation for funds went out on March 30. So the school boards are well aware. And later this week there will be another letter going out, detailing the increases that school boards will receive. 
It will be the tenth year in a row that each and every school district in this province gets more money for education. It will be the tenth year in a row that our government will continue to build a school once every 19 days. It will continue the funding for the fourth year to reduce class sizes so that our youngest kids have the best possible success. It will be the ninth year in a row that we make a commitment to teach our children in languages other than the English language. It will be the fourth year in a row that we make a commitment to put 700 more teachers in classrooms in this province. And it will be about the sixth year that we make a commitment to fund education for aboriginal children in this province, who deserve the best possible chance. 
What I fear is that if there is a year when this government is not in charge, there will be a dramatic tax cut and a cut in education funding. 
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
And so it ended. The NDP was turfed out of office on May 16, 2001. Gone was the party of the Nanaimo bingo scandal, North Burnaby Inn casino scandal and Fast Ferries. Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals won 100% of the power with a landslide 77 of 79 seats, although they garnered almost 58% of the popular vote. Only MacPhail and Kwan made it from the government side to the opposition side -- just two NDP members from a party that got almost 22% of the popular vote. 
Back to 2013. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The government hired scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin to build the SkyTrain Evergreen Line to the Tri-Cities. Education funding remains a hot-button, as Clark made a futile attempt to sign the NDP-allied B.C. Teachers’ Federation to a decade-long contract. 

The voters are angry and impatient again. This time (in no particular order) it's the HST, BC Rail scandal mystery, B.C. Place Stadium cost overruns, "Quick Wins" Multicultural Outreach Strategy scandal, Jobs Plan advertising campaign, Times of India Film Awards, Prince George plyscraper tendering, BC Hydro Smart Meters... All polls point to the NDP returning to power in the May 14, 2013 election. 
Will the pattern repeat in a decade? 

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