Column: Liberal thoughts

B.C. Views by Tom Fletcher: Polarized politics a costly system

By Tom Fletcher

One benefit of the surprising fourth term for the B.C. Liberal Party is that the provincial government won’t be subjected to another big, expensive ideological remake.

Taxpayers are spared a bill of millions in severance pay for deputy ministers and other senior staff who would be purged in large numbers in the left-right lurch that has defined B.C. politics for a generation.

BC Ferries will continue as an arms-length operation, with ferry commissioner Gord Macatee in charge of service levels as well as fare caps. The service rationalization that the government set out in the past year will continue.

The NDP platform vowed to “position BC Ferries as an integral part of B.C.’s transportation infrastructure.” Freely translated, that means “suck BC Ferries back into government,” as one of their strident supporters likes to say.

That would conceal the growth of the subsidy and facilitate the kind of political and union interference that resulted in the current structure.

There will be no $10 million rehash of the BC Rail sale and subsequent seven-year trial, to enrich elite lawyers once again.

The NDP promised an inquiry for strictly political reasons, to drag their opponents through the scandal one more time. It was not a prelude to “nationalizing” the province’s train service, dream scenarios of the NDP provincial council notwithstanding.

Costly legal confrontations over development projects have been avoided. The Jumbo Glacier Resort proponents finally won a 20-year fight for permits, and the NDP promised to take them away.

A larger ideological battle over private power contracts has also been avoided. The B.C. Liberals have been caught by a sudden shift in power markets caused by cheap, abundant natural gas, but the billions in commitments to independent power producers isn’t the fiasco that critics have described.

If all those privately developed run-of-river hydro projects were owned and operated by BC Hydro, the Crown corporation would have to staff them and maintain them all for the next 40 years. There are differing views about the future demand for electricity in B.C., but it can only rise with industry and population growth.

A decade of federal and provincial work to end duplication of environmental assessment won’t be undone. NDP leader Adrian Dix’s promise for “made in B.C.” reviews was a strategy to choke resource projects to death under endless procedure, which may yet be the fate the Jumbo resort.

We will have a Seniors’ Advocate office, but it won’t be staffed up to duplicate the Ombudsperson’s role of taking complaints.

That’s good, since the Ombudsperson has become ineffective, labouring for years over a massive seniors’ report with so many recommendations it sank like a stone.

We have 85 seniors’ advocates now. They’re called MLAs, and they definitely take complaints.

They have staffed offices in their home communities and in Victoria. When they’re not doing political work that everyone denies is going on in constituency offices, those office staffers try to help people through the labyrinth of seniors’ at-home and institutional care.

A new seniors’ advocate can offer advice at the management level to help the health care system evolve, but only elected politicians are positioned to tell individuals they can’t have what they are demanding. The government should be adding more direct services, not more bureaucrats.

There will be many arguments about the failure of the NDP to win against an unpopular B.C. Liberal government that is still weighed down by the harmonized sales tax and other heavy baggage.

This election could be the beginning of the end for the old left-right model for B.C. politics.

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

 

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