Don’t let Christy Clark and the Liberals continue to fly under the radar

Three key B.C. political issues to watch in 2015

Since Christy Clark took over as Premier of British Columbia, she has convened the Legislature in Victoria so seldomly that it’s easy to forget about provincial politics altogether.

With a federal election looming sometime in 2015, and the next B.C. election still more than two years away, it would be easy to let Clark and the B.C. Liberals continue to fly under the media radar. But that would be a terrible mistake.

Under the Canadian system, the provincial government wields key powers. Premier Clark clearly prefers “governing” without messy legislative process and debate. Put less charitably, she prefers a permanent campaign, and a permanent sales pitch, to democracy.

There are a number of key issues to watch in this New Year.

For starters, we need to pay close attention to what initiatives Clark and the Liberals roll-out with respect to education, after last year’s bitter and protracted labour dispute with the B.C. teachers.

Mount Polley mine near Likely, B.C. | Photo by Photonomus

Mount Polley mine near Likely, B.C. | Photo by Photonomus

On Jan. 29, Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who antagonized B.C.’s public school teachers to no end last summer, will unveil a so-called Innovation Strategy, which he claims will aim to put “education transformation into action by working with other schools and post-secondary researchers to gather evidence that shows actions are improving student success.” That’s a mouthful, but what education advocates are really looking for in 2015 is a commitment by the B.C. government to at last, after years of being rebuked in the Courts, address the issue of class size.

Vancouver School Board (VSB) Trustee and public education advocate Patti Bacchus, who unfortunately is not continuing as the Chair of the VSB thanks to a cynical move by new Green Party Trustee Janet Fraser, noted on social media that the B.C. government’s Jan. 29 event features five men and no women, “Good grief. All male experts coming to B.C. to talk about future of #bced.”

In addition to education, the environment will be a key issue in 2015. Last summer’s disastrous tailings pond breach at Mount Polley ranks as the worst such mining disaster in the province’s history. There needs to be a much more thorough investigation of what the B.C. government knew and did about Mount Polley prior to the breach, and also more scrutiny of how they have deregulated the mining industry in general. Clark sold herself as someone who would “cut red tape” to help big business; now that a disaster of this magnitude has happened, it’s time to put that kind of pro-corporate rhetoric in question.

First Nations are taking the lead on this front. In the wake of the Polley spill, the chief of the Neskonlith band issued an eviction notice to Imperial Metals, specifically ordering the company not to proceed with its planned zinc and lead mine at Ruddock Creek, located northeast of Kamloops near the Upper Adams River.

Finally, in 2015, all eyes should be on the government’s grandiose plans for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) exports. Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals pulled off their stunning, come-from-behind election win in May 2013 with a campaign centred on the promised windfall B.C. would get from the development of LNG. Clark went so far as to refer to this industry as a “$1 trillion” windfall for B.C., linking this coming boom in gas exports with a promise to eliminate the provincial debt.

All this LNG hype could evaporate into thin air, however, with world oil and gas prices plummeting and more jurisdictions developing new and competing gas export projects. Even the Business Council of British Columbia showed extreme skepticism in a recent report, noting that “only a fraction of the 19 LNG projects listed in the [government] inventory” were ever likely to come online.

On top of the question of whether LNG will ever really happen, of course, is the small matter of the contribution yet more oil and gas extraction would have on the global fight against climate change. The B.C. government has legislation on the books requiring it to reduce emissions, but Christy Clark rarely if ever mentions that anymore.

Premier Clark seems more at home selling LNG and other corporate projects abroad than debating policy in Victoria. It’s up to us – the media, civil society and the public at large – to help make up this democratic deficit. A decent, sustainable future for B.C. is at stake.