BC Liberals show disdain for democracy itself

Education minister Mike Bernier fires the Vancouver School Board. | Photo corutesy of the Province of B.C

Education minister Mike Bernier fires the Vancouver School Board. | Photo corutesy of the Province of B.C

The B.C. election campaign is already underway. Unofficially, that is. The writ won’t actually be dropped until about a month before the fixed voting date of May 9, 2017. For that official campaign period, there’s a legislated spending of several million dollars.

But the governing BC Liberals, having raked in piles of money from their wealthy and corporate supporters, have cash to burn. In 2015, the Liberals raised more than four times more than the opposition NDP. This is the tilted playing field of our democracy, and Christy Clark’s team is taking full advantage. B.C.’s premier has always employed a permanent campaign style of governing, preferring hard hat photo-ops throughout the province and LNG sales trip abroad to actually sitting in Victoria debating legislation.

Back in August, a full nine months before E-Day, the Liberals unveiled the unofficial campaign’s first television ad. The one minute video features Premier Clark sitting at a table drinking coffee and expounding on her belief in jobs and in limiting government spending, while several people sit silently smiling and nodding their approval.

The ad is simple and effective in conveying its narrow message, and offers a preview of how the Liberals will attempt to win re-election again: It’s the economy, stupid; please pay no attention to inequality, unaffordability, corruption, or the environment.

Recent actions by the Liberals reveal, beyond a mere desire to maximize their advantage with early campaigning, downright disdain for democracy itself.

With scant notice, the governing party cancelled the fall session of the legislature that was supposed to run from Oct. 3 to Nov. 24. It won’t reconvene until February, when there’ll be a brief pre-election session. The Liberals pulled this trick last election as well, cancelling the Fall 2012 session of the legislature ahead of the 2013 election.

This gives Liberal MLAs time to get an early start on door knocking in their constituencies, but importantly it also deprives the opposition of a showcase for their criticism of the government. Earlier this year, Christy Clark was facing real heat for inaction on the housing affordability crisis, and for her unreported “top up” pay from the BC Liberals and the related issue of her party’s big money fundraising methods. With a number of scandals simmering, best to turn out the lights in Victoria and change the subject.

“Official” school trustee Dianne Turner. | Photo corutesy of the Vancouver School Board

“Official” school trustee Dianne Turner. | Photo corutesy of the Vancouver School Board

The next anti-democratic move by the Liberals was even more egregious. Last week, Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the elected Vancouver School Board, showing contempt for the mandate earned by the trustees from tens of thousands of voters.

The firing was supposedly due to the board’s failure to approve a balanced budget by the June 30 deadline. (The majority of the VSB trustees had voted against the proposed budget to protest provincial cuts and systemic underfunding of public education.) But the VSB chairperson, trustee Mike Lombardi, had just informed the B.C. government that they intended to vote through a balanced budget at a meeting on Oct. 17. Bernier responded by announcing the firing of the board just hours before that vote was to take place.

The Education Minister has appointed Dianne Turner to run the whole school board herself, effectively usurping the role of nine elected trustees. Turner seemed all too aware of the implications of this move, announcing at her first press conference, “There is a fear that that voice for the public has disappeared because I was not elected. It won’t feel like democracy has been served to people, I guarantee that. I do understand where the fears are coming from and why people are worried.”

At a rally held Oct. 20 outside the offices of the Vancouver School Board, NDP leader John Horgan vowed to reinstate the elected trustees should his party win election.

The fate of the VSB is just one way that democracy itself will be on the ballot next May. We must not let these public voices disappear under the narrowly-focused and well-funded barrage of pre-campaign advertising by the BC Liberals.