No matter how well-intentioned the B.C. government's first round of electoral reforms may be, they are -- for the most part -- cosmetic in nature when contrasted against the public's very real loss of confidence in local democracy. Without meaningful electoral finance reform including election spending and contribution limits, candidacy for local government will -- by and large -- remain the purview of the affluent and well-connected.
The province's new ID card, known as the BC Services Card, began rolling out earlier this year. At present, it combines both drivers licence and provincial health care card. Given the hundreds of millions of dollars the government has spent on other high-profile IT projects that failed miserably -- including BCeSIS, Integrated Case Management -- the provincial government has real reason to be concerned about what citizens think of their latest project.
A billion here, a billion there, it adds up. That's the problem with shopping lists. The municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver are facing the same predicament as they try to choose between the bare necessities, luxuries and how you're going to pay for it all. While some of these projects may be sold to the public as "self-supported" that's just political-speak for "you're still picking up the tab." Whether it's through tolls or tipping fees, they're just euphemisms for picking your pocket.
Economically and environmentally, natural gas makes sense as a fuel choice for transportation. A new waste or recycling collection truck powered by natural gas costs approximately 15 per cent more than a conventional diesel powered truck, but as natural gas has historically cost less than diesel, we expect a quick return on this investment.
The B.C. provincial government has been throwing around some big numbers and promises with the planned expansion of natural gas operations, but one large number missing in the discussion is the millions of tonnes of heat-trapping methane gas they are not reporting in official government documents. And, with the planned expansion of natural gas extraction and exports, B.C.'s climate targets are set to rise by as much as 25 per cent, or the equivalent of adding three million cars to our province's roads.
British Columbians, both voters and politicians, who care about democracy need to start talking about electoral reform again. A minority of voters elected a B.C. Liberal majority government. Here's one way Legislature can one day be reflective of the people you see on the streets of every city, town and village across the province.
Out of the 32,328 votes cast between June 2001 and April 2012, just 80 or 0.25 percent were cast by MLAs voting against their own party. That means a party with a majority can essentially do whatever it wants in the legislature -- so much so that last time a government bill was defeated was 1953, the same year Joseph Stalin died. But those numbers also suggest, as one former MLA told me, "There's got to be times -- random chance if nothing else -- that some of us actually disagree with what we're voting on." It's a position, if you're elected, you could find yourself in.
Legislative oversight is fundamental to good government. And with less and less of it, the government does more and more by decree. B.C. isn't well-served by that. In 2012, the B.C. legislature sat for 47 days. Among its numerous legislative duties: to debate and approve a $44-billion budget. Forty-seven days is simply insufficient to do that and everything else well.
Governments can and do cut income tax rates for a variety of political reasons, while simultaneously raising fees on a dizzying array of other services to offset those cuts. Somehow they can do both at the same time with a straight face. A toll here, a casino there and the B.C. government is doing its best to find more-and-more imaginative ways of picking our pockets without hiking income tax rates.
Trust must be the cornerstone of the relationship between a government and its taxpayers. Every year, we hand over our hard-earned money a bank account worth $42 billion to our politicians. We expect them to run our affairs professionally and efficiently and to keep us well-informed on their plans. When that trust erodes, it's very difficult for government to earn it back. But it can be done, if Clark and de Jong are willing to change their behaviour.
Citing a whole range of exceptions from legal privilege to law enforcement to personal privacy, the ministry refused to release any of the records we requested. This, despite the fact that our request should have little or nothing to do with lawyers or police! An RCMP investigation shouldn't mean that every record held by the ministry is automatically off-limits to FOI requests.