May 16 marked the second anniversary of the B.C. Liberals' 2005 win. To commemorate the Campbell government reaching its halfway point, we decided to compile a midterm report card on key cabinet ministers and Opposition MLAs. We've concentrated most of our attention on MLAs representing Vancouver and the inner suburbs.
There are lots of reasons to give Gordo an F on his midterm performance. Earlier this year, he stood up in the legislature and opposed banning corporate and union donations to provincial political parties, ensuring oligarchical rule will continue as long as he's premier. ("I believe that banning donations actually undermines the principle of including people in the public process," he claimed.)
When B.C.'s former deputy minister of health, Dr. Penny Ballem, resigned last year, she claimed that the Campbell government's planned health-care reforms were "unsound". When Campbell launched his Conversation on Health, he misled the public by claiming that B.C.'s health-care system is unsustainable when this has been contradicted by health economists, including UBC's esteemed Robert Evans.
Campbell's government has given away our river system to so-called green power producers and is now about to turn over the regional transportation system to the road-building lobby. Campbell's government also introduced the odious Bill 30 last year, which ensured that regional districts and local governments cannot make zoning decisions that prevent British Columbia Utilities Commission–approved energy projects from going ahead.
In addition, Campbell keeps chipping away at the Agricultural Land Reserve, notably in the recent treaty negotiated with the Tsawwassen First Nation. As a politician, Campbell sometimes seems incapable of anticipating the future. Witness the cost overruns on the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre. They were entirely predictable. And it's extremely likely that the bigger convention centre won't attract a lot of new business. He also fails to recognize that his big transportation investments will look awfully foolish when fuel prices eventually rise to astronomical levels.
So why a C– and not an F? Campbell boosted welfare rates slightly in the last budget. His government recently bought 11 single-room-occupancy hotels in Vancouver and Victoria, which could slow the rise in homelessness. He has capped the rate of increases in tuition; eliminated taxes for people earning less than $15,000 a year; banned coal-fired plants unless they capture their carbon emissions; revived legislative committees; and tried to forge a more harmonious relationship with First Nations. The economy is humming along quite well in many areas. And the bond-rating agencies have responded by boosting B.C.'s credit rating, which results in lower debt-servicing costs for taxpayers.
NDP Leader: D
James has to carry a lot of the responsibility for the NDP's dreadful polling numbers, which are a result partly of a mostly invisible caucus and partly of less-than-stellar opposition research and communications. A recent Mustel Research Group poll had the NDP trailing the B.C. Liberals by 15 percent, and James's approval rating lagged 12 percent behind the premier's.
In her defence, she was diagnosed with cancer last year, which kept her out of the spotlight for a while. However, during her term as Opposition leader, the NDP has had few successes. And it's unclear where the party stands on some key issues.
For example, what is the NDP's position on twinning the Port Mann Bridge? How does the NDP feel about clear-cut logging in community watersheds? We don't know.
Thanks to the work of MLA Adrian Dix and others, the NDP managed to keep the pressure on the B.C. Liberal government for its abysmal record on child protection. Campbell ordered an investigation by retired judge Ted Hughes, who brought forward 62 recommendations, including the appointment of an independent advocate for children and youth.
The NDP also increased pressure on the government with respect to homelessness and the safety of farm workers. But James has failed to galvanize the public in her efforts to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour, which is too bad for people struggling in this economy on eight bucks per hour or less.
Until recently, the NDP did not have much impact on the government's health-care policies. James responded by changing the lineup of critics.
James is an effective debater, but she has tried to create a more collegial and cooperative atmosphere in the legislature, which hasn't done her party a lot of good in the polls. James still has time to turn things around. However, don't expect her to last very long as NDP leader if she loses the 2009 election.
Finance Minister: C+
Taylor has softened the B.C. Liberal government's image by bringing in a budget that threw some crumbs at the poor–for instance, raising the income-assistance and shelter allowance to $610 from $510 for a single employable person and raising the rate by $155 to $1,036 for an employable single parent with two children. She also opened up the treasury to provide public servants and teachers with a decent raise and signing bonuses after they endured some brutal Campbell-style austerity during the first term of the B.C. Liberal government.
On the downside, Taylor remains a firm ideological adherent to public-private partnerships, despite the dreadful impact that this approach has had on the British health-care system. She still hasn't fired Partnerships BC boss Larry Blain, who managed to bill the government for $45,325 in expenses in 2005-06–including some very expensive meals–on top of his $519,448 salary and bonuses.
NDP Finance Critic: C–
Ralston, a former chairman of Vancity, has one of the legislature's most important jobs, yet he is virtually invisible to most British Columbians. Because the NDP refused to oppose the Canada Line and the expansion of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, the NDP finance critic can't stand up with any legitimacy in the legislature and complain about these boondoggles. So he concentrates instead on such things as the B.C. Liberal government's dirty tricks. As a result, Carole Taylor has enjoyed a free ride in the media.
Economic Development Minister: F
Hansen is the minister responsible for the British Columbia–Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, which allows dispute-resolution panels to issue rulings on complaints filed by companies against governments. Hansen didn't bring this before the legislature for debate, showing that he and the premier still have a lot to learn about democracy. Hansen is also the minister responsible for the Olympics, where he has also demonstrated a lack of interest in public accountability. VANOC is not subject to the Financial Information Act or the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and Hansen has done nothing to rectify this.
Jenny Wai Ching Kwan
NDP Critic for Economic Development: B
Not long after Kwan held a news conference to highlight broken Olympic promises regarding homelessness, the Campbell government announced the purchase of 11 single-room occupancy hotels in Vancouver and Victoria. Kwan is an excellent debater in the legislature, and very few NDP MLAs can match her ability to highlight the heartlessness of B.C. Liberal policies on housing, income assistance, and childcare.
Transportation Minister: D–
Falcon rammed the grossly overpriced Canada Line through the TransLink board. He did this by making provincial funding conditional on the line being built by a public-private partnership. Then Falcon decided to eliminate local control over regional transportation because the TransLink board couldn't manage its finances, thanks to the Canada Line. For good measure, Falcon oversaw the ruination of Eagleridge Bluffs with an overland expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway. Falcon is also forcing the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge on the region with little consultation. He missed receiving an F because he's giving his Surrey-Cloverdale constituents exactly what many of them want: more roads. Occasionally, Falcon promotes more cycling.
NDP Transportation Critic: C+
He deserves an A for effort for showing up at numerous community events dealing with the Gateway project, and for regularly raising hell about rail safety. He's a terrific debater in the legislature. The unfortunate reality is that the NDP has an incoherent transportation policy, which lowered his grade. NDP MLAs south of the Fraser River, such as Bruce Ralston, have previously expressed support for twinning the Port Mann Bridge. But MLAs in East Vancouver, including Chudnovsky, recognize that their constituents oppose this. So the party has sent out mixed messages.
Attorney General: C–
Oppal has been a bit of a dud in the legislature. He seemed out of his depth on the deaths of children in care. He sidestepped questions about the Liberals' dirty tricks with media relations, claiming it would be improper to discuss this because it arose in a criminal trial. He also introduced Bill 30 last year, which wiped out the right of municipalities and regional districts to make zoning decisions on British Columbia Utilities Commission–approved power projects.
Oppal oversaw the shameful offer to Woodlands survivors, then wouldn't discuss it because it was before the courts. In addition, Oppal introduced a bill giving TILMA dispute-resolution panel decisions the same legal authority as a B.C. Supreme Court ruling. As if that's not enough, he also didn't play a very constructive role after an RCMP officer shot Ian Bush in the back of the head in an RCMP detachment in Houston, B.C. But he survived a cancer scare and, in the process, helped raise awareness of the disease. So it wasn't an entirely bad first two years in office.
NDP House Leader: D
Farnworth, a law-and-order politician, has to carry some of the blame for the NDP's poor results in the polls. As the NDP's second-in-command, Farnworth sometimes seems more interested in playing to the CanWest journalists in the press gallery than in working with social movements vying for change in our society. This has contributed to the growing gulf between the provincial NDP and its traditional supporters.
Energy Minister: F
Neufeld has given away scores of B.C. rivers to independent power producers. He has invited energy companies to drain our natural-gas fields without adequate public benefits flowing back to the government. Now he's laying the groundwork for offshore drilling and for the prohibitively expensive Site C dam on the Peace River. Historians might judge this cabinet minister harshly.
NDP Energy Critic: C–
New Democrats think Horgan is a star because he's quick with a sound bite and he talks the language of business. But if Horgan were really doing his job, he would be rousing the public to oppose Campbell's giveaway of our river system instead of focusing so much attention on gasoline prices.
Everyone knows that high gasoline costs are a downer for drivers and small businesses. But higher prices also curb consumption, reduce emissions, and result in fewer kids with asthma showing up in emergency wards. In the meantime, Campbell is giving away B.C.'s capacity to generate renewable power for its citizens, and the NDP energy critic is not doing nearly enough to stop it.
Health Minister: F
Abbott's former deputy minister Penny Ballem quit, claiming that the government's plans for health care were "unsound". She said only 40 percent of people with diabetes receive good care. Then he fired the chair of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which was quickly followed by the resignation of the chair of the Fraser Health Authority. Abbott is a dud, which might explain why the premier brought his brother-in-law, Dr. Les Vertessi, on a tour of European health-care facilities. Abbott had to stay home to deal with another controversy: the death of 91-year-old Fanny Albo two days after she was separated from her 97-year-old husband, Alfred, in their Trail long-term-care home. Maybe it's time that the premier separated Abbott from his cabinet position.
NDP Health Critic: A–
Dix did a superb job as the critic for children and families, forcing the government to order an inquiry by retired judge Ted Hughes. This led directly to the creation of a new officer of the legislature, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, to act as an independent advocate for children and youth. Dix has also been an effective health critic, highlighting financial shortfalls at various health authorities and pointing out how the government is not enforcing the Medicare Protection Act. However, Dix has pulled his punches somewhat on the premier's Conversation on Health, preferring to let the process unfold rather than use his office to highlight the possibility that this could be part of a secret agenda by the premier to give private insurers more access to the public health-care system. He introduced a motion, which passed, recognizing the Armenian genocide from 1915 to 1923 as a crime against humanity.
NDP Environment Critic: B–
Simpson knows the issues, but for someone with a great deal of communications experience, he rarely shows up in the media compared to his Vancouver compatriots Adrian Dix and David Chudnovsky. However, Simpson put sufficient pressure on the government in the legislature to force Campbell to back down from allowing coal-fired electricity plants.
Liberal MLA: C+
His first term representing Vancouver-Burrard was marred by the introduction of the Safe Streets Act and mean-spirited disputes with a postal worker and a panhandler. But in his second term, Mayencourt has tried to highlight new approaches to drug treatment, brought in a member's bill to address motorcycle noise, and has promised to resign his seat if his own government moves St. Paul's Hospital out of the West End. Now if only he could convince the premier to stop denying welfare to young people who haven't been independent of their parents for two years.
NDP Critic for Small Business, Revenue and Deregulation: C
Robertson did some good work highlighting the problems faced by foreign students who were screwed on their student loans. He has also raised serious concerns in the legislature about the risks of offshore drilling, and he assisted tenants in his constituency who were being evicted. But he hasn't lived up to his star billing during the 2005 election campaign, which might explain why his leader, Carole James, shuffled him out as the critic for advanced education.
Liberal MLA: C+
As chair of the legislature's health committee, Sultan promoted measures to address childhood obesity, and the government responded with the ActNow initiative. Sultan, a former chief economist with the Royal Bank, also gave MLAs a fairly thorough education on the ineffectiveness of gasoline-price regulation after the NDP's John Horgan raised this in the legislature. On the downside, Sultan did little to stop his government from ruining Eagleridge Bluffs to make room for an overland-highway route in his own constituency, West Vancouver–Capilano.
Liberal MLA: D
Dan who? One of the legislature's foremost fish-farming advocates has been warming his seat for 16 years and still hasn't been promoted to cabinet.
Liberal MLA: C–
Whittred has taken an interest in housing issues, which might be a factor behind the government's newfound interest in this area. But she hasn't had a great deal to say in the legislature, and the City of North Vancouver in her constituency was financially clobbered by the Campbell government's decision to cap municipal taxes paid by waterfront businesses.
Liberal MLA: C–
Every once in a while, Yap stands up in the legislature and either praises the B.C. Liberals' economic policies, highlights the importance of immigration, or reminds fellow MLAs about the historical contributions of Chinese Canadians. He likes TILMA, and he hasn't expressed any concern that it wasn't brought before the legislature for debate.
Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services: C–
Ilich, a rookie MLA, handled herself well in her first year as the minister responsible for arts and culture. But she hasn't fared nearly as well in the labour portfolio. She came across abysmally in the legislature following a horrible motor-vehicle accident involving farm workers. Ilich couldn't even answer NDP MLA Raj Chouhan's question about why farm workers aren't eligible for minimum wage, overtime, and holiday pay.
Minister of State for Childcare: D
The B.C. Liberal government has not invested nearly enough money in childcare (see page 13). In addition, Reid and the premier haven't made that big a deal of the federal Conservative government's decision to scrap child care agreements with the provinces.
NDP Critic for Mental Health: C
Chouhan has taken on a number of issues, including safety of farm workers, sham marriages for immigration purposes, and the restoration of the British Columbia Human Rights Commission, which the Campbell government scrapped several years ago. His leader changed his critic's portfolio from human rights to mental health, where he has been somewhat less active.
Liberal MLA: C
Lee often touts the benefits of the provincewide Foundation Skills Assessment tests in grades 4 and 7, and he has also defended the Gateway program as a necessary component of increasing Canada's trade with Asia. Lee isn't flashy, but he has regularly reached out to the aboriginal community.
Liberal MLA: C
Nuraney, an Ismaili Muslim, stood up in the legislature and urged the Conservative government and the United Nations to do much more to halt the genocide in Darfur. He is one of the legislature's strongest proponents of multiculturalism. But like other Liberal MLAs, he hasn't resisted the trend toward public-private partnerships in health care, which, according to some peer-reviewed research, inevitably leads to higher health-care costs.
NDP Labour Critic: C+
Puchmayr has kept up the pressure in the legislature on workers' safety and on farm-vehicle inspections. He is also knowledgeable about a wide range of issues in his community, which reduces the likelihood that New Westminster will be ignored when the province doles out funds for health and housing projects.