BC Liberals Weigh Ideas that Sound NDP-esque

Poverty policies among motions as party convenes this weekend.

By Andrew MacLeod 23 May 2014 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Will Christy Clark-led BC Liberals change their name? One of many resolutions slated for party's Kelowna summit.

While the BC Liberal Party's debate on changing its name will likely get the most attention at this weekend's convention in Kelowna, at least 80 other resolutions have been put forward on everything from fixing the ferry system to amalgamating municipalities.

Despite winning an unexpected fourth majority government in a row as the BC Liberal Party, there is a strong movement to ditch the name. After the upset win a year ago, The Globe and Mail quoted Premier Christy Clark saying the name isn't inclusive enough.

Former cabinet minister Colin Hansen, provincial council chair Donny van Dyk and Paula Peterson from Parksville-Qualicum have put forward a motion to debate a name change, though it does not specify what name might be adopted.

"If 2/3 of those delegates voting support the change of the name of the BCLP then the Provincial Executive will undertake, in consultation with the Provincial Council, to enact a Bylaw establishing the process to consider alternative names and to present the same to the BCLP membership for consideration as an amendment to the BCLP constitution," says the motion to be debated Saturday morning.

Other resolutions include some that appear to have come straight from the NDP's policy file.

One put forward by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows constituency association would end the practice of deducting child support payments from the money the government provides to people as income assistance. The NDP has driven the issue in recent months in Question Period and by bringing people affected by the policy to the legislature.

"One out of every nine children in Canada are living in poverty and the poverty rate for children living in families headed by lone-parents is one of the highest poverty rates of any family type in the province," said the motion. "Court ordered child support payments to parents on income assistance are deducted from their income assistance payments dollar to dollar thereby reducing costs to government."

The province should amend the regulations so that legally required child support payments no longer count as income when calculating how much financial support the government will provide, it said. The move would cost $17 million a year and "would provide additional support to single parent families on income assistance."

Another, from the two Prince George constituency associations, supports addressing poverty through a measure long advocated by the NDP and various advocacy groups. "The poverty rate in B.C. is still too high," the motion said. "We need to work collaboratively with NGO's in this field, to develop a comprehensive and coordinated plan, with legislated targets and timelines to effectively address Poverty in B.C."

New course for BC Ferries

At least half a dozen resolutions advocate a major change of directions for BC Ferries. One advocates using one third of the proposed BC Prosperity Fund from liquefied natural gas revenue to pay down the government-owned ferry company's debt. Another calls for paying down BC Ferries debt "as soon as Provincial GDP shows sustained growth." Both came from the Powell River-Sunshine Coast constituency association.

Nanaimo-North Cowichan had this to add: "BC Ferry Fares have risen so dramatically to meet the increased costs of operating the system. This has reduced the ridership and impacted the cost of living in coastal communities."

It suggested, "The provincial government continue to subsidize coastal communities in the same manner that B.C. funds our provincial public highway system. This will ensure fiscal fairness exists for the provision of B.C.'s highways system, BC Transit System, and the marine transportation networks."

Another motion from Powell River-Sunshine Coast advocated creating a "BC Ferries rate stabilization fund."

"Businesses and individuals prefer certainty in forward planning that can be provided by government policies that mute fluctuating market forces," it said. "Ferry fuel prices continue to rise and fall and with them the rise and fall of surcharges. This is an ongoing irritant with BC Ferry users. The widely fluctuating international price of oil has served to create deepening uncertainty in ferry dependent communities about their future. Future oil price spikes cannot be precluded despite expanding North American production."

The solution set out in the motion is a fund that would reduce the number of changes to BC Ferries surcharges in any two year period.

Two Capital Region constituencies would like BC Ferries to be better funded. "Over the past decade, albeit within the context of a much-needed renewal of the BC Ferries fleet, fares have more than doubled to small island communities, putting a significant economic burden on families in coastal communities and businesses that serve these communities and employ British Columbians," said the resolution from Victoria-Beacon Hill and Saanich North and the Islands.

They put forward, "That BC Ferries be recognized as an essential element of the transportation infrastructure of British Columbia and funded accordingly, such that the service is sustainable, affordable, and supportive of our coastal economy and communities."

Join cities, save money

Other motions likely to be controversial with the public call on the government to consider amalgamating municipalities.

"In many parts of British Columbia there are excessive numbers of local governments with continual spending and staffing increases far in excess of growth or inflation," said the motion from Cowichan Valley and Saanich North and the Islands.

"In the Victoria Capital region there are 14 local governments with 84 politicians governing a relatively small geographic area with less than 360,000 people," it said. "In the adjacent Cowichan Valley with 80,000 residents there are five local governments and a total of 41 politicians. Each local government has its own costly administrative structures with highly paid executives and services that are duplicated in each organisation with minimal integration or cooperation.

"Many of these government entities have taken on and provide taxpayer money to initiatives and causes beyond their traditional and legal mandates," it said. "Local governments in BC employ thousands of mostly unionized staff receiving pay and benefits far in excess of the average taxpayer who supports these local governments. Unlike senior levels of government, local governments have not constrained spending or even considered alternate delivery models for providing services at lower cost."

It calls for consolidating local governments and to provide provincial oversight on staffing, wages and salaries "to protect taxpayer's [sic] from taxation increases in excess of inflation or growth."

Parksville-Qualicum put in a resolution for a comprehensive review and public consultation looking at all tax legislation "and an assessment of whether or not the tax or fee is achieving the purpose for which it was created" with an eye towards reducing the number of taxes and fees and making the tax code "more common sense."

Skeena wants a housing affordability strategy to make real estate and rentals more affordable for middle class citizens, with a Liberal twist: "Create a strategy to use the free market to create middle class housing that people can afford based on incomes, by creating an investment climate that will create long-term high paying private sector jobs."

Some motions, such as those calling for reducing minimum fares in the limo business and a few related to taxis, support more open business competition. Another wants to restrict cross-border business in the northeast of the province as the liquefied natural gas industry gets going.

"Tax revenue, jobs and contracts are flowing into Alberta, with only a trickle leaking into B.C.," said the motion from Peace River South. "A level playing field needs to be established so that BC businesses can compete fairly against Alberta based companies. Issues concerning the payment of taxes and the procurement of equipment and supplies are often asserted."

Ditch Site C, secure industrial land

Others represent major changes in BC Liberal and government policy.

Parksville-Qualicum wants to work towards providing British Columbians with an annual statement on the costs of their healthcare. "Progress in improving the value of our public health care system would be assisted by broad public appreciation of costs and reform prospects," it said.

Another resolution calls for BC Hydro to ditch plans for the Site C dam on the Peace River and instead build natural gas electrical generating stations. The Chilliwack-Hope initiative also wants the removal of the requirement that 93 per cent of B.C.'s energy be clean or renewable.

Land should be set aside for industrial use the way it is now for agriculture, says a resolution from Vancouver-Point Grey. "The Lower Mainland has a shortage of industrial land in particular lands associated with tidewater and major shipping routes," it said. "For example, Delta Port has no land based industrial facility because the land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve. This has resulted in an inefficient port where containers need to be trucked to intermodal yards in Coquitlam and Pitt meadows, as well as Surrey."

It suggests striking an Industrial Land Commission which would work with other levels of government to "identify and reserve industrial land where that allocation is in the national and provincial interest and to the benefit of all Canadian [sic]."

Surrey Panorama wants all expenditures by MLAs to be made public to ensure transparency and respect for taxpayers' money.

With limited time for debate, not all of the resolutions will make it to the plenary floor. Ahead of the convention members were voting on their priorities, which will determine which motions get open discussion and which quietly disappear.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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