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Opinion

Bad Week for Democracy in BC

Libs showed several ways their disdain for the public goes well beyond the HST.

By Bill Tieleman 4 May 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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Premier Gordon Campbell and Finance Minister Colin Hansen.

"Politics would be a helluva good business if it weren't for the goddamned people." -- Former U.S. president Richard Nixon

The B.C. Liberal governments contempt for democracy that became obvious last year with their plan to impose the Harmonized Sales Tax has now mushroomed out of control.

In recent days the disdain for the public coming out of Victoria resembles the final days of the Nixon White House.

Last week, B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen went apoplectic after Elections B.C. rightly ruled that his government could not send a $1 million mailer to all British Columbians full of pro-HST propaganda while the Fight HST citizens Initiative petition campaign continued.

Hansen's response? To demand that Elections B.C. invalidate the Fight HST petition itself, claiming the proponent -- former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm -- and the New Democratic Party had "misled" signers about HST impacts.

What? Did close to 200,000 voters sign the petition so far because they were misinformed? Or because they don't want to get hosed by Hansen?

And this from a government that still won't tell British Columbians which goods and services will get hit with an extra seven per cent come July 1?

The Ontario Liberal government has put What's Taxable Under the HST and What's Not online for months, but B.C. still refuses to do so.

Elections B.C. politely told Hansen his complaint is full of H****S**T but the government's contempt continues.

Democracy de-Commissioned

The B.C. Liberals' new "Clean Energy Act" is dirty politics, a blatant attack on the independence of the B.C. Utilities Commission, the body that regulates provincial electricity rates and needs with open hearings, including funding public interest and industry groups to ensure all sides are heard.

The B.C. Liberals campaigned in 2001 on "restoring" the BCUC's independence but this act instead puts private independent power producers in charge by exempting them from BCUC regulation.

"It's critical that we restore the independence of the Utilities Commission to properly do its job on behalf of utilities and consumers alike without political interference. We intend to do that," Campbell told the Canadian Institute of Energy in November 2000. Another log on the fire.

Perhaps the most telling comment comes in a news release from the IPP Finavera Renwables praising the Act: "Of particular importance to Finavera's four wind projects is the provision that exempts contracts awarded in the Clean Power Call from a separate BC Utilities Commission review."

No kidding! And as The Tyee's Will McMartin has reported, Finavera is headed by two former Accenture Business Services executives responsible for privatizing one-third of B.C. Hydro operations and has a $41 million accumulated deficit.

But now it has won four wind farm contracts with the potential to earn over $100 million a year -- and the BCUC can't even examine this deal or any others under BC Hydro's "Clean Power Call"!

Call it the B.C. Futilities Commission from now on, for all the impact it will have in defending consumers' interests with IPPs profits being subsidized by BC Hydro customers with no possibility of investigating.

The bad trade deal no one told you about

And you probably haven't even heard about a new trade agreement the B.C. Liberals signed with Alberta and Saskatchewan that takes effect July 1 along with the HST.

The New West Partnership Trade Agreement allows Alberta and Saskatchewan companies to do business in B.C. without establishing offices here. And guess what? Alberta and Saskatchewan don't have the expensive HST to worry about!

The deal also means the provincial, municipal and regional governments won't be allowed to "discriminate" by favouring local hiring or businesses for most contracts. That will put B.C. workers and companies out of jobs, particularly given Alberta has no provincial sales tax and Saskatchewan no HST.

The hits keep coming

Then there's the government's refusal to give B.C.'s independent Representative for Children and Youth -- Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond -- access to cabinet documents regarding her investigation into a program where children are placed in the home of a relative.

Despite previously receiving such records, the government has rejected Turpel-Lafond's request, wrongly claiming it was prohibited from doing so by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

But just in case there was any question of Turpel-Lafond actually succeeding in doing her job by appealing that decision, the B.C. Liberals have also introduced a legislative amendment to remove her authority to gain access to such documents.

Contempt for the public at every turn -- and I haven't even mentioned other flagrant and widespread violations of the FOI Act or how this government fails to regulate salmon fish farms or how it cuts health care and education despite overwhelming opposition.

Incredibly aggravating. But while waiting for the next election -- and likely recall campaigns against B.C. Liberal MLAs in November -- there is one concrete way for voters to express their anger immediately. Sign the Fight HST citizens initiative petition.  [Tyee]

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