Throughout 2015, the B.C. New Democrat Women’s Caucus was very active in raising issues of particular importance to women, as well as many other issues that concern all British Columbians.
In this newsletter, we highlight a wide variety of issues, from the challenges of increasing participation of girls and women in sport, to the urgent need for a poverty reduction plan; from Liberal mismanagement of our forest, wildlife and natural resources, to our ongoing call for safe transportation for women in northern B.C. You will read about the great work of the New Democrat-led Committee on Agriculture and Food. We include an account of a very successful multicultural communities reception in Burnaby. You will read about the work of the Select Standing Committee on Finance, and our concerns about the negative impact of the B.C. Liberals imposing fees for adult basic education and English language programs.
Members of the NDP Women’s Caucus also raised questions about the repeated tragic failure of government to protect children in care, and about the disgraceful Liberal culture of ignoring the public’s right to access to government information.
We met with a wide variety of women’s labour, business and community organizations.
And of course, we attended hundreds of events in Victoria and in our communities, including International Women’s Day, the Day of Remembrance and Prevention of Violence Against Women week, as well as business, non-profit, labour and community events.
We wish everyone all the best of the season, and a happy and successful 2016.
Kathy Corrigan, Chair of B.C. NDP Women’s Caucus
Strong Voices, Fighting for Women, Fighting for Services: Maurine Karagianis
Women’s issues played a significant role in the fall sitting of the B.C. Legislature.
Most notably, our ongoing quest for a bus system along the Highway of Tears uncovered a scandal within government that went right to the premier herself.
It all began with a Freedom of Information request about meetings between the transportation ministry and communities along the highway. The minister said that local people didn’t want bus service. Local people said the opposite. So we went looking for the notes from the meeting.
In an effort to prevent the truth about these meetings from getting out, staff in the Ministry of Transportation triple-deleted the emails we were requesting. It might have ended there, but a brave whistleblower, Tim Duncan, came forward and told the public what happened to those emails.
As a result, the Freedom of Information and Privacy commissioner did an investigation that revealed a culture of deleting emails in several ministries and most notably the premier’s own office. The results of this investigation were turned over to the RCMP who are now also investigating a B.C. Liberal political staffer who was involved. You can read more here.
We didn’t let dirty tricks, scandals or deleted emails end our fight for a bus system along the Highway of Tears, and I am pleased to report that after nearly 10 years, the government has finally begun addressing the concerns of communities and First Nations along this route with a $3 million investment in services and infrastructure.
This is just a first step, but it’s one step closer to a future where women and girls in norther communities have access to the safe, affordable transportation options that they deserve.
Maurine Karagianis, B.C. NDP Women’s Spokesperson
Amplifying the Voices of Those in Need: Michelle Mungall
Food bank use is on the rise, B.C. has an affordable housing crisis and 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Behind these statistics are the stories of real people, and many of them are single mothers and their children. What we are learning from recent studies is that single moms and their children are having the most difficult time accessing basic needs like affordable housing and nutritious food. There are many reasons for this, and that is why B.C. needs a poverty reduction plan.
New Democrats have introduced legislation for a poverty reduction plan four times since 2011, but each time the B.C. Liberals refuse to debate it. If we had a plan, it would look at poverty-creating policies like the B.C. Liberals’ maternity leave clawback that takes maternity and paternity leave benefits away from people with disabilities, and end them. Every other province has shown that plans work, it’s time B.C. got on board.
Together we fought for an end to the child support clawback, and together we can fight for an end to poverty. Tell Premier Christy Clark that you want a poverty reduction plan and an end to the maternity leave clawback by signing the petition at www.michellemungall.ca
Michelle Mungall, B.C. NDP Social Development Spokesperson
Stopping Privatization, Improving Public Health Care: Judy Darcy
We had two significant victories this fall that will protect and improve our health care system not just for women, but for all British Columbians.
First, by working closely with patient volunteers from across B.C. we were successful in getting the government to cancel the privatization of the Patient Voices Network.
This valuable program – which engages patients, and draws on their own experience, in order to improve the health care system – was in danger of being turned into a profit-centered program.
When we heard that the Ministry of Health was taking this program out of the hands of volunteers and into the hands of the multinational for-profit corporation Deloitte. We took immediate action.
Patient volunteers spoke out and wrote. I issued an open letter to the minister of health on Twitter. And two days later the minister responded on Twitter cancelling the contract with Deloitte. This was an important victory for patients, and a reaffirmation that our health care system is about people, not profits.
Perhaps even more importantly, through our work in the legislature we were able to get badly needed action from the government on MRI wait times.
For far too long, the B.C. government has allowed people who need an MRI to languish in severe pain and uncertainty, unable to get treatment because they don’t have a diagnosis. With wait times in B.C. the worst in Canada and among the worst in the developed world, too many people have been suffering for too long. Some patients were even forced to wait up to two years for an MRI!
Again, we took action, by speaking out and sharing people’s stories in the B.C. Legislature and through the media. You can read more here.
The added public pressure forced the Premier to finally take action. Funding for MRI’s will now be increased by $20 million over four years. That’s 65,000 more MRIs that will be performed across B.C., an increase of 45 per cent for each health authority. More importantly, that 65,000 people who will get the treatment they need sooner.
Judy Darcy, B.C. NDP Health Spokesperson
Opening Doors with Education: Kathy Corrigan
Over the past several months, we have repeatedly voiced strong opposition to the B.C. Liberal cuts to both English language courses and adult basic education courses.
For the past seven years, adults have been able to complete their high school, or upgrade their courses for free, through their local school board, or at colleges, free of charge. It was widely agreed that eliminating barriers for those seeking education was a good idea. A year ago, the B.C. Liberals announced an end to universal, tuition-free upgrading or completion. Students will now be charged up to $550 per course, or $1,600 per term. In addition, government has cut the funding for post-secondary English education courses.
The result is that the doors to our educational institutions are being slammed in the face of thousands of students, the majority of whom are women, who were working hard to make better lives for themselves and their families. Providing those opportunities is good for them, and it is good for the province. We should be encouraging education, not making it harder for people to become better educated.
In addition, we opposed legislation that removed the right of student societies to decide which student fees are mandatory, and transferred that power to government.
Finally, New Democrats believe that education needs to be a much higher priority for government. Post-secondary education has had its funding cut, at the same time as costs are increasing. The proportion of government funding for our colleges and universities has steadily declined under the B.C. Liberals, while both student debt and student loan interest rates in British Columbia are the highest in Canada.
Kathy Corrigan, B.C. NDP Advanced Education Spokesperson, Women’s Caucus Chair
A Woman’s Work is Never Done: Selina Robinson
It’s been a busy fall as the opposition spokesperson for local government, sports and seniors. I have been meeting with seniors organizations to learn more about the key issues that seniors are facing as they age in this province. These consultation have helped me to prepare to travel around the province to hear directly from seniors. The key issues that seniors have the greatest concerns for are health, housing and transportation. As a result I will be touring the province over the coming months with Judy Darcy, spokesperson on health, David Eby, spokesperson on housing and George Heyman, spokesperson for TransLink when we are in the lower mainland.
I have also been meeting with sport organizations and talking with them about growth challenges of their sport, especially as it relates to increasing the participation of girls and women at the player, coach and management levels.
Finally, this session I spent considerable time debating the changes that the Christy Clark government was making to the legislation on the Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) file – this office has a short two-year history that resulted in the waste of $5.2 million. Last spring we had a lot of success using question period to demonstrate to the public how the B.C. Liberals were wasting tax dollars, all the while denying that there was a problem with the office. A whistleblower then shared a report with the us showing that the office was in complete disarray, contrary to the minister’s comments that all was fine. Eventually the AGLG was fired. This fall we saw legislation that is intended to ‘fix’ the problems with this office. I will continue to closely monitor this file.
Selina Robinson, B.C. NDP Spokesperson for Local Government, Sports, and Seniors
Celebrating Diversity: Jane Shin
This past summer I had the privilege of hosting a multicultural communities reception with my colleague Bruce Ralston MLA for Surrey-Whalley, to introduce and connect our diverse cultural communities to each other and to their elected representatives, service providers, and business stakeholders.
Over 120 friends from 11 communities joined us, from: Bosnia and Herzegovina; Fiji; Ethiopia; Ukraine; Vietnam; Korea; Kerala, India; the B.C. Muslim community; Taiwan; Eritrea; and Nepal. It was a room full of wonderful faces whom I have grown to respect and appreciate over the past couple years serving them as their local politician. 16 MLAs, MPs, city councilors, and school trustees, including our Leader of the Official Opposition, John Horgan, attended to listen to and get to know these incredible British Columbians, developing what I am sure will be endearing friendships.
That Saturday morning, we saw magic all around: an elder Korean veteran embracing the president of the Vietnamese Association, as their shared memory of the Vietnam War sparked an instant brotherhood; a trio of Fijian, Bosnian, and Nepalese community members chatting candidly over brunch; a group of women from the Muslim, Ukrainian, Kerala, Ethiopian and Taiwanese communities cozying together for a photo. I can’t speak for all of them, but I know that for myself and my team, our hearts melted and we all walked away even more grateful for the kind of communities we are blessed to have in B.C.
The friendships that forged from this event, even more than the exchanging of ideas and sharing of resources, will, I know, be instrumental in our common goal of striving for a more inclusive and intercultural society.
Jane Shin, B.C. NDP Spokesperson for Small Business, and Deputy Spokesperson for Trade & Multiculturalism
Focusing on Finances: Carole James
As finance critic, deputy chair of the select standing committee on finance and a member of the select standing committee for children and youth, I have had a busy fall.
The select standing committee on finance travelled the province and held in-person and teleconference opportunities through the fall, for the public to share their priorities for the government budget in 2016.
We received 572 submissions from members of the public from across the province, and those submissions are reflected in our final report.
Many of the recommendations in that report focus on issues that are critical for all British Colombians, and are often the prime responsibility for women including childcare, education, poverty reduction, seniors care, and skills training.
Our efforts are now focused on getting the government to listen to the voices of the public reflected in that report.
I am also pleased to sit on the on the Select Standing Committee for children and youth. This critically important committee is focused on the issues that face children and youth in our communities. Through this committee we continue to fight for the critical supports for children in care that are needed, and our committee will soon be releasing our second report on mental health for children and youth in British Columbia.
Carole James, B.C. NDP Finance Spokesperson
Championing Agriculture: Lana Popham
Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done!
Many people are concerned with how the Christy Clark government is handling agriculture in British Columbia.
Faced with the reality that the government has refused to form an all-party agriculture committee since 2001, last November I took it upon myself to create the non-partisan Opposition Standing Committee on Agriculture and Food.
The Committee is comprised of six MLAs. Five are members of the Official Opposition and one is an independent member.
Our goal was to bring the values, ideas and concerns of farmers directly to the B.C. Legislature. We examine, inquire into, and make recommendations with respect to an agriculture and food policy for British Columbia, and in particular, to:
A) Conduct public consultations across British Columbia on proposals and recommendations regarding agriculture and food policy and practice, by any means the committee considers appropriate; and
B) Prepare a report no later than Nov. 30, 2015 on the results of those consultations.
Agriculture and food make up a diverse and important part of British Columbia’s economy. Agriculture alone is a major economic driver, providing employment on nearly 20,000 farms across the province, with total farm cash receipts reaching $2.9 billion in 2014. The sector, however, continues to face a number of challenges.
Our Committee traveled B.C. and heard from stakeholders around the province. We listened to concerns and made recommendation to address challenges. I’m happy to say we released first report December 2015 and we will continue our tour in 2016.
Lana Popham, B.C. NDP Agriculture Spokesperson
Managing our Resources, Growing Communities: Katrine Conroy
This province has a vast array of resources that should be processed and utilized in the best way possible to benefit the people of the province.
As the spokesperson for Economic Development in the Southern Interior I am continually disappointed with the B.C. Liberals use of our resources.
Here are just a few examples.
This year we are on track to export around seven million cubic metres of raw logs. By comparison, when the Liberals took office, we were exporting around one million cubic metres per year. Those exports represent lost jobs in our communities, communities which were built around processing those logs which are now being shipped out of our communities.
Here’s another example. The government has been looking at ways to reallocate how wildlife is hunted in British Columbia. Their initial proposal had wealthy foreign hunters, garnering more access to animals than local hunters. These are hunters who have contributed to the province of B.C., through taxes and investment of their time in conservation of our wildlife. To see their opportunities diminished while foreign hunters increased was wrong. The B.C. Liberals have put this plan on hold but many in the hunting community as well as the official opposition will continue to monitor the decisions made.
It is interesting to note that women are the fastest growing demographic of hunters in the province. Women I have talked to tell me they enjoy the healthy outdoors activity, often with family but also the opportunity to fill their freezers with healthy, organic meat. This is an opportunity that shouldn’t be denied by a government intent on selling our natural resources to the highest foreign bidder.
But that’s exactly what the Clark government has done with LNG. In their rush to secure a deal with Petronas, the only company even close to operating an LNG plant, the government has offered our natural gas – our resources – at fire sale costs. During the 2013 election Christy Clark promised a lot of things that obviously she knew she could never deliver. These included at least one LNG plant up and running by the end of 2015. 2015 is over and we are nowhere near to having a plant in operation. Meanwhile, Petronas has a guarantee of low taxes, lower environmental standards, and the ability to bring their own people to work. This doesn’t bode well for the women and men in this province who thought they would benefit by LNG, our natural resource.
The government has been short sighted in their efforts to sell off resources that they should have been investing in right here in British Columbia. These are resources that should be protected, utilized in an environmentally sustainable way while ensuring our kids and grandkids have a future. It’s a future in a province with a vast array of resources that should be benefiting British Columbians for years to come.
Katrine Conroy, B.C. NDP Spokesperson for Interior Economic Development, Columbia Power, and Columbia River Treaty
B.C. New Democrats have long understood that the gender gap in politics is a problem that needs to be solved, not just to improve the lives of women, but to improve our province. We know that diverse organizations make better decisions.
It took a lot of work to get us here, but we’ve come a long way towards increasing representation of women in politics in this province. Currently, women make up 40 per cent of elected members of our New Democrat caucus and we will continue to work to increase that representation.
I hope this report helped highlight some of the important work that women in our caucus did to make British Columbia better last year. Representation matters, and it makes our organization stronger.