B.C. Liberals dodging accountability and failing to address key issues by cancelling fall session, says NDP

VICTORIA – Ending lavish raises for B.C. Ferries executives, appointing an independent seniors advocate, and getting answers on double-digit hydro rate hikes could have been addressed today if the legislature reconvened as scheduled, say B.C.’s New Democrats.

“According to the official parliamentary calendar, members of the legislature should be here today, debating and working on issues critical to the public interest. But with her decision to cancel the fall session, the premier is continuing her pattern of exercising contempt for public accountability and transparency,” said New Democrat leader Adrian Dix.

“If the house reopened today, the Liberals would be facing questions about why hydro ratepayers are facing double-digit rate hikes after Premier Clark promised stable rates before and during the election. They would be held accountable for breaking their promise to bring forward a formal apology for historic wrongs to the Chinese community. And they would have to answer for the effects their budget is having on vulnerable British Columbians.

“This session would also have provided the opportunity to table and pass legislative amendments to end lavish raises for ferry executives, and to appoint finally an independent seniors advocate. The inappropriate discharge of a 90 year old patient from Delta Hospital last week draws into focus again the importance of appointing an advocate who is arms-length from cabinet to help seniors and their families,” said Dix.

Clark has shut down the B.C. legislature for the majority of the year. With her decision to cancel a second consecutive fall sitting, the provincial legislature will have only sat for 36 days in 2013.

House leader and energy critic John Horgan expanded on some of the questions the Liberals would specifically have to answer regarding hydro rate increases.

“After a leaked document dated Aug. 23 revealed that the deputy ministers for the premier and finance minister were considering a 26 per cent rate increase, Clark and her energy minister went into damage control. Minister Bennett tried to downplay the hike by saying ‘things have changed a lot since then’ because the rates working group had met four times since then,” said Horgan.

The B.C. Hydro Rates Working Group is made up of a small number of officials from the most senior levels of the civil service and B.C. Hydro. John Dyble, the premier’s deputy minister, and Peter Millburn, the deputy finance minister, are part of this key decision making group.

“Minister Bennett’s claim that a group of very high level senior public servants had met four times in a span of just 12 working days didn’t make sense. I checked into it, and it turns out only one subsequent meeting ever took place, according to freedom of information documents obtained by the Opposition.

“The Energy Minister needs to answer why he was claiming these key bureaucrats had met four times when evidence shows this doesn’t appear to be the case, and he needs to give British Columbians the truth about the massive rate increases they’re facing,” said Horgan.

Horgan and Dix said a fall sitting of the legislature is also needed to deal with many other issues, such as preventing another crisis in the justice system due to cuts in legal aid services; debating and reviewing a new LNG tax regime; and implementing the recommendations of the Missing Women’s Inquiry.