October 18, 2012 - No. 130
Fall Session of BC Legislature
Crisis of Party Government and Necessity
British Columbians in
action to hold the government to account for abdicating its duty to
defend the public interest.
• Crisis of Party Government and Necessity for
Political Renewal - Charles Boylan
Anti-Social Offensive Grows
• Hospital and Seniors' Care Workers Reject
Government's Anti-Social Austerity Mandate - Barbara Biley
• Situation of Community Health and Community
Social Service Workers - Brian Sproule
• BC's Education Funding Needs to at Least
Match National Average (Excerpts) - Susan Lambert, President,
BC Teachers' Federation
Fall Session of BC Legislature Annulled
Crisis of Party Government and Necessity for
Mike de Jong, new Finance Minister and House Leader of
the Liberal Party in BC announced September 13, the cancellation of the
fall session of the BC Legislature. "Absent an unforeseen event ... it
is unlikely the House will sit this fall," he said.
A seven-week session of the Legislature had been
scheduled to open October 1. His reason for the cancellation: "We've
got a new cabinet, new ministers in virtually every portfolio.... The
government will be preoccupied over the next number of months in terms
of the preparation of the budget blueprint and
continuing what began in the summer, reaching out to British
The BC Legislature has only sat 47 days this year,
rising on May 31 after a flurry of legislation was passed extremely
quickly. One new bill made Translink riders pay their fines or
lose their driver's license. It was so flawed it had to be rewritten
retroactively. The next session is scheduled for February when
the new Finance Minister will bring forward a budget.
The same day Mr. de Jong
cancelled the fall session of
the Legislature, he announced that new austerity measures would be
implemented by executive order. This includes a hiring freeze across
government and a wage freeze for public sector managers.
Describing the directives de Jong said, "Call these
austerity measures -- they are designed to immediately curtail spending
in areas where government has some discretion."
An excuse proffered for this "austerity" is the sharp
decline in natural gas prices, which have fallen from more than $6 per
gigajoule (GJ) in 2008 to about $2 a GJ today because of the abundance
of shale natural gas extracted by fracking. During de Jong's quarterly
financial report where he announced the closure
of the fall session, he said the government now predicts a $1.14
billion deficit, up $173 million from what had been previously forecast.
Premier Christy Clark refused to say that the fall
was cancelled because of the alleged financial crisis or for any other
political reason. Indeed the lie was put to all of de Jong's
explanations, including bringing "new ministers up to speed," when it
was revealed the
Premier did not even plan to stay in Victoria to train the
for the three ministers who recently resigned and will not run in next
spring's election: Kevin Falcon (Finance), George Abbott (Education)
and Blair Lekstrom (Transportation).
Clark made that clear last May when she told the National
Post, "When the House rises [May 31], you're never going to find
me in Victoria... I'm going to be travelling the province for the next
year. This is my home base. I try never to go over there [to the
Legislature]. Because it's sick. It's a sick
culture. All they can think about is government and there are no real
people in Victoria [she clarified that she meant in the Legislature],
get captured by this inside-the-beltway debate, and it's really
unhealthy." For its own reasons, the National Post did not
publish these remarks until September 18.
More than 10 of Clark's MLAs, some 30 per cent of her
caucus, have announced they are not running in the election scheduled
for May 14, 2013. Perhaps this is also due to the "sick culture"
Clark but most say it is for personal reasons.
The opportunism of Clark's apolitical posturing was
caught out by an editorial in The Straight Goods on September
19. The article quoted Clark's remarks when she herself resigned from
Legislature in 2005 to take a radio host's job. She did not refer to
the Legislature as sick at that time. Instead she said,
"I have a deep, deep love of politics. I love question period. I love
debate. I love the people I've met. I even love the protesters. I love
Back in 2005 there was considerable speculation that she
resigned because of the police raid on the Legislature and the ongoing
cover-up of the scandalous BC Rail sellout to the CNR, in which she and
her husband had been implicated. That whole matter was finally
whitewashed with the government paying the
$6 million legal bills of David Basi and Bob Virk who pleaded guilty to
minor charges in October 2010. The rail sellout scandal continues to be
an issue in BC politics.
Clark's May 2012 remarks about the "sick culture" in the
Legislature also contrast sharply with her 2011 comments made when she
sought the leadership of the Liberal Party and hence the Premier's job.
At that time she told reporters, "As you know, I love question period
and I hate to miss it."
The monopoly media have criticized her cancellation of
the fall session. Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House,
15, "Citizens ... want their leaders to
focus on key issues and reaching out [...] while
being held accountable in their own Legislature."
He contrasted her disregard for the Legislature to the
alleged craving for western democracy in Libya and Egypt. Noting her
while on a trade mission to China, he compared that absence
with what he called China's lack of democracy. He called on her to
"fill the 85 empty chairs" in the Legislature.
Both the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and
Mail also criticized her. The Globe commented: "The
public of BC will be without its representative body for eight months.
Moreover, in the past two centuries, the examination and passage of
legislation have become integral parts
of the governing process in democracies. Any notion that there has been
a shortage of legislative business is unpersuasive. Before the
adjournment on May 31 'until further notice,' the MLAs of BC consented
to a number of substantial bills in unseemly haste." The Globe
concluded that the long absence of the Legislature
"suggests political weakness" and an "extended pre-election campaign"
in the "hopes of turning the Liberals' fortunes around before the
Legislature returns briefly in February, 2013, to be followed by the
election in May."
The BC NDP opposition spokesperson on the cancellation,
John Horgan, MLA for Malahat-Juan de Fuca, wrote on September 13 on his
party website, "This is a government that has no plan. Cancelling the
fall session is simply an excuse to avoid accountability and not answer
the questions that British Columbians
have been asking." He added that the cancellation meant private members
bills would not be heard and other proposed government legislation such
as changes to municipal elections would be dropped.
What is the polity, especially the working class, to
make of all this? One thing is certain: the Legislature and the party
system that controls it, marginalizes the overwhelming majority of the
polity, especially those who produce material wealth and provide
services to society.
The two party system in BC, now the Liberals and NDP, is
said to represent the "right" and the "left." The two parties, governed
by their own nomination rules and procedures, determine amongst
themselves almost everyone elected to the Legislature. Only one
independent MLA, Viki Huntington in Delta South
was elected in 2009, the first independent elected to the BC
Legislature since 1949. She defeated the Liberal, Wally Opal, by 32
votes in a judicial recount. All other 84 MLAs were picked by their
parties, with the government comprising a closed circle of several key
ministers, dictating the entire political agenda.
Huntington has since been joined by Bob Simpson, Cariboo
North MLA who was expelled from the NDP
caucus in the fall of 2010 by former NDP leader Carol James. Since his
expulsion, Simpson has strongly
advocated for independent MLAs to be elected. The reaction of both
Huntington and Simpson to the
cancellation of the fall sitting was to call a "twitter" town hall
meeting to discuss democratic reform.
Huntington said of the present Legislature: "The level
of ability for an MLA to contribute effectively in the Legislative
Assembly is very limited and it needs to change. MLAs have to be able
to effectively represent their people otherwise there is an incredible
frustration among the public that their voice cannot
be heard.... The party system requires the MLA to fall in line with
cabinet policy and the policy of their leader. There is no opportunity
for an MLA belonging to a party to publicly represent the people of
their riding if that means they have to criticize their own party
publicly." She also noted that legislative committees
no longer meet. "Crown Corporations [committee] hasn't met in
years. Environment committee hasn't met in years. Energy committee
hasn't met in years. How do MLAs become involved in any of the serious
public issues with any hope of influencing decision making?" Huntington
Bob Simpson wrote in his blog March 28, "There is
power in being an Independent MLA -- power that comes from being
unfettered from the partisanship and power politics that permeates the
party system. It takes a lot more work to maximize the power this
freedom brings, but I've found my work as
an Independent MLA infinitely more rewarding than when I was working
for a political brand."
A large number of BC citizens are also critical of the
system of party government called a representative democracy.
Politically conscious residents ask many important questions about the
degenerating economic, political and social situation in BC. Who
determined that taxes to corporations and the rich should
be reduced? Who decided to give the dominant U.S.-owned forest
everything they wanted resulting in the wrecking of manufacturing? Who
decided to hand over the natural gas licenses to corporations to flip
and otherwise use for speculation? Who decided to hand over BC natural
gas and electricity to Shell
Oil to produce liquid natural gas for export to Asia? Who decided to
reduce investments in education and health, degrading social programs
the province? Who is responsible for BC policies giving rise to the
highest child poverty rates in Canada or for not overseeing the safety
of mill workers, loggers, and others
resulting in 142 BC workers killed at work sites last year?
It is becoming ever clearer that private interests made
these decisions. These private interests had their wishes implemented
through control over a handful of politicians to usurp the
decision-making power. When their political
capital is spent, they are handed corrupt political
placements as in the case of Gordon Campbell who is now High
Commissioner in London or they end up in the boardrooms of the
monopolies as in the case of former
premier Glen Clark who is now president of the Jim Pattison Group.
The cancellation of the legislative session by Christy
further proof that the present system of governance is in deep crisis.
The criticisms of the media and official opposition are not profound or
intended to achieve political renewal. They merely reiterate their
faith in, as the Globe says, a 200 year
old system of democracy. But that obsolete political system is long
past its purpose. Today, a modern, highly educated polity with access
instant mass communication and who work in an interrelated socialized
economy require institutions which enable them to make the decisions
which affect their lives.
The working class knows its voice is always silenced at
the work place, even though more often than not, its practical, direct
experience in production and providing services gives workers far
more insight into problems facing operations than the owners
and their managers who are mostly hidebound
by tradition and the single-minded aim of squeezing out the highest
profit in the fastest time. The working class also knows that its voice
is even more profoundly silenced when it comes to politics and the old
party-dominated Westminster system. The collective aspiration of the
actual producers to create a human-centred society
that defends the rights of all is blocked by the present anachronistic
The cancellation of the fall session of the Legislature
underlines that political renewal is a necessity to solve BC's pressing
problems. Citizens need to select directly the candidates as opposed to
their selection being the manipulation of party cliques and
bureaucracies dedicated to
preserving the status quo. Citizens need to have direct
input into the legislative agenda, and broadly debate public issues,
such as how to reverse the decline in manufacturing, how to increase
investments in social programs, and give a new direction to the
economy. The polity needs to exercise its sovereign will politically
and turn its public will into a legal will. It needs
to be political and that the governing system encourage it to be
political, whereas today the opposite is the case. Private monopoly
interests dominate government and the last thing they want is for the
people to be political and to demand accountability.
The polity needs the political capacity to hold all
elected representatives to account, with full ability to recall them,
if they violate the programs on which they are elected. Empowerment of
the electors, and most especially the electors who daily produce the
material goods and provide the services to BC society,
and their flowering as political people directly concerned and
consciously active in governing the province and country, remains a
most pressing political issue as BC heads towards the May 2013 election.
Opposition to Anti-Social Offensive Grows
Hospital and Seniors' Care Workers Reject Government's
Anti-Social Austerity Mandate
Workers in hospitals,
seniors' residences and emergency
services are members of the largest grouping of BC public sector unions
currently involved in contract negotiations with the government.
Commonly called "support workers," as if their work is optional, these
workers do everything from bedside nursing
to the installation and maintenance of complex electrical systems and
all equipment and information technology systems. They also perform
duties that ensure the smooth functioning of the overall system, all
building maintenance, laundry, cleaning and the preparation and
delivery of meals. The unions' Facilities
Bargaining Association (FBA), which has been trying to negotiate with
the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC) for over eight months,
represents 46,000 workers.
Earlier this month, the FBA bargaining committee
spokespersons met with union members throughout the province to report
on negotiations. They reported that the HEABC is operating under the
"cooperative gains" anti-social austerity mandate decreed by the
provincial government for all public sector negotiations.
This dictate negates free collective bargaining in violation of the
rights of workers.
The anti-social austerity offer includes a 2 per cent
wage increase over two years only on the condition that workers return
the wage increase by paying for a portion of the premiums for extended
health and dental care and an agreement to restrict their right to
access jobs. The anti-social austerity mandate insists
that hospital and seniors' care workers not only give back important
gains made in the past and agree to increased workloads and stress but
should also agree to open the door to further concessions down the line.
In bargaining conferences
held in the fall of 2011,
delegates representing all workers covered by the FBA took a firm stand
that after years of declining wages due to a rising cost of living and
the 15 per cent across the board wage cut imposed by the Campbell
government in 2004, it was time for a wage increase.
They were equally firm in their determination to resist further
concessions and, very specifically, to protect benefits. With falling
real wages and increased workloads alongside increasing rates of
workplace injury and related illness, health benefits are more than
ever recognized as not a luxury but an essential part
of the claim of hospital and seniors' care workers on the important
value they create for society. Those past claims for wages, benefits
and job security have been fought for and won as part of the struggle
of the Canadian working class to achieve a recognized Canadian standard
Health care workers during the meetings throughout the
province once again expressed their conviction that the anti-social
concessions being demanded by government are an assault on their rights
and on the important services they provide, and a refusal to recognize
the value they add with their work to the well-being
of the people and general interests of society. The cuts to services
that have already been imposed have not solved any problem in the
health care system; they have given rise to greater hardship and
injuries for workers and deteriorating standards in hospitals and
The bargaining committee reported on October 12 that
three further days of negotiations had resulted in no progress. It is
anticipated that strike votes will be held in the near future.
Situation of Community Health and
Striking Community and
Social Services workers at
Premier Christy Clark's constituency office, October 16, 2012.
There are over 100,000
health care workers in BC. Most
of the contracts covering these workers expired at the end of March and
negotiations for different sectors are at different stages. Besides the
largest group, the workers in facilities (hospitals and seniors'
residences), there are almost 30,000 workers who
work in other aspects of health care. One section, Community Social
Service, work in group homes and transition houses and other temporary
or permanent residential care settings. The other major group is
Community Health workers who provide nursing and support in people's
homes and community-based agencies
including mental health and addictions counselling and other services.
These workers, alongside those in hospitals and seniors' residences,
are standing up to the anti-social austerity program of the provincial
government and are in different stages of preparation for job action to
back their demand for wage increases
and their rejection of the concessions demanded by government and
These workers are covered by two separate collective
agreements, the Community Social Services contract (about 15,000
workers) and the Community Health contract (about 14,000 workers). Both
expired March 31, 2012. Negotiations to renew both contracts have taken
place for several months. Earlier this year
Community Social Services workers took strike votes -- job actions
started October 16. More recently Community Health workers took strike
Community Social Services Workers Begin Strike Action
Vancouver, October 16,
The Community Social Services Bargaining Association
(CSSBA), an association of ten unions representing 15,000 workers, has
announced targeted job actions starting October 16. Strike votes were
conducted earlier this year
with the results announced July 23, with an 85 percent strike vote in
General Services and 90 percent in Community Living Services.
The CSSBA states: "Your bargaining committee has not
taken the decision to strike lightly, but believes that job action is
necessary to send a message to the BC government: Stop putting the
squeeze on community social services! We need a fair and reasonable
deal, including a wage increase."
Targeted job actions began with a protest at Christy
Clark's constituency office in Vancouver at 3615 West 4th Avenue
October 16 from 10 am to 1 pm. A one-day job action in Kamloops
on October 17. Another is scheduled for Prince George October 18 with
further actions to be announced.
In over six months of
negotiations with the Community
Social Services Employers Association (CSSEA) representing 220
agencies, there has not been a monetary offer, only an insistence for
concessions. Negotiations are being conducted under the "cooperative
gains" austerity mandate of the provincial government,
which demands concessions from BC workers. Workers point out that the
government's anti-social austerity mandate is in violation of the right
to free collective bargaining.
Community Social Service
workers work in group homes for
mentally challenged adults and homes for troubled youth and day
programs. The work of General Service workers includes drug
counselling, transition houses, homeless shelters, child care,
counselling for abused women and children.
In its strike actions, the union is targeting the
government as opposed to the agencies. The union wants to make the
point that the social responsibility of government includes proper
investment in services for society's most vulnerable members and others
in need. This social responsibility of government includes
the claims of workers providing the services. Those claims must be
agreeable to workers themselves and commensurate with the important
work they perform. Workers also insist that the government uphold its
social responsibility to make investments to ensure safe and secure
working conditions so that workers
can properly perform their important duties.
Workers in this service
sector have received virtually
no wage increase for over ten years and have lost benefits including
accumulated sick leave. While the wages of the workers have declined
and their working conditions have deteriorated through cutbacks of
social programs, the needs of the youth and vulnerable
adults they serve have rapidly increased, creating an impossible
situation. Community Social Service workers are the lowest paid in the
entire public sector. In most classifications, their starting wages
have actually been reduced. In 2003, for instance, the starting wage
for a residential care worker was $16.83 and
now it is $15.54, while the cost of living has risen over the last
decade by 18.1 percent.
An October 12 fact sheet accompanying the CSSBA's press
release is entitled "Where do vulnerable families fall on BC
Government's list of priorities? Last." The association points out,
"since coming to power in 2001, the BC Liberal government has launched
an unrelenting assault on community social services,
the workers who provide them, and the vulnerable families who rely on
Instead of increasing investment in this sector,
including raising the wages of the workers and hiring more to meet the
growing need, the government through the CSSEA insists on cutbacks,
concessions and to remove any improvements previously negotiated. This
Regarding the strike actions beginning October 16, the
CSSBA says, "We are focusing our strike efforts on the BC government
because we need a commitment from Victoria to recognize the vital role
community social services -- and the workers who provide them -- play
vulnerable families and communities
across the province."
Community and Social Services workers rally
to demand funding be
restored to women's support services, at Prince George constituency
office of BC Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond,
October 2, 2012.
Community Health Workers Vote for Strike Action
The 14,000 Community Health workers throughout BC
represented by the Community Bargaining Association have voted 85
percent in favour of strike action to defend their rights. Results of
the province-wide balloting were announced on October
The vote in favour of job action came after six months
of failed negotiations with the Health Employers' Association of BC
(HEABC), bargaining on behalf of two hundred agencies, companies and
Health Authorities. No substantive progress has been made during
After a two-year wage freeze and several previous years
of falling real
wages, Community Health workers are seeking a wage increase and
improvements to benefits and job security. Community health
workers perform vital tasks such as personal care, nursing, cleaning,
laundry, cooking and serving food, as well as
mental health and addictions counselling in communities.
During the past month while the strike vote was
underway, rumours began to circulate that layoffs and restructuring
would take place if the workers voted to strike. The source of the
rumours is unknown but workers remember that over the last 10 years,
officials of the provincial government, which holds the
purse strings and calls the shots for HEABC, have consistently used
similar threats to pressure health care workers into agreeing to
concessions and on one occasion, a signing bonus instead of a
increase. The vote for strike action despite the government threats and
anti-social austerity agenda is proof that
health care workers will not be intimidated and are determined to win
an acceptable contract.
Member unions of the Health Services and
Support-Community Subsector Association of Bargaining Agents include
the BC Government and Service Employees' Union, Hospital Employees'
Union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Canadian Union of
Public Employees, Health Sciences Association
and the United Steelworkers of America.
BC's Education Funding Needs to at Least Match National
On three key measures,
British Columbia falls far short
of the Canadian average in our commitment to funding public
education.... BC's public education funding as a
GDP.... Operating expenditures [are below] the national
But the most telling measure is the Student Educator Ratio [SER].
BC had the worst SER in Canada in 2009-10, the most recent year for
which national data is available from Statistics Canada. To bring our
ratio of students per teacher up to the national average, BC would have
to hire 5,800 more teachers....
Given the freeze on education funding announced in the
BC Budget 2012, the situation in BC schools will only worsen unless
there is a significant change in policy....
The number of students with special needs increased by
more than 1,500 in the last decade. At the same time, BC schools lost
over 750 special education teachers. Similarly, the number of English
Language Learners has grown by more than 1,800, but there are 340 fewer
ELL teachers. The number of counsellors
dropped by 117 over the past decade, while students are coping with
increased stress. Teacher-librarians have also declined by 30%, even as
information literacy becomes ever more complex and important....
How can we pay for these improvements? Not by reducing
other public services, but by restoring previous taxation levels for
large corporations and high-income earners....
For eight years in a row BC
had the highest child
poverty rate in the country, a harsh reality that teachers confront in
our classrooms every day in communities across the province.
Adequate funding for quality public education is good
for society. It provides economic, social, and cultural benefits, and
reduces expenditures in health, justice, and social services.
That's why teachers are urging the government, as a
start, to make a plan to bring education funding in BC up to par with
the rest of Canada, and to make the taxation decisions needed to
implement such a plan....
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