Opinion

Province puts plenty of issues on the table

For some inexplicable reason, each year the provincial government seems to offer up almost all of the substantial changes it wants to bring about within a week or two.

This year, those changes have been coupled with two serious cases of entitlement which have enraged the public. One directly involves MLAs, while the other involves provincial tax money being used for purposes that are far removed from the stated goal of helping the poor in Vancouver’s downtown eastside area.

Members of the public are sick and tired of hearing that politicians and those who live off tax dollars are “entitled to their entitlements.”

Here’s some of the changes that the province is proposing.

It is changing the way TransLink is governed, giving local mayors far more power and oversight. At the same time, those mayors are now directly accountable to voters for what they do or don’t do with the transit system. Given the many problems that TransLink has had in recent years, this newfound power may come back to bite them.

It is bringing in the most significant changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve since its creation more than 40 years ago. Essentially, the reserve will be divided into two, with lands in the north and the Kootenays treated differently than land in the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.

There is some logic in this. The lands which face the most pressure for other, non-farm uses are on the south coast and the Okanagan, where there are many more people, higher real estate prices and many competing ideas for using scarce land.

The Peace River region can in no way be compared to the Fraser Valley, yet farmers there have had to endure the same level of challenges in dealing with land use as landowners in the Fraser Valley have.

The province is also bringing in four-year election terms for local councils and boards of education. In my opinion, this will make local government even less accountable, but B.C. is the last place in Canada where local politicians serve three-year terms, so this was inevitable.

The province also brokered a deal to end the truckers’ strike at Port Metro Vancouver last week.

Meanwhile, Speaker Linda Reid repaid the $5,500 taxpayers spent on a first-class trip to South Africa she took with her husband. She repaid his portion of the expense. NDP MLA and deputy speaker Raj Chouhan, who went to the same event with his wife (at a much lower cost), repaid his spouse’s portion of the trip as well.

This focused public attention on all the trips that spouses of MLAs take at taxpayers’ expense — something that most of us were blissfully unaware of.

At the same time, NDP MLA Jenny Kwan has taken an unpaid leave of absence, after it came out that her family was taking holidays that were paid for by the Portland Hotel Society, where her former husband worked. Kwan repaid all the expense money. The society gets virtually all its money from provincial taxpayers.

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