“This is a real education in politics,” committee member Patty Sahota told me during the break. I had to agree. The MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds was in Kamloops as part of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
They came to Kamloops to hear what was on our minds and Kamloopsians didn’t disappoint. We scolded, enlightened, lectured, and occasionally bored committee members. My presentation probably fell into the last category.
The proceedings were not only educational, they were often theatrical. One presenter, Christina Mader, got everyone’s attention when she began to tear pages a book that she had written. “The very people elected to protect our province are ravaging it. They tear away at who we British Columbians are.” Rip, there goes a page from her book. “Our young people – – their education has been shredded.” Rip. “The fabric of their physical and emotional well-being is ripped.” Rip.
Vern Short knew how wake everyone up. Before starting his presentation, he asked members of the Standing Committee to stand. I thought maybe he was playing with words since the standing committee had been sitting all morning. The chair of the committee just wanted to get on with it. “We’re fine. We’re awake,” she said. But he persisted. When committee member Joy MacPhail rose, others slowly followed. So did I, happy to stretch my legs, smiling at the visual pun as I stood before the reluctantly standing standing committee.
After the pause, Short continued “Disability is the one minority that anyone can join at any time as a result of a sudden automobile accident, a fall down a flight of stairs, cancer or disease.” Then Short revealed that he was legally blind. “The single biggest barrier facing persons with disabilities is societal attitude,” he said in his presentation about the lack of opportunities for disabled persons.
My mind wandered as I thought about what I was going to say. What were those government newspaper and TV advertisements about? They featured people climbing stairs. Everyone is climbing – – infants, school children, teenagers, workers, seniors. What did it all mean?
It turns out that the ads are for a new government website called Achieve B.C. (www.achievebc.ca). The ads and the website looks expensive but the contents are not new. There’s a picture of a family climbing (what else?) stairs. I watched an inspiring video in which Premier Campbell told me that he wants me to the best that I can be. Inspiration aside, I wondered what we taxpayers were paying for it.
I hoped that a quote would be a good start to my bit. I found one from Gary Collins before he became Minister of Finance. Ironically, he is critical of the then NDP government for the very thing his government is guilty of. “It is the height of hypocrisy and deception for government to bring in a $5 million tax cut for small businesses and then to run ads and send out mail and run radio advertisements telling young people that the government is listening to them and is creating opportunity for them,” Collins told the B.C. legislature in1998
I wonder if that’s where Premier Campbell got the inspiration for Achieve B.C.? I wanted to know the cost of Achieve B.C.
It all started as a pet project of Premier Campbell but as the cost skyrocketed, the premier shifted it out of his office to the Ministry of Management Services. The cost is buried there, safe from scrutiny.
I told the committee “I’d like a clear and transparent accounting of the cost of Achieve B.C. I’d rather not see it buried in this line item under Management Services, which has a budget of $63 million for the year and is now $11 million over what’s targeted.”
Committee member Mike Hunter, MLA for Nanaimo, thought it was a reasonable request. He approached me later and said that he would find the actual cost of Achieve B.C. and get back to me.
That was two months ago. A few weeks, I received an email from him, assuring me that he hadn’t forgotten my request but that he hadn’t been able to find an answer yet.
I appreciate Mr. Hunter’s efforts and I’m patiently waiting to hear what inspiration is costing us. In a future column: the true meaning of Achieve B.C.