Hallowed halls, a housing sting, extremism and… Sturkomania?
Last week in the hallowed halls of our provincial capital…
The legislative session fired to life last week – yay! – so we thought a somewhat haphazard selection of highlights was in order.
First, BC Liberal newcomer, Eleanor Sturko, kicked off the week getting sworn in as the Surrey South MLA. By Wednesday, though, the former RCMP Sgt. and spokesperson had morphed into a dominating force in two politically charged Question Periods.
While Sturko questioned acting Attorney General Murray Rankin about enforcement action on repeat offending, both Rankin and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth used Sturko’s own words – “we cannot arrest our way out of these problems” – to deflect the Opposition’s call for detention of violent prolific offenders. They pulled her quote from an all-candidates debate several weeks earlier. The NDP took “an unrelated answer to an unrelated question” and used it for their own purposes, Sturko clarified later.
(Don’t worry, Eleanor, it’ll never happen again.)
Maybe dial it down a notch
Then there was Public Safety Minister Farnworth intercepting a question for Rankin on repeat offenders. Farnworth derided the Opposition for “sloganeering” and castigated them for not extending the Prolific Offender Management pilot program from 2012. It “was cut by that government,” he said. “Because their priorities weren’t public safety back then.”
(An intriguing conclusion given the NDP has governed for the past five and-a-half years without implementing it either.)
Logging trees for pellets
In other legislative news, the shortest question award this week goes to… Adam Olsen, BC Green MLA Saanich North and the Islands. Olsen: “To the Minister of Forests, does she believe that in 2022, in a worsening climate crisis, burning wood pellets is clean, green energy?” (23 words).
As for Katrine Conroy’s response – long story, short, she basically said, yes I do believe that.
While pellets are a “low value product” in Canada, they help lower Greenhouse Gases in other countries by reducing their reliance on coal, said Conroy. Conroy also asserted no old-growth trees are being cut to make into pellets.
Something Olsen, along with a few investigative journalists, dispute. Among them, Ben Parfitt, who has probably sifted through more Ministry of Forests data than the minister.
Check out the excellent Fifth Estate investigation into B.C.’s pellet industry. [Aired Oct.9]
Both men are featured in the Fifth’s documentary, along with BC Liberal MLA Mike Morris, Michelle Connelly, Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson and others . A must watch for anyone curious where our logged trees are going. A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about a pellet company cutting primary forest near Prince George that included some scientific analysis of the forests being cut. It still stands as a good snapshot of what’s happening on the ground today.
Housing sting, flops
Back at the legislature, David Eby’s campaign team dished the press some deep dive details into the personal finances of Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier, the BC Liberal housing critic. Eby accused Bernier of flipping three houses since 2019 and making $578,000 in the process. Bernier posted a video a few days later explaining how he and his wife bought, gutted, extensively renovated, and resold previously uninhabitable houses – creating three new homes in a very tight market where there had been none.
In total, the Berniers paid around $240,000 for all three houses. You read that right. The houses were bought for $55,000, $75,000 and $110,00 respectively (sold for 222K, 324K, and 260K). By comparison, in a quick search on bcassessment.ca, it was hard to find a modest, single family, one-storey house in Oak Bay whose value had increased by less than 200K in the past year. Without the cost of renovations, putting up their own money or any late nights swinging a hammer. On the mainland, there are at this moment three things listed on the Vancouver MLS under 250K: two storage rooms and a parking spot. For 220K, Bernier and his wife could buy all three. But it wouldn’t create housing for anyone.
On Thursday, Kamloops South Thompson MLA and Opposition house leader Todd Stone knocked it out of the park, calling for a one-year pay freeze. MLAs are on track for a cost-of-living increase up to 10 per cent, Stone said. Finance Minister Selina Robinson eventually agreed to discuss the matter. BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said her caucus supported the freeze. Seems a done deal. Stay tuned.
This year, it’s different
Next up, the municipal elections. It might be my imagination, but compared to previous local elections, there seems like a LOT more signs and slogans and party platforms and groups urging us to vote this way or that. Most of us don’t do municipal elections – voter turnouts are notoriously paltry. This time, we should, said Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen, who spoke with me a couple weeks ago.
Cullen said there are an inordinate number of people with extremist platforms running for municipal councils and school boards. Research the candidates carefully using credible sources – know who they are and what they stand for, he said.
Interesting candidate snippets from around the province:
Mayor running for councillor & councillor running for mayor: Jim Garlick & Ruth Hoyte, Coldstream.
Places where mayors and or councillors have reportedly been harassed, threatened, stalked, or targeted online: Fernie, Squamish, Port Coquitlam, Campbell River, Nelson, Vanderhoof, Victoria, Nanaimo, Clearwater, Kamloops, Prince George… (One mayor said, basically, if you’re elected, you’ve been harassed.)
Mayor whose councillors voted twice to remove her from office, but lost when she challenged the decisions in court: Lorraine Michetti (Pouce Coupe)
Mayor who announced on Sept. 6 that he would retire Sept. 9 (leaving the seat vacant until the Oct. 15 election): Dale Bumstead (Dawson Creek)
Mayor stepping down in one village, to run in another: Taylor mayor Rob Fraser is running in Fort Nelson.
Mayoral candidate who ran for mayor of Toronto, lost, and is now running for mayor in Campbell River: Saron Gebresellassi.
And sorry to do this to you, but…
Mayoral candidate who called Winston Churchill “a piece of garbage;” thinks Covid and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine are hoaxes; that the Ukrainians are running child sex trafficking rings; there is a secret pedophile symbol in the LGBT community and pedophiles may be “who knows,” poised to “cut off all of our heads” and take over the country; that certain people who don’t want to work “are like Liberals except they don’t f– small children;” and people can pick and choose which laws to obey: Dean Clifford (Clearwater)
Now for the tearjerker of the week, I give you… the legislative cat.
After months of persuasive, persistent and team-building lobbying by journalist Rob Shaw for a legislative cat, the hard heart of Speaker Raj Chouhan could not be moved. After much consultation, Chouhan ruled in favour of adopting the lifeless Macey Hansard, a stuffed version that doesn’t pounce or purr (or require kitty litter).
Mr. Speaker, how could you?!
With that, I’ll sign off. Thanks for surfing ‘til the end.
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We’ll leave the closing note to legislative clerk assistant, Artour Sogomonian:
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