By Roy L Hales
With British Columbia’s provincial election approaching, I decided to interview the candidates in my riding. Dallas Smith, who is attempting to capture this seat for the BC Liberals, has yet to respond to my emails. Green candidate Sue Moen and I will be talking soon. My conversation with Claire Trevena, MLA for Island North, took place on a bench overlooking the wharves at Heriot Bay, on Quadra Island.
Conversation With Claire Trevena, MLA for Island North
I crossed over from Cortes Island as a foot passenger on the BC ferry.
As we came into the dock, I saw a tall woman with a bicycle standing at the top of loading ramp. Claire Trevena’s home is nearby and she had pedalled down from to meet me.
One of the sounds you will hear in the beginning of this recording is the hum of the ferry’s engines. Listen carefully and you will hear it leave on the return trip to Cortes. There were children playing on the beach in front of us. At one point during the course of our conversation, someone began loading heavy machinery onto one of the boats.
My foremost impression of Claire Trevena comes her integrity. She presented her views clearly, and did not pretend to have all the answers. There were times, during the course of our conversation, where I found I was the one presenting evidence.
So I am deleting the part of our conversation where I mentioned the strength of the Green Party in recent polls. I suspect this is largely a Southern Vancouver Island phenomenon. Besides, a recording does not show that the woman sitting across from you is simply listening.
I came with my own agenda, of course, but also wanted to ensure that this interview captures an undiluted picture of Claire Trevena’s character and message. So we embarked upon a fishing expedition.
Why Did You Become Involved In Politics?
My first question was, “Why did you become involved in politics?
She responded, “I’ve always been a political animal and I’ve always had this desire to make the world a better place if I can. To try and bring change that I think, and I believe my neighbours and community believe, will make it a better place. That’s why I first ran for office back in 2005 and that is why I continue to do so. We’re still not there yet.”
What Is The Number One Issue In British Columbia Today?
We started leaving my script behind with the second question. I generally cover energy, the environment and have recently started looking into the what is behind political process. This interview would probe a wider variety of issues.
I asked, “What do you think is the number one issue in British Columbia today?”
Trevena responded, “That’s a very hard one. If you talk to some people, they’ll say it is jobs. Talk to others, it’s the environment. I think one of the things that has been talked about, but maybe not really grasped, is the problems in public education.”
A Generation Of Students Shortchanged
She talked about the generation of students that have gone through our province’s education system since the BC Liberal party took power in 2001.
“They’ve gone through from kindergarden right through to graduation, with continual cuts (to the education system). With having problems whether it is a shortage of text books, or staffing the classroom … Their quality of education has been diminished and that has an impact for all of us because you can’t give that education back. We have shortchanged them and in the process shortchanged ourselves. It is really damaged us now and in the future,” said Trevena.
The cuts began when Christy Clark was the province’s Minister of Education.
Now some school districts have gone to a four day week. Trevena mentions kids who have not seen (certain) text books; parents fund raising for essentials like paper, playgrounds, for “everything you thought was part of the education system.”
“We need to look at how we invest (in education) from preschool right through to post graduation, because it is for the benefit of all of us,” she said.
“As a party, we are saying we want to bring down the cost of childcare to $10 a day. That will help a whole lot of people economically, but it will also help those kids prepare for school…. It gives those kids that start that they wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Coincidentally, a week prior to this interview my great nephew complained that 30% of the kids attending his old high school were foreign students. Though this brought in additional revenues, he said students are getting less attention.
“It is very good to have foreign students in our communities. It helps create a more worldly view for kids. We have exchange programs with Japan in Campbell River and so on, but using them to fund our education system – which is increasingly the case both in our public school system and in our post secondary like North Island College – that is seriously detrimental because it takes the space as well as the time away from our kids,” said Trevena.
What is British Columbia’s public education system meant to accomplish? Is it a market driven system whose primary function is defined by economics? Or do we want to educate the children of British Columbia?
Supreme Court Orders BC Government To Court Restore Classroom Sizes
In 2002, BC’s Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for the province to legislate away hundreds of clauses related to class size and composition from the teachers’ collective agreement.
The BC Liberals appealed and managed to prolong the fight for 14 years. After an adverse ruling in 2011, the Clark government introduced new legislation to strengthen their case in 2012. Their most recent defeat was last November.
According to a report in the Tyee, “The Supreme Court of Canada decision found that the Liberal government had, repeatedly, acted illegally in using legislation to strip provisions from teachers’ contracts that set limits on class sizes and mandated levels of support for students with special needs.”
As a result of the Supreme Court decision, the province will have to restore classroom size to pre-2002 levels and hire an estimated 3,500 new teachers.
“When the government now says, going up to an election, ‘we’re investing in education’, is they are putting a little bit of the money back that they had to. They were told by the Supreme court that they had to,” says Trevena.
Liberal Campaign Donations
There have been a great deal of media coverage of BC Liberal party’s campaign donations as of late.
They received 92% of the $5.1 million that fossil fuel companies pumped into British Columbia elections between 2008 and 2015.
Prior to their recent reversal on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Premier Clark’s administration is said to have received $771,168
“It’s scandalous! The Liberals are … basically selling their souls. It is cash for access. There is no question about it,” said Trevena. “I’m surprised that only $93,000 has been found, by the Liberal party, to be handled inappropriately .. but we are going into an election with the RCMP primarily investigating the leading political party ofr inappropriate campaign donations.”
The NDP has already tabled legislation to end corporate and union campaign donations on six separate occasions. They want a panel to determine the amount that individuals can donate.
“In Quebec, (the limit) .. is $100. That really levels the playing field,” said Trevena.
“We get challenged for it because we have had corporate fund donations (and) we get funding from labour, but … the Liberals have been taking it for many years as the governing party. If we turned around and said we are not going to take that money it will leave us in a very difficult position to run an election because we’d be playing by different rules. They already have enough money for this election, the next election in 20212 and they are starting to bank money for the 2025 election.”
Neither the NDP or Greens can afford those lavish campaign ads that the BC Liberals are running and, in addition, they are also using taxpayer dollars to promote “the BC Government.”
The BC Government’s “Balanced Budgets”
Christy Clark’s government claims to have delivered three consecutive balanced budgets, to which Trevena responds, “At what cost?”
The provincial debt was $40 billion when Clark became Premier and expected to be over $70 billion before 2020.
“Nobody has seen the provincial debt go up as much as when she has been in government,” says Trevena.
She also points to, “the outrageous overspending on capital projects. They say that they balance the books, but you have the Port Mann Bridge which was $1.2 billion over budget, we have the convention centre over budget … The price tag on Site C is $8 billion at the moment. We know it is going to be a lot more and I don’t know anyone who wants it! … The Massey Bridge replacement is $3.5 billion … Im sorry, but we don’t need to pay $3.5 billion for a bridge that is going to ruin farmland and only one municipality wants … We know that they are such bad fiscal managers that … the price is going to increase by at least a billion dollars. We have this over budget and that over budget. Everything has been over budget and yet they still frame themselves as sound fiscal managers.”
Privatizing BC Hydro’s New Generation Sources
Prior to the BC Liberals taking office, BC Hydro was often cited as a model that much of the world should emulate. The idea that new electricity generation should come from the private sector and BC Hydro’s involvement would be restricted to “improvements at existing plants” can be traced back to the Liberal Government’s 2002 Energy For Our Future.
“When people talk about a green future, we have a green future because hydro is water power. This is the ultimate green power and yet it has been squandered in this gross mismanagement,: says Trevena.
She does not know if it is true BC Hydro has committed to purchase more than $50 billion in future energy contracts because “We haven’t seen those contracts.” But “We are paying for future contracts that may, or may not, be delivering for 40 years time and then on top of that we get Site C .”
Why are we building this project, brought in without the BC Utility Commission’s oversight, that is so opposed by so many people?
We don’t need the energy, “Site C would be built for an LNG industry that we do not have”
How much of the electricity produced by these independent power producers, set up by Campbell, is actually being used on the grid?
“If we have anything, it was going to be selling to Alberta because Washington state doesn’t need it anymore, they’ve got wind.
“Everything has been forced through, it has been politicized from the CEO to the Chairman of BC Hydro.”
“They pretend to be sound fiscal managers, but they’ve messed up BC Hydro, they’ve messed up the provincial infrastructure spending, they’ve messed up ICBC, Bc ferries. The whole thing has just been ‘lets take as much money as we can and make it work for us and our friends. … It sounds really crass, but that’s what they are doing.”
The Housing Crises
In a recent interview, NDP MLA David Eby told me that 7 out the BC Liberals’ ten largest donors are real estate development companies. My question to Ms Trevena, is whether this is one of the causes of the province’s housing crises?
“I don’t have the specific figures, but it wouldn’t surprise me. We have major industries, the fossil fuel industry, big industries, realtors (and) people who look to get involved in politics for self interest. … (This is) a province that has allowed itself, through this party, to be corrupted. Money is funneled through for their own interests,” said Trevena.
“Government is doing almost nothing to help with housing affordability. We have people who are struggling to find housing and there is no new housing stock being built. It is being done purely on a profit basis and we’ve seen the problem with the bubble in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. That is being transferred to … Victoria and it’s coming up the island. I mean, we are all going to feel this. “
One of the key factors driving rentals up is large numbers of housing units that are used for short term (Air B&B) rentals.
Some Cortes residents have to vacate their homes during the summer, so their landlords can take advantage of the more affluent tourist market.
Trevena added, “You also get people who see … ( real estate) as the place to invest. They aren’t looking at housing as a home, they are looking at an investment. That is really one of the keys that is a problem.”
The NDP want to draw up a comprehensive housing plan both for those who are buying housing and those who are renting housing.
BC’s Medical Service Plan
My next question was about BC Health’s system, which I knew Trevena has been critical of.
She describes the medical service premium as “an unfair flat tax” which should be abolished.
“Whether you are earning $40,000 or $140,000 you pay the same amount … We are the only province that actually pays an extra premium for our health care and it doesn’t actually go into health care, it goes into general revenues. So it is not like we are starving health care by taking this money away, we are taking money from general revenues that we will find elsewhere,” says Trevena.
She added, “The other areas we need to be looking at is timely access to basic surgeries and to care. We have so many people who don’t have a family doctor. Remote and rural communities are struggling. We are an aging society. How can we make sure that people have the care that they need?”
Then there is the care for for seniors.
“We often see seniors in hospital when they’d be better off somewhere else .. at home, with the support to keep them in home, or with assisted living”
When people talk about a green future, we have a green future because hydro is water power. This is the ultimate green power and yet it has been squandered in this gross mismanagement.”
If The BC Liberals Represent Corporate Interest, Who Do The NDP Represent?
I asked her, “If the BC Liberals can be said the represent corporate interest, who do the NDP represent?”
“I would say that we are representing regular people. We’re representing families with kids … people who live in rural communities … people who live in Burnaby and Vancouver. We are representing people who are trying to get by in B.C. and that is extremely difficult at the moment,” she replied.
“We have the whole affordability issue, whether its MSP (medical services plan), housing affordability , whether it’s hydro … We have all these issues and the people’s interest are being ignored by the governing party.”
Top Photo Credit: Overlooking the docks on Heriot Bay by Gord Webster via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)