A far cry from 'goody bags' - The Orca
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A far cry from ‘goody bags’

Maclean Kay
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At UBCM, John Horgan not only passed up an opportunity to reset tense relations with rural BC, but might have made it worse.

Last week at UBCM, Premier John Horgan was direct, bordering on glib.

“You’re waiting for the goody bags to be handed out” said the Premier.

“We are not doing that today.”

Later, speaking to the media in his post-address news conference, he said:

“I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid, I always wanted everything right now, too, and I ended up turning out okay, even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted it.”

It’s a stark contrast to the thoughtful, measured answer I got from Horgan less than a year ago.

At the Premier’s end-of-session press conference last November, I asked him about downloading costs to municipalities and people, referencing increased property taxes by councils and mayors who had explicitly blamed the employers health tax.

“Your point is a good one,” said Horgan.

“I have historically criticized governments for being too conservative, and short-changing program delivery, or other initiatives that government could or should do because they’re claiming the purse strings are needing to be tightened.”

Horgan went on to say he wouldn’t speak for Finance Minister Carole James (fair enough), and that you shouldn’t make firm budget decisions at that point in the fiscal year (I guess?) – but again, conceded the provincial government could do more.

That was for property tax hikes. Compare that with a summer of little visible action as BC’s forestry industry suffered an ongoing colony collapse.

UBCM occupies an interesting and significant place in BC’s political calendar. Government and politics has no offseason, but August is the next closest thing; it’s the only time ministers and MLAs can realistically take time off. UBCM is the first major annual Fall event – the season premiere, if you like – and premiers have often used to set the stage for the Fall, and make significant announcements.

Not every UBCM convention address can or should have a big ticket item. But consider the situation:

  • A disastrous summer for communities that rely on forestry – 150 weeks of mill closures (so far) and 10 mills closed or permanently shut down.
  • A quiet, seemingly overmatched forestry minister who needed an airlift in the form of a new parliamentary secretary, whose first big splash was to say part of the problem was “too many mills.”
  • Growing grumbles that the NDP, whose seats and support base overwhelmingly come from urban B.C., were treating the situation with something less than urgency.
  • When the NDP did act with $69 million for displaced workers, it was quickly revealed this wasn’t new money, but transferred from other programs focused on rural BC.

In other words, not only was there no new money, it wasn’t even transferred from other, less-gripped-by-industry-collapse parts of the province. That had to sting.

UBCM, where Horgan had the undivided attention of many of those community leaders, probably should have been a moment for conciliation, reassurance, and more help.

Instead, more of a government that when it comes to forestry, has been “too conservative, and short-changing program delivery, or other initiatives that government could or should do.”

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

SWIM ON:

  • Once property taxes go up, they tend to stay up, notes Daniel Fontaine.
  • Does the photo from this piece look familiar? It’s Horgan at his end-of-session news conference in November 2018, referenced above. We also used it for our questions for the year-end sit down interview we didn’t get – but will ask again, just as nicely, this year.
  • Bob Price articulated the mood in many forestry-dependent communities this summer: what about us? 
SWIM ON