Apathy in the political process has reached an all-time high in recent years, with the perception that elected representatives are not really listening to public concerns. But there is evidence this week that the provincial government is heeding public feedback.
An all-party committee of MLAs has unanimously supported a proposal from Finance Minister Mike de Jong that henceforth all B.C. politicians will publish their expense receipts online. The proposal, clearly a response to the flap over legislature Speaker Linda Reid’s expenses – including nearly $5,500 in business-class air travel for her spouse, since repaid – elicited a few grumbles from NDP MLAs over the work involved.
But it seems MLAs overall agreed with de Jong’s assessment steps need to be taken to restore public trust, after recent “unreasonable” expense abuses in B.C. Meanwhile Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick has apparently taken note of written feedback from B.C. residents in amending the proposed Bill 24, which would make changes to the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve. The contentious two-zone provision remains, dividing ALR land into one area (Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan) where farmland would be protected from non-agricultural development and another (essentially the rest of B.C.) where farmers might have options to invite in ‘value-added’ industries that could include oil and gas development.
The amended legislation has received guarded endorsement from the B.C. Agriculture Council, although NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons says Bill 24 is still probably the worst piece of legislation he has seen. The actual impact of both of these provincial policies remains to be seen, of course. Politicians generally are past-masters in the art of simulated action, and manipulating public opinion through carefully stage-managed response.
But the BC Liberals have everything to gain and nothing to lose by demonstrating a greater level of responsiveness to public opinion – rather than the predictable chorus of partisan support.