Northwest NDP MLA pans throne speech

Skeena MLA Robin Austin had harsh words for Premier Christy Clark following yesterday's northern-focussed throne speech.

Should any of the planned LNG projects go ahead, Clark promised to put subsequent tax revenues into a fund that would then pay down the provincial debt and finance other initiatives.

But Austin said the premier's plan is “putting the cart before the horse” by making promises to spend money the province doesn't yet have.

“We haven't even got a project going,” said Austin on the phone from Victoria. “Already the government's talking about money that we don't even have today, thinking about a prosperity fund.”

BC Hydro used to be the province's prosperity fund, he said.

“It's kind of ironic. BC Hydro used to be that great prosperity fund that used to bring a lot of benefits to British Columbia, but it's been so mismanaged that we're going to be putting money into it, let alone getting any prosperity from it,” he said, citing a late-2011 auditor general report on BC Hydro's deferred accounting practises.

He also criticized the government's record on skilled trades training, which was also highlighted in the speech, saying that the government is focussing on trades “a little late in the day.”

“What I've been saying for the last eight years is that we've needed to have that trades training, and now the projects are here and a lot of young people don't have the skills that they should have been given,” he said. “When this government came into power, the completion rate for trades training was 80 per cent. Right now it's 35 per cent. Something has really gone wrong with how we deliver trades training over the last 10 years.”

The NDP would work to put support services back in, he said.

“There used to be counsellors who helped apprentices to overcome difficulties as they were going through the trades program,” he said. “Well, the government of the day thought that was too expensive, industry didn't want to pay for it, so they cut them all out. Consequently we've got very low retention and low accomplishment rates in trades training.”

The Liberal government is also late with regards to K-12 education issues, said Austin, who is the NDP's education critic.

“The same premier who brought in Bill's 27 and 28, who started this fight against the teachers, she now has the gall to suggest at the end of her term, 'we need to have a better relationship with teachers for the sake of the children'. Well, I'm sorry, she created most of this animosity,” he said, addressing the government's January proposal to enter into a 10-year deal with teachers.

The legislature will sit for 19 days over five-weeks and is the first sitting in nine months, a factor Austin also criticizes.

“I've been here for eight years, they've cancelled six out of the eight fall sessions,” he said. “It doesn't matter which government it is, the only way to hold the government to account is to have the legislature open so people can actually ask questions and demand answers... But I'm glad to be back. We've got five weeks here, we'll do what we can to hold them accountable and show them the differences between us and them, and then we will head into the May election.”


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