The exact length and breadth of the shaft

Earlier, Public Eye pithily reported provincial New Democrat conventioneers debated an emergency resolution approving the "statement by (party leader) Carole James that ended support of Bill 17." But what was the substance of that ornery debate? Due to the timing of the resolution, most print organs didn't cover it. So Public Eye, with the assistance of a tape graciously provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s Jeff Davies, has prepared a rush transcript of that...er...lively discussion.

Paul Browning Paul Browning, YND. I rise in support of this motion. I think we all recognize that passing this salary increase without a public process and with no debate in the house was a mistake. I'm also happy that this resolution supports Carole James and the statement that ended support of that. And that we support the work of the party caucus in the key and most important role of going after the Liberals in the destruction of this province. You know - yes, the caucus made a mistake. It's been reversed. Let's get on with things. We shouldn't spend a whole bunch of time in the party rehashing it, attacking our leadership you know. We should move on. Go after the real enemy - who are the Liberals. This resolution is a good balance. I don't think we need to spend lots of time rehashing it.

Chair Microphone four.

Leanne Dawson Leanne Dawson, Prince George and District Labour Council. I rise in opposition to this motion for the very reason that NDP MLAs voting for a 15 percent increase in a decade where the public sector employers council has been delivering mandates to public sector employees of zero over a decade now. It's an absolute outrage. I'm not opposed to a fair increase for anybody. And let's make it very clear. I think MLAs deserve a fair salary for the work they do. However, every one of our NDP MLAs ought to have stood up in the legislature and demanded that government rescind Bill 29 that took absolute cuts off of social service workers who went through an 11 week strike to finally get a decent wage. And that was eliminated right from out under their feet. They ought to have stood up and demanded that government rescind Bill 37 which rolled back wages of hospital workers by - by the way - 15 percent. They needed to stand up in the house and demand a fair remedy for the teachers. They needed to demand that all of the havoc that's been put on workers and working families in this province be turned around before they accept an increase in their wages. The next outrage for me is the outrage of our party's MLAs standing up and then saying, "Oops. We need to turn back. We cut a deal. And now we're not going to go through we the deal. We cut a deal. We're going to renege on it. What does that do to our party's credibility in the future, trying to put the new way out there and work together to achieve things for people in this province? That's why I'm opposed to this motion.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone three.

Judy Darcy Judy Darcy, Vancouver-Fairview. And a representative of 40,000 hospital workers in the Hospital Employees' Union of British Columbia. And I speak on this issue - I speak on this issue tonight as a longtime New Democrat, as a citizen and also as a representative of the hospital workers who saw their wages rolled back by the Liberal government by 15 percent. I want to begin by saying that, in politics, it takes a lot of courage to say we made a mistake. And I want to applaud the leader and the caucus for having the courage to say we were wrong. I also want to say that it's a very good thing we're not trying to duck this issue or sweep it under the carpet. The best way for our party to deal with it at the opening of convention is to put it on the floor - to talk it out so we can really learn the lessons from what was a very, very serious mistake. And I want to share with you the reaction of the members of our union. Many of them have lost their homes because they were rolled back. They can't afford tuition fees for their kids any longer. They're having a real struggle to make ends meet. And they went out there in the last election and they worked their butts off from one corner of British Columbia to the other to elect our 33 NDP MLAs. And I say to you tonight - more in sorrow than in anger - that I need to reflect to you the anger and outrage of those members. We've talked a lot in the last week about process. Yes, the process stunk. We've talked a lot about timing. And, absolutely, the timing stunk. But I think the most important thing we need to learn here is that there was a judgment call that was made that was profoundly out of touch with the lives of ordinary British Columbians. And that's the most important lesson that we need to learn.

Chair I ask you to sum up delegate.

Ms. Darcy I will wrap-up. It's precisely because of what's in the last resolve of this resolution that I think people are especially upset and hurt. Because we want to be there unequivocally to say our MLAs are doing a tremendous job on behalf of working people. And, in order to strengthen that course - in order to rebuild trust and faith - we've got to work even harder to do politics differently. And doing politics differently means first and foremost being in touch with what's happening out there on the ground with working people and the poor and the disadvantaged across British Columbia. That's what our party has to do. And then we can turn a corner and rebuild from this mistake.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone two.

Andrea Dunlop That's hardly fair to have to follow that. My name is Andrea Dunlop. I'm opposed to this for different reasons. This, for me, just says let's support our government. Let's support the NDP. And I think that we're all here because we support the NDP. This is explaining why we should support the NDP. And I don't think we need that. I feel uncomfortable voting on a thing saying we need to support the NDP. That's why we're here. I don't think this is necessary.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone one.

Fred Musen Fred Musen, Vancouver-Kensington. You know, this resolution is fine but it's damage control. And until you understand and admit to the full amount of the damage you can't provide adequate control or redress. What happened? What happened was there was $35,000 for constituencies. Good idea. Mailing privileges. Good idea. But where and how did that get transformed to an absolute undermining of the democratic process? No consultation with the constituencies. No advanced warning legislation was going to be introduced. No reference to the people that have to go out and tell members to join the party - because that's where the future of financing is going to go. How do you explain that? How do you explain it to the members of my union - the Hospital Employees' Union. Judy outlined some of what they're going through. They wanted to believe. And they're faced with a Liberal government that wants to extinguish hope. And part of the hope they have for a better future for themselves - for their communities, for healthcare - is belief that getting enough NDPers elected to form government will provide accountability and a solution. And that's not what we had. And where was the analysis of the timing? Two days before a municipal election! How much damage did that create? I don't think we'll ever really know. There were lots of close races. But people started saying it doesn't matter who we vote for anymore. And one week before this convention? The NDP did a great job about the 713 child deaths that were not investigated. And when they supported voting for this unanimously - without any debate - it made it look like they didn't really care about these kids and it was being used as a smokescreen. So there has to be some analysis. Before you decide what damage to control, you have to analysis what damage was created. So this is fine as far as it goes but it does not go far enough.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone four.

Barry O'Neil Barry O'Neil, CUPE British Columbia. It's unfortunate that I am actually at a con mike. But this why I think I'm a New Democrat. Because unlike other parties in this country, the kind of things we have to deal with we'll deal with in front of cameras, in front of each other. We'll talk. This our parliament. This is our opportunity to debate these things. And I'm pleased that we actually have this resolution on the floor. This is certainly - as a brother said earlier - not any attack on the leader. I think that this is encouraging to our leader because what our leader did in response to what she heard was the right thing to do. And we're voicing those kind of concerns to our party. If we don't do it no one else will my friends. So I'm proud to be part of this debate and make no qualms. Although I believe some of the things in this resolution will work there are certain things that I think we need to be aware of in the future. If we learn nothing from this tragedy in my view then we will learn nothing. And our MLAs, we all know work very hard. But I want to talk about a couple things. Because I don't think it does our debate any good by adding number three to this resolution because those are the kind of things that we should be talking about as New Democrats on a day-to-day basis. It shouldn't take a new resolution to actually encourage us to talk about the things that are covered in number three. That's what our party is built on and those are the kinds of issues we believe in. And we need not have a part of a resolution here that encourages us to do the same. You know, I think there was a lot of talk (that) happened as a result of this. But I think if we learn nothing when this resolution came forward and wherever it was made we need to learn to talk better to each other. People in this room understand what's happening in communities all across this province. And there's certainly nothing wrong with those of us who work in Victoria asking us what we think because we are the pulse of this government. We are the pulse of this province. And God knows the Liberal government does it with their business friends on a daily basis. We need to understand that we need to better communicate. Because nobody knows what workers are going through better than workers. And our government needs to understand that if they ask them they can give them the kinds of positive kinds of comments that need to be made around pay increases for our MLAs. My friends, this is all about a debate we need to have. And I'm pleased that we are having it. We should make no bones or apologies about having it. It's what we're all about as a party. Thank you very much.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone three.

Jim Evanson Jim Evanson, president of Vancouver-Kensington. First time delegate. First of all, I'm encouraged by the passion I'm hearing in this debate. This is a huge issue. To find that we're dealing with 33 highly-intelligent MLAs who came to this conclusion that it would be a good idea to pursue this enterprise - however many weeks it was or days it was that they made that decision. I think that we need to have - my suggestion, the only thing that I'm going to suggest in addition to what people have been saying is that we need to take back to local constituencies the idea that there's a lot of people out there who need to talk about this. And my suggestion - and this is what we're going to do it in my constituency - is to have an evening in someone's living room and invite people to come and do what we're doing right now. Because, if we don't, these feelings are going to fester. And this is going to be bad for the party. So this is is my thought.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone two.

Delegate (inaudible), New Westminster. I stand at the con mike not because I've lost any of my faith in the party - so I'm not going to be opposiing part three - nor because I've lost fiath in our caucus - which I supported and helped get elected. But, frankly, I don't think the pay increase should be accepted whether it comes from an independent process or by a vote in the legislature. If our party wants to say we stand in solidarity with the people who are suffering under this government, then we can say it by saying that under no circumstances will our caucus accept pay increases while the working people - and we haven't heard very much about the people who aren't working, the people who are on welfare, the 100 percent increase in people who are homeless. If we want to stand in solidarity with people, then our answer isn't what the proceess is. Our answer is we stand in solidarity with the people who are suffering under this government. We'll carry on that fight. And we won't compromise as a caucus or a party until that fight is won and we reverse the course that this government is on. I oppose this motion. I think that it continues the problem of process. It's a glossing over. It's not right to entertain this kind of process. It wasn't right to entertain it in the beginning. And it's not right to put number three here and entertain this process on convention floor. There's only one way to show that solidarity. And it's to say no - we stand in solidarity with the people as a party, this convention stands in solidarity with the people who are suffering under this government.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone one.

David Vipond David Vipond, Surrey-Green Timbers. I'm at a pro mike to actually speak in favour of this - and for a number of reasons. As has been said, the process as we all know has been flawed. But I have to commend the leader because recognized that immediately and she took unequivocable action to correct it. So the error was immediately remedied. So for us to dwell on it and flaggelate ourselves and engage in recriminations is just an unproductive exercise. And even though the process was flawed, I disagree with the previous speaker who said that they should never be entitled to a wage increase if the circumstances in BC are anything less than perfect. My day job is to represent working people in bargaining. And if you take a look at terms for MLAs, they make about $25 a hour. It's a very difficult job. You have to interrupt your career. You have to seek election. You're guaranteed to get fired in four years. And then you've got to seek election again. For some reason, they decided in an earlier administration that they had to get rid of their pension plan. And I can tell you they have an entirely inferior arrangement right now. I'm a pension trustee and we would not accept the proposed system that they have for our members. We would advocate for a defined benefit plan as being a superior pension provision. I'm also aware that their benefits are the pits. I can tell ya, if it was a unit appropriate for collective bargaining, the current arrangement is not one we'd settle for. The other thing that I would like to say is that people have spoken against our government members. And they rail really about past sins. It was the NDP, it was Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan would stood in a marathon - a heroic marathon - to oppose Bill 29. They slugged their guts out for that. And how on earth can we stand here today and say that the NDP's not entitled to consideration in their pay because Bill 29 was passed by the rotten Liberals. It doesn't make any sense. And it was the NDP in this current session that stood and stood and fought and fought against that rotten legislation to force teachers back to work. They're doing a good job.

Chair Sum up delegate.

Mr. Vipond And it is the NDP - our current members - who have drawn attention to the disgusting episode regarding children that are dying in this province. So I urge delegates here today to support this resolution and move on. Because we've got miles to go before we sleep.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone four.

Ron Wagner Ron Wagner, Steel. I rise to speak against this motion. I find that the timing of the presentation of this motion and the language of this motion are both a shameful attempt to sweep a turd underneath a carpet. To pair the rising of wages with the idealism is phrase three is an attempt to hide what happened and to not talk about what happened. The issue of the compensation for MLAs is not part of the question. The question is how they went about addressing that. The transparency that wasn't there. Honestly, I thought the NDP was a party of workers. Where were they in the teachers' strike? I didn't hear them saying anything about BCPC and how the government uses BCPC to hide - to distance themselves. I saw the NDP running away from supporting labour. And to talk about the past administration and how they behaved and to hide behind their skirts now for how this caucus has behaved is disingenous. Again - how did you manage to present this three minutes before closing? Was that an accident? So, I rise - there is already accomodation for MLA pay increases in legislation. And, if it's not adequate, good politics would be to include us. This whole thing has brought shame on politics and will distance voters from the electorate process. Anyways, let's tear up this resolution. It's just water.

Chair Thank you delegate. Microphone three.

Brenda McBain Brenda McBain, provincial council delegate, Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Oak Bay-Gordon Head is one of the presenters of this motion. And I'm here to speak in support of it. Contrary to what the previous speaker has said, the intention of this motion is to bring this issue to the forefront, earlier in convention. To have the opportunity to have delegates speak to it - to express their disappointment over a terrible mistake that was made. But (it is) also an opportunity to acknowledge the fine, hard work on many difficult issues that the NDP caucus has undertaken in this last legislative session. Just a reminder to delegates - this is largely a rookie caucus who have undertaken some excellent work on some very serious issues that they faced. And yes, a serious mistake has been made in this particular instance. But, in spite of their efforts to do politics differently, they did make a terrible mistake. It's been acknowledged clearly by Carole James the leader. I believe that the members of caucus have heard us tonight and heard our disappointment. I feel confident they will have learned from this mistake. And they have much, much serious work to do on our behalf in the future. And I'm proud to lend them my support as they care on to do that.

Chair Thank you delegate. I hear the question being called. But I'll hear one more speaker and then I'll test the house. Microphone two.

Lyle Kristiansen Lyle Kristiansen, Powell River-Sunshine Coast. I rise to oppose the resolution - not for the kind of reasons I've heard so far. I've been a union representative. I've been on the CCF national council. The NDP federal council. I've been a member of parliament. And if anybody thinks that by having an independent bloody commission you're going to save money you need your bloody heads examined! Hell! For ten years, I was about the only federal member of parliament that would defend on TV and radio the salaries and pensions that MPs get. Everybody took 'em. But few had the guts to stand up and defend them. The socialist movement, ever since it was born in this country, has fought like hell to try to get decent pay and decent pensions for elected people so working people got afford to run for bloody office. That's what we existed for for bloody half of the last bloody century. I don't know what was said in caucus when the decision was made. But it's a caucus of 33 people and I'm sure it wasn't unanimous and I'm sure they had a long debate. And I'm sure some of them questioned the wisdom of the timing. There's never a good time. There's never a good time. But to have a decision reached by a majority to be overruled by one person without full consolution with that caucus when it was our party when it was in government - I forget whether it was under Harcourt or Clark - that screwed up the MLAs pension plan that was there before. And it was well past time that we tried to correct it. Because, if you work for the boss and you get elected and they you get defeated, somebody will put you on the payroll. But, if your a bloody worker, no one will look after you if you get cut-off after three or four years or six years. You want to have ordinary people elected in parliament. Then you give them so God damn security! And you don't have anyone - a leader or anyone else - single-handedly reverse a democratic decision that was reached whether it was right or wrong.

Chair Please sum up delegate.

Mr. Kristiansen You just don't do that. The whole purpose behind this resolution is gutless and it's wrong.

Chair Thank you delegate. I said I would test the house now and whether it was the pleasure to go to a vote or continue debate. So all those in favour of closing debate and voting now please raise your hands. Thank you. All those who'd like to continue debate. Okay, we'll be putting the question (to the floor).

6 Comments

Well Sean after what two weeks now of reading on and on about this, all I have to say is, you're a very lucky man that

1) the NDP is an open enough party to actually have a real discussion about this issue in public, and;

2) the NDP actually responded to the public outcry regarding Bill 17 (in less than 24 hours as you may recall) when it happened, and fixed the mistake.

Now in the interest of balance, because I know that as a serious, investigative journalist you'll want to get to the bottom of all aspects of this story, I'm asuming you'll spend an equivalent amount of time combing your Liberal connections to find out what kind of reaction their offices had to this issue from the public, not to mention their members, and to see whether at any point Mr. Campbell and his caucus would agree to have views about the Bill aired to them in a public setting.

It might be a wee bit difficult though since the last time the Liberal Party had an open process about anything was...well, refresh my memory. When exactly was that?

Great line. shoving a turd under the rug. Right on "steel" Much more effective than the most gently tha "trying to put the genie back in the bottle." They blew it, they backtracked when the public complained and now if it wasn't for the valiant efforts of our MLA's holding those horrible Liberals feet to the fire ect etc.

They looked stupid and tried a stupid thing to get out of it. I'm sticking to the Turd under the rug scenario. I just feel sorry for the union reps who tried to convince someone that their members were just a bit unfortunate to have their collectives broken by the same folks the Loyal Official Opposition got into the honey jar with. The HEU rep started strong ended weak. Our daughter ate a 4 dollar an hour pay cut when the liberals destroyed her contract. I wonder whom she will trust now.

I read in an interior newspaper yesterday that the local MLA. NDP stated he knew nothing about the raise thing till 24 hours before it happened. He still could have stood tall, but chose not to, so his 24 hour defence shows me the deal wasn't well explained to their whole caucus. Mike Farmsworth was a bit lax, or maybe very focussed on getting the deal no matter who it hurt. Ditto for Ms. James.
Aint politics just great entertainment for the rest of us. Especially as we daily lower our expectations around service cuts and of course trust in our elected officials.

The Liberals would have never tabled the bill in the first place if the NDP hadn't agreed to support it. Why would they want to table a bill the public is likely to react negatively to if the NDP wouldn't agree to it. If Carole James was so keen on public consultation, why didn't she consult the public before supporting the bill. She got caught making a stupid mistake and backtracked only after public outrage. This is no way to lead a government. Leadership means sometimes taking unpopular positions and defending them, while consulting with people before making decisions not after. Implementing various bills to test public reaction and then repealing them if the reation is negative is no way to run a government. Carole James messed up badly here, plain and simple.

"The Liberals would have never tabled the bill in the first place if the NDP hadn't agreed to support it."

"This is no way to lead a government."

What are you saying here? The Liberals need to have the NDP onside before they pass a bill? Is that how governments are suppposed to lead? Are you saying that it isn't the NDP who call the shots now?

"Leadership means sometimes taking unpopular positions and defending them"

So why didn't the liberals "lead" and stick with their unpopular decision? Sounds like you hold the NDP to a higher standard, then the governing Liberals.

"This is no way to lead a government. Leadership means sometimes taking unpopular positions and defending them, while consulting with people before making decisions not after. Implementing various bills to test public reaction and then repealing them if the reation is negative is no way to run a government. Carole James messed up badly here, plain and simple."

Replace "Carole James" with "Gordon Campbell and you've got the last four years of BC politics right.

I wasn't aware that having 34 seats in a 79 seat legislature and being the official opposition constituted "leading the government"; I thought it was Gordo's job to do that.

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