Everyone’s a critic: Victoria and Esquimalt MLAs play watchdog roles

Carole James, Rob Fleming and Maurine Karagianis each have specific roles in opposition

The day begins early with a review of the top news stories and plenty of coffee around a boardroom table in the opposition wing of the B.C. legislature.

In this room, a six-person team pours over personal notes, transcripts and government reports to decide which ministers will face a bombardment of pointed inquiries later on during question period.

Sitting on the B.C. NDP’s house management committee is just one of many hats worn by local opposition MLAs Carole James and Maurine Karagianis. In their critic roles, they are charged with keeping tabs on the impact of government policy while doing their best to advance their own agendas.

“Community engagement is probably the most effective tool we have; making sure we are representing the voices of people out there and amplifying the things that we hear,” said Karagianis, Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA.

She serves as critic for shipbuilding, women’s issues and child care and early learning in the newly formed official opposition and has been surprised at how readily the three roles intersect.

“Shipbuilding is such a critical part of my constituency, and women are really underrepresented in that industry,” Karagianis said. “And for most families, the biggest challenge for women getting back into the workforce is affordable, accessible child care.”

The B.C. Liberals’ shocking fourth straight election win in May means NDP MLAs, who dominate Vancouver Island, will spend another four years highlighting the shortfalls of government service while having little legislative power to enact the changes they desire.

Being in opposition does have its advantages, said James, Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA and critic for children and family development.

“You have the opportunity to get in-depth on an issue and meet with all of the stakeholders to raise awareness,” she said. “I see my role as critic as willing to work with anyone to improve services for children and youth in B.C. And I will work with anyone to do that, including this government. But I also see my role as being a strong voice for those vulnerable people who often aren’t heard in our system.”

James has already begun work with Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, to address gaps in youth mental health care. She also wants to provide greater support to youth transitioning out of foster care as they reach adulthood.

“Kids are aging out of care and then all of a sudden, their supports are cut,” said James, a foster parent for 20 years. “I believe this area is core to government responsibility. What could be more core than looking after the most vulnerable who need support?”

Another tool used by opposition MLAs are private member statements, brought forward on Monday mornings when the legislature is in session, Karagianis said.

The statements provide an opportunity to address an issue that might otherwise take a back seat to more pertinent provincewide issues during question period.

“It’s sometimes very frustrating when you sit in opposition – (especially) your inability to be convincing enough to get (the government) to change their mind,” she said. “But when you have done effective work and you do change policies for the people in your community for the most vulnerable, it’s incredibly satisfying.”


NDP critic roles

Local NDP MLAs serve various roles as critics of government ministries or specific areas of interest:

• Carole James (Victoria-Beacon Hill) – Children and Family Development

• Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake) – Education

• Maurine Karagianis (Esquimalt-Royal Roads) – Shipbuilding, women’s issues, child care and early learning