Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet opened up the floor to delegates at the B.C. Liberal Party convention in Vancouver Saturday, asking for suggestions for the election platform to take into the election set for May 9, 2017. Some highlights:
• A Richmond delegate asked Clark what the party can do to work with "disengaged" aboriginal communities, to prevent the fate of B.C. economic development projects from being determined by the courts.
Clark said conflicts can be reduced by getting more aboriginal people directly involved in government. She cited the party's recruitment of former Haisla Nation chief councillor Ellis Ross and Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council and a negotiator of the Great Bear Rainforest agreement on B.C.'s Central Coast, as candidates for Skeena and North Island.
• A member of Ducks Unlimited asked what the party will do to help "disenfranchised resident hunters," a reference to Forests Minister Steve Thomson's controversial 2014 decision to increase big-game allocation to guide outfitters.
After protests around the province, Thomson adjusted the allocation decrease the guide-outfitter share, representing about 60 additional animals per year taken by guided hunters from out of province, down from 168. B.C. hunters were concerned that B.C. has the highest share for guide-outfitters in North America, 20 per cent for elk, 20 to 25 per cent for moose, 35 per cent for mountain goat and 40 per cent for grizzly bears.
Clark didn't call on Thomson to reply Saturday. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province's latest climate change plan includes a "no net loss" policy for wetlands.
• Ian Tootill, a Vancouver advocate for driver rights and B.C. Conservative candidate in 2013, praised the government's decision to increase speed limits to 120 km/h on the Coquihalla Highway and other remote stretches of divided highway, and asked when the province would review speed limits in urban areas.
Clark said there was no plan currently for urban speed limits. Tootill also questioned the province's policy of impounding cars for excessive speeding, suggesting some police are over-zealous in taking away vehicles.
• A Kamloops delegate asked Transportation Minister Todd Stone to improve the province's response to spreading invasive weed species that threatens grazing land for ranchers.
Stone acknowledged that it's a growing problem in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Okanagan regions, and the province needs better co-ordination. Currently weed spraying along highways is not carried on into adjacent Crown land, so it and weed treatment on private land are overcome as invasive weeds spread back in.
Stone said that problem has to be solved before increasing spending. Kootenay East rancher Faye Street said regional districts used to be in charge but aren't any longer, and that should be fixed.
• A Vancouver delegate asked Health Minister Terry Lake about the government's strategy for opioid drug overdoses that have seen an alarming increase in the past two years.
Lake said the roots of the problem go back to the 1980s when doctors sought better treatment for chronic pain, and drug companies "pushed and pushed" opioid drugs such as oxycodone. People became addicted and then sought opioid drugs on the street, with an increase in fatal overdoses once fentanyl and other potent synthetic drugs began showing up in street drugs in B.C.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons is reviewing its prescription practices and health ministers are meeting in Ottawa this month to discuss solutions to the new threat, Lake said. Chronic pain sufferers, addicts self-medicating due to early trauma and recreational drug users are all at risk of overdose, with 80 per cent of fatalities being men, he said.
• A West Vancouver delegate said the B.C. government's focus on the Site C dam on the Peace River has undermined the province's push for more private renewable energy.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett said the province hasn't "lost interest" in private development of wind, solar and run-of-river power, but those intermittent sources have to have firm backup. Site C will allow more private power development in the long run, he said.
Bennett added that the market has changed since the B.C. Liberal government ramped up private power from four per cent to 25 per cent of BC Hydro's total, with an economic downturn in 2009 and the struggles of pulp and paper and other major industrial power users reducing demand.
• A Vancouver delegate asked Education Minister Mike Bernier if he can make it easier to use empty schools for community purposes.
Bernier replied that "the quick answer is yes," and defended his recent move to fire the Vancouver school board over its practice of keeping low-occupancy schools open. He also defended the province's move to do the reverse in rural communities at risk of losing their only school, providing extra funding in targeted communities to keep them open despite falling enrolment.
• A Kelowna delegate and Okanagan College instructor spoke out against a cut to the college's budget. Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson said the budget has not been cut.
More than $50 million has been saved through group purchasing of natural gas and other supplies among post-secondary institutions, and Okanagan College has just received approval for a $35 million trades training building, Wilkinson said.