Politics

Promises-only news conferences characterize B.C. NDP election efforts

Opinion: String of announcements little more than works in planning, despite NDP having had eight years in office

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VICTORIA — The New Democrats made much of the release last week of a “new B.C. Flood Strategy,” four years in the making and their answer to flood preparedness throughout the province.

“After decades of piecemeal approaches to flood management, we have worked with communities to develop B.C.’s first integrated vision for provincial flood preparedness,” declared Nathan Cullen, minister of water, land and resource stewardship.

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“The new B.C. Flood Strategy will guide our continued work with First Nations, local government agencies, the agricultural sector, industry and conservation organizations, as we take actions to reduce flood risk.”

So said the government news release on Thursday.

The actual substance of the announcement was better reflected by my colleague Gordon Hoekstra.

“The long-awaited flood protection strategy….provides no new funding mechanisms, cost estimates, project priorities or timelines,” he wrote in a front page story in The Vancouver Sun on Friday.

The strategy, in the works since 2020, was due last year, so already a year late.

Yet there were no details on how the goals “will be achieved, how billions of dollars in flood-protection improvements will be paid for, and no completion date for an all-important provincewide flood assessment,” Hoekstra reported.

“To be fair, this is the first time we’ve ever done this,” pleaded Cullen.

Still, a flood management strategy with no costing, no funding mechanism, no priorities and no completion date is not a plan … is a news release.

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The government-authored summary admitted it will take another round of “planning” to decide where and when specific projects will be built. Nor did it say how long that will take.

Notwithstanding Cullen’s disavowal of “piecemeal approaches to flood management” the release listed some 50 projects that will be funded in the short term at a cost of $39 million.

Premier David Eby picked up the flood-management theme the next day when he announced $14 million in provincial funding to cover part of the cost of replacing an aging weir on Cowichan Lake.

The provincial share was already announced in the February provincial budget. But this being an election year, the New Democrats don’t hesitate to announce things more than once if they can get away with it.

The weir turned out to be a work in progress, too.

Major governance issues still need to be resolved with the local Cowichan Tribes. And when will that be sorted out?

“We don’t have a specific answer to it yet,” conceded cabinet minister Cullen. “We’ve got a lot of very good lawyers working on it.”

A lot of lawyers working on it? Phew! That’s reassuring.

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During the news conference portion of Friday’s announcement, reporters pursued more fruitful lines of inquiry than how the lawyers might be engaged in racking up their billable hours.

The premier was asked about the recent stabbing in downtown Vancouver.

The accused had earlier been convicted of breaching his probation by failing to attend psychiatric treatment on the very day he threatened the life of deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland.

Did that give the premier any second thoughts about forcing people who need help to get it?

Not really. The premier sidestepped the circumstances of the case with a longish answer about how involuntary care works in B.C., then explained that “one of the challenges that our health-care system has faced is an inadequate number of beds.”

This after almost seven years of NDP government.

Another reporter asked for a comment on the case of the Tsawwassen man who experienced a stroke while driving through the Massey tunnel and was left waiting in vain for an ambulance at the roadside.

Eventually the dispatcher told him to drive himself to the hospital — which he was understandably reluctant to do. When he finally did get to the hospital in a taxi, he waited another six hours to see a doctor.

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The New Democrats had been working for almost two years on a fix for the troubled ambulance service, said Eby.

“We know that the service is still not perfect and there will be challenges,” he conceded, with understatement given the circumstances.

“We’re going to keep working with paramedics to make sure that people get the response they deserve and they’re not sitting at the side of the road waiting for care. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare when that happens and it’s not acceptable to anybody, certainly not to our government.”

Saying the situation is “unacceptable” is the go-to answer for Eby when confronted with the latest horror story regarding some area of NDP government responsibility.

It is wearing thin. Eby himself said he expected his government to be judged on results — not promises, not news releases — on his big four priorities: access to health care, public safety, housing affordability and the cost of living.

The NDP re-election strategy entails an almost daily rollout of announcements, too often consisting of little more than a promise to do something on some undefined day in the future.

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On the latter occasions, reporters have been asking about other, more embarrassing matters. And when the premier says “unacceptable,” he is probably thinking of those questions, not the answers.

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