B.C. VIEWS: Empty seats for political theatre

The distortion of issues for political gain and unrealistic demands for "more funding" are turning the public off

Deputy Premier Mike de Jong is guiding the government through its summer session.

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark didn’t win a seat in time to join her 48 fellow B.C. Liberal MLAs in the legislature for the summer session she ordered up.

By the time the byelection in Westside-Kelowna is certified by Elections B.C., Clark will be off to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. to meet with her fellow premiers in what is now loftily called the Council of the Federation.

These gatherings used to be called First Ministers’ Conferences, and there was a set ritual, largely designed for the consumption of network television. Provincial premiers ganged up on the prime minister to demand federal “funding” for every conceivable need, just as municipal leaders get together each year to present their demands to the B.C. government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper ended the show, declining to play the role of villain in this bit of political summer stock theatre, and it’s unlikely that any future national leader would reverse this prudent decision.

The result, at least among western premiers, has been a quieter, more pragmatic effort to work together, rather than clumsy attempts to play a shell game with taxpayers’ pockets.

The public got tired of this routine some time ago. I don’t need a poll to tell me this is one of the reasons for the decline in voter participation and engagement in issues. Today, politicians frequently remind themselves out loud that there is “only one taxpayer” supporting the squabbling layers of this over-governed country.

And yet, the same mistake keeps being made over and over by opposition politicians, and dutifully reported by the news media. The notion that all problems can and should be solved by “more government funding” is now so engrained in our education system that it seems inescapable.

One of the NDP’s big “gotcha” items last week was the failure of the B.C. government to buy the latest sonar technology to locate and recover the bodies of people who have drowned in one of our thousands of lakes and rivers. As with the health-care system, as soon as something is invented, some assume a right to it, regardless of cost.

Another big opposition target was the province’s failure to buy up remote properties in the Kootenays that have been discovered to be at high risk of further landslides such as the one that swept through a year ago.

The question of limits for protecting people who choose to build homes in risky locations seldom comes up in our political-media theatre. The media’s key ingredients are sympathetic victims to fit their narrative that all corporations and governments are greedy, stingy, callous and incompetent in everything they do.

What the opposition has dubbed “Christy Clark’s wheelchair tax” is another case in point. A Fraser Health Authority official patiently explained what was really going on here.

An average $35 monthly rent for wheelchairs is charged at the majority of care facilities, which are contracted by the health authority. Operators charge as they see fit for maintenance, disinfection and replacement of this equipment, for patients who don’t own their own chairs.

In September, a $25 fee is to be extended to the few facilities still directly run by Fraser Health, which have aging equipment and no fees. In all facilities, the fee is waived for those who can’t afford it.

It would be useful for our politicians to frankly discuss the trend towards contracted health services, and the role of user fees in forcing people to take more responsibility for maintaining their own health.

But that is not what happens. The narrative of dumping frail, impoverished seniors from their wheelchairs has no relationship to reality, but it’s how post-modern political theatre is done.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com


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