week Attorney General Wally Oppal (MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview)
once again demonstrated that skills acquired on the Court
of Appeal don't necessarily help in BC's Legislative bear-pit.
The so-called star candidate made his first
Legislative stumble in September 2005 when not knowing
what he was talking about didn't stop him from offering
comments about his role with respect to the Child, Youth
and Family Advocacy Act. The government's mishandling
of those matters ultimately led to new legislation and the
appointment of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as Representative
for Children and Youth. Fast-forward nineteen months and
Oppal's performance has not improved.
Campbell government has been on the defensive since the
Easter Legislative break ended. KPMG has been asked to do
an independent investigation into the activities of a lobbyist
and a former deputy minister of finance, although the government
won't release the terms of reference of the investigation.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Commissioner
has been asked to do a review with respect to a potential
violation of the Lobbyist Act by the Premier's special advisor
and former deputy minister, Ken Dobell, and questions have
been raised about apparent conflicts of interest which Dobell
foresaw when he asked Vancouver's City Manager and the Premier's
Deputy Minister to sign a letter acknowledging that possible
perception. Dozens of questions have been asked about these
matters, but the government simply stonewalls. On April
25th, Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote about
the Campbell government's refusal to answer questions and
concluded with a brief history lesson on the use of the
term "stonewalling" that tied it to the Nixon
administration and Watergate. The next day NDP MLA Harry
Lalli heckled Oppal during question period, calling him
Oppal drew the short straw when duty arose to defend Campbell;
he was apparently given the job of answering many of the
questions that were directed at Campbell. When the Easter
break ended, Finance Minister Carole Taylor did a brief
stint at that duty, but she appears to have learned to pass
that duty to her colleagues. Taylor is one of the government's
most articulate members, but she has the good sense to get
out of the line-of-fire; not so for Stonewally. He alternated
with Campbell on April 24th, in refusing to answer questions
about media manipulation. In response to a question from
the NDP's David Chudnovsky, Stonewally said: "You know,
we don't conduct "investigations" while trials
are going on." It didn't take long before the NDP pointed
to the inconsistency of that answer with the investigation
KPMG has been asked to do for the Premier's Office.
25th, in answer to a question from the NDP's Mike Farnworth,
Stonewally overstepped when he said: "This is a classic
case of taking an allegation and making a finding of fact.
The basic premise of the question is so faulty
no factual basis for that question at all - none."
Observers were quick to ponder what Stonewally knew that
enabled him to say that there is no factual basis to the
questions; Campbell handled the rest of question period
that day. On April 26th Stonewally was back at it; his difficulty
explaining how a fact finding review into late registration
as a lobbyist could cover questions raised about an apparent
conflict of interest prompted a simple question from the
NDP's Bruce Ralston:
Ralston: The Information and Privacy Commissioner has
responsibility for the Lobbyists Registration Act. My question
is: what is the specific legal authority for him to investigate
a conflict of interest?
Hon. W. Oppal: If there is a violation of the act,
we have the Offence Act. The Offence Act sets out
the parameters pursuant to which an action can be launched.
The member knows that.
answer had nothing to do with the question. The Offence
Act provides the mechanism for dealing with violations
of provincial laws; it does not read new meaning into those
laws, hence it cannot add a provision for dealing with conflict
of interest to the Lobbyist Registration Act when
the Act isn't written to deal with such matters.
In British Columbia, conflict of interest is defined for
elected representatives, Members of the Legislative Assembly,
under the Members'
Conflict of Interest Act. The Act does not
apply to public servants or political appointments. That
is why the NDP's John
Horgan introduced amendments that would extend provisions
of the Act to government appointees, including Deputy
Ministers, ministerial staff, and heads of public sector
organizations. In the meantime, questions concerning conflicts
of interest for political appointments are matters left
to the discretion of the Premier. He cannot escape answering
what standards he sets for his staff.
April problems are not limited to how he earned his new
nickname. On April 25th Oppal introduced amendments to the
Human Rights Code that eliminate mandatory retirement.
BC is one of the last provinces to still allow discrimination
in employment against people age 65 and over. Practice in
the Legislature is for the first reading of any Bill to
consist of a brief statement that describes the purpose
of the Bill. The Campbell government routinely abuses that
practice by turning first reading into a political statement.
When Oppal introduced Bill 31 he described the process that
led to the Bill, but he neglected to mention that the Bill
allows discrimination against older workers with respect
to insurance, pension and WCB coverage. Workers who continue
beyond age 65, under the Campbell government's legislation,
will not have WCB coverage, will not continue to accrue
pension benefits and may not have life insurance coverage.
Such discrimination is not unique to BC, but allowing it
clouds the boasts about BC being a province where older
people can fulfill roles that are respected and valued.
after introducing Bill 31, Oppal rose and introduced Bill
33 with the words: "Regrettably, this bill isn't as
exciting as the last one. It's Bill 33, Attorney General
Statutes Amendment Act, 2007. It's guaranteed to cure
insomnia." Later in the day, Oppal's Ministry issued
release headlined: "B.C. Strengthens Child Support
Enforcement." It looks like Oppal found improvements
for the enforcement of child support to be sleep inducing,
or perhaps as was the case in his legislative début,
he might not be thoroughly briefed on his legislation.