Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NDP and Liberals in lively exchange Tuesday over Highway 16 Transportation issues

The release of a large volume of documents on Monday related to issues along the Highway 16 corridor found Transportation Todd Stone in the line of fire on Tuesday, as a number of NDP MLA's outlined their concerns on the way the Minister and the Liberal Government have handled the issue, tied as it has become to the recent disclosures of deleted files from government offices.

The deleted files concerns go back to May of this year, when it was disclosed by a Transportation staff member, that he had been ordered by a superior to destroy a number of e mails related to the Highway of Tears issue.

That shocking disclosure led to a much larger review of deleted emails and government information processes which resulted in a scathing report from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner last month. In her report, Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham noted that the the incident related to the deleted Highway of Tears correspondences has now been handed over to the RCMP for further investigation.

The deleted files controversy and ongoing efforts to access more information related to the Government's handling of the Highway 16 concerns made for much of the background for Question Period on Tuesday, as opposition members called Minister Stone to account for the state of concern over his department.

Making use of the newly released information NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis noted that some of the new material appears to provide a different story than what the Liberal Government had previously observed on the Highway 16 file.

In particular, she noted some of the comments culled from stakeholder meetings with one quote in particular hammering home the message of the desire to see some form of public transit system created for the Northwest.

"There might be opportunities to create an interconnected network through which passengers might travel from Prince Rupert to Smithers, for example, and then connect to another bus." 

Another quote highlighted by the NDP MLA noted that the government had received feedback from the public indicating that there was "A need to develop B.C. Transit in smaller communities."

As part of the Tuesday Question period inquiries, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice joined in with Ms. Karagianis on the topic, taking a number of her concerns directly to the Transportation Minister.

For Ms. Rice the theme of her line of questions was focused on the long trail of extensions and non disclosures when it came to opposition requests for a number of documents related to the Ministry of Transportation community stakeholder sessions held across Northern BC.

Those stakeholder meetings were designed to review a number of topics related to Highway 16 safety issues for residents of the region, including the concept of creating a shuttle bus system to link the communities of Highway 16.

Ms. Rice dismissed the Government's approach on the issue as one of deception and spin, observing that it was only through the NDP efforts over the last number of months that the government had finally been forced to release more information.

The response of Minister Stone for the most part provided for a listing of the number of documents that have been made public since 2012, numbering some 600 pages, with Mr. Stone stating that any suggestions that the government has not been attempting to provide information are simply not true.

Though if we read through some of the revelations through the files provided on Monday, it would seem to suggest that the provincial government wasn't in any hurry to share some information, particularly those notes that might offer up a different narrative than what they had been constructing up until the spring of this year.

The response from Minister Stone did not do much to satisfy the North Coast MLA, who followed up on the theme of shuttle bus options as outlined by MLA Karagianis, highlighting for Mr. Stone that information that has since been released indicated that there was growing support for a public transportation option to connect the communities of the Highway 16 region, in order to provide for a safe environment to go to work, or get groceries.

Going further, Ms. Rice asked  how the Minister could get up in the House time after time and have such a disregard for First Nations communities and the families of of the murdered and missing along the highway of Tears.

For his part, Minister Stone returned to his themes of continuing engagement with First Nations and communities across the region, expanding on the measures that the government has taken regarding Highway 16 to this point, as they continue seek out ways to make the corridor safer.

As a final note on the topic for the NDP MLA, the Minister observed for Ms. Rice on the theme of a safety symposium coming up later this month in Smithers, where there will be more discussion to review many of the issues of the region.

The volume of information released Monday by the Provincial Government through a Freedom of Information release and referenced during Tuesday's Legislative session can be reviewed here

You can read over the back and forth related to the Highway 16 issue through the Legislature archive here, it comes at the end of the Tuesday morning Question Period at the 10:40 mark.

The exchange between the Minister and MLA Rice in the Legislature can be found below:

For more on Ms. Rice's efforts on the Highway 16 issues and other items of note in the Legislature see our archive page here.

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