Thursday, March 16, 2017

As current session nears an end, a departing Robin Austin reflects on time in Legislature

Skeena MLA Robin Austin is leaving
provincial politics once this current
session comes to an end, on Tuesday
he delivered a few parting thoughts
The indications that the Legislature is getting ready to wrap things up and send MLA's off to their home ridings for the upcoming election campaign are starting to get stronger and stronger, with some of the recent speeches delivered in the Chamber those of a reminiscence, as those MLA's who won't be running again wind down their time as elected politicians.

One of the longer serving MLA's comes from just down Highway 16 in Skeena, and on Tuesday afternoon, Robin Austin took a few moments to reflect on his time in Victoria, providing an eloquent review of public service, before addressing the topic of the afternoon session related to political financing as part of the discussion on Bill 4, the Election Amendment Act.

Austin first thanked the voters of Skeena for their support and confidence and then paid tribute to his wife and children noting the sacrifices that families of politicians have to make once a successful election campaign sends an MLA off to Victoria.

On that theme Austin also made an emotional note of some of the sustained personal attacks he sustained in the last 2013 campaign and the impact that it had not only him, but his family and acknowledged those in the Legislature that stood by him during that period of time.

For the Skeena MLA, who started his political life at the School District level in the region, the journey to Victoria began in 2005, and for the Legislature he recounted that first campaign and the hard work from his constituency assistants that helped deliver his message to the riding.

He expanded on his appreciation of those that work behind the scenes for MLAs, noting the work not only in Terrace and Kitimat, but at his legislature office in Victoria.

As he looked back at the twelve years in the Legislature he reviewed some of his efforts in the area of the needs of vulnerable kids and public education, recalling some of the issues as a critic for education that he had spoken towards, noting how many of those themes had been addressed by the recent Supreme Court decision on education in British Columbia.

As he turned to theme of the day to explore issues of political donations, the Skeena MLA offered up a cautionary note for the Legislature to consider when it comes to how the public perceives politicians at this time.

We look to ourselves and go: "Well, we're much better than them." But, in reality, in this province especially, far more than any other province, we are not doing justice to the citizens of this province when we think that we can somehow take in huge amounts of money and pretend it doesn't affect our decisions. 

It was Aldous Huxley who said this: "You pays your money, and you takes your choice." The great author of Brave New World, dystopian science fiction, some of which is coming true to this day. "You pays your money, and you takes your choice." 

The previous speaker stood up here and said that she believes firmly that all of the people in that party are moral and honest. I'm not suggesting here. I'm not making accusations here. But the perception to the public is not a good one when you have political parties taking in millions of dollars from people who are high and mighty and important, whether they be people in the corporate sector, whether they be people who control large sums of money as part of union donations. 

It is inevitable, certainly in the public perception, that if you take that kind of money, somehow you're going to be more willing to look aside and give some favours to those who are expecting something in return. That is human nature, and it's something that needs to be stopped.

Austin also explored areas on campaigning, traveling the province as part of committee sessions to hear of the concerns from British Columbians, where politicians from all parties in the House can establish a real dialogue and work on behalf of all residents.

Towards that concept Austin offered up a few thoughts on the need for renewal in how the Legislature conducts its business.

So we need to really assess, after this election, both on the money side and on the democratic side, how we can renew this place to make it worthy of the name it is and so that we can have citizens feeling excited about voting, citizens feeling that it's important to be involved, in between elections, with the kind of public policy ideas that are being put forward and are being discussed here in this House. 

Because in reality…. We all know this. All we do is get up and make lots and lots of speeches. But because people's lives are busy and because people feel disengaged with the political process, they don't pay too much attention. That's not a good thing, because that enables us to basically do whatever we want — if you're the winning side — and not be concerned by what people are thinking about in their communities.

To close out his notes for the Legislature, Austin made note of the upcoming election campaign and called for a Legislature that accepts a more free flowing process for ideas, once the vote count comes in and the next session begins.

I really hope, moving forward, that after this election people take this into consideration and that there's a debate, by whoever wins and whoever loses, to have a more free-flowing set of ideas and use the committee stage as they do, very well, in Ottawa, at the federal level. 

I would like to just thank everybody for your indulgence for letting me speak on things other than this bill. I wish everyone here well with their families. I hope that you will have exciting times ahead. 

For those who are retiring, I hope you have a healthy and long retirement. 

For those who are running again: bonne chance, my friends, but better chance to these guys.

You can review his full address from the Legislature Hansard record here, starting at the 16:10 mark.

It is also available for viewing through the Legislature Video Archive, Mr. Austin introduces his themes at the 2:38:00 point, you can view it from the Chamber Video for afternoon session from Tuesday, March 14.

For further items related to the British Columbia Legislature see our archive page here.

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