Wednesday, March 17, 2021

An audacious Opposition, Stikine MLA Cullen answers Liberal challenges in Legislature presentation

Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen spoke Tuesday to challenge
some of the Liberal Opposition themes over the Budget of
Supply debate in the Legislature

With some 13 billion dollars worth of spending up for discussion, the political rhetoric has been heating up this week in the British Columbia Legislature, with the Opposition Liberals suggesting that the governing NDP have been proceeding forward with little in the way of transparency or accountability, all cloaked in the name of COVID response. 

The Horgan government's financial planning was the topic for Skeena MLA Ellis Ross on Monday afternoon which we took note of here, as the BC Liberals continue to stake out their approach towards an opposition strategy with a four year lead time to the next election.

On Tuesday, Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen, who was participating remotely from Smithers, spoke to a sense of the Liberals living ten, twenty or thirty years in the past and  challenging much of their narrative this week, presenting the NDP's work through COVID and their planning for the months and years ahead.

Today we are debating an interim supply bill which the opposition has taken a new-found obsession over in trying to pull back some great conspiracy theory of how the government is acting and conducting itself, when interim supply bills are what governments do. They bridge the programs and supports that citizens rely on to take us into the budget. 

I know the Liberals are just so hopeful and waiting to see what Budget 2021 will look like. Just 30 more sleeps or so and we'll get them there. We'll be unveiling exciting and important new programs to help British Columbians through what everyone has recognized as unprecedented times. 

So let's take a look at what the government has done, because past action is a good predictor of future actions. And this government has looked to support people through one of the most trying and difficult times for so many British Columbians. We've seen 10 billion dollars allocated and spent to support British Columbians, to support British Columbian businesses and communities at the very grassroots level right from the very beginning of this difficult time. 

And in particular — and this is what a social democratic government does — we have focussed on the most vulnerable in our society, those that would be affected most by the slowdown and shutdown of certain aspects of our economy, to make sure that those people got attention first. 

Now, I've seen right-wing ideological governments, like the one prior to us forming government, who focus only on the wealthy and well connected, making sure that they have their corporate tax cuts and their wealthy tax cuts in place before anything else is done, that they can speculate on homes and drive up the prices for everybody. 

Liberals were fantastic at taking care of their friends over those many years. 

I suppose our friends are working people in this province. 

Our friends, as a government, are those that are struggling day to day and week to week just to get by. 

And we knew 12 months ago, when this difficult journey began, that those people would be the ones that we needed to look out for first.

Calling some of the Liberal commentary an audacious thing, the Stikine MLA pointed to the government's themes on ICBC as an example of how they continue to have to work to rebuild elements that were left untended to by the former Liberal government.

It was this government that looked at not only cleaning up the messes of things like ICBC…. It amazes me, the audacity of colleagues across the way that want to bring up ICBC as an example of what this government is not doing enough of. 

The Solicitor General and the Attorney General have had to take that appropriately named dumpster fire back, hose it down, clean it up and then be able to operate a good public insurer once again. And What have the results been? 

My goodness. Better coverage, lower rates, better service for British Columbians and working people that not only help those families but help out our broader economy. 

So, If the Liberals want to keep bringing up examples like ICBC, my goodness, I encourage them to do so.

Mr. Cullen also took up the nature of the current Liberal approach towards debate on the Bill of Supply, chastising them for their view that the government has a two tier view of governance, which portrays those who are not in the cabinet circle, as having less impact on how the NDP makes their decisions. 

Bill 10 speaks to continuing on the programs that we need to continue on. 

Now, if this is the bill that the Liberals are choosing filibuster, it's curious to me that there must be other things that they don't want to talk about. Right? 

When the opposition wants to fill up the clock on something and say "some great travesty and conspiracy is taking place" — when interim supply bills are as old as parliament, when the idea of bringing forward legislation, bringing forward a bill like this one that takes us through to the budget, maintains the programs that people are relying on, is a good thing, as a natural course of events in a democracy — they can scream to the rooftops that something else is happening, something untoward is happening, when, in fact, we know this is how governments supply the interim to allow us to take us through the next…. So that programs aren't cut, so people aren't suddenly people phoning up and saying: "I expected this support. What happened?" 

Now, I want to make some reference to this because it's come up in debate and I think it bears some notice. 

That Time and time again, I've watched colleagues in the Liberal Party refer to those across the way who are not in cabinet as backbenchers who are not aware of what's going on, backbenchers who aren't in on the details. And somehow, that their voices are diminished. 

I considered standing on a point of order or privilege in this because no member's voice in this House should ever be diminished — regardless of the position that they hold. 

That we don't treat, in our caucus, those that are in cabinet differently from those that are not in cabinet. 

That We believe that the voices representing the constituents we're here to represent need to be heard — regardless of position. 

Now, that may not be true when the Liberals were in government. It may be that they diminished backbenchers, as they would call them — calling them these less-referenced people, that they couldn't have the same space and occupation in our debates in this Legislature. 

We disagree with that. I would encourage my Liberal colleagues, regardless of who's speaking to them from across the floor — that they show them that basic modicum of respect. 

They were elected here just like you. They have a voice to bring to a bill like this one, just like you. 

Referencing people as if they are on two tiers, that there are some voices that are more important than others…. You'll forgive me,  Speaker, for being somewhat impassioned about this, but I've seen effective people from all sides of the House — opposition and government, from within cabinet and without. 

And that we as parliamentarians, we as legislators, should do all we can to encourage people into the debate, not seek to diminish them because they hold a certain position in the House.

Turning to the NDP budget to come in April, the Stikine MLA highlighted some of the areas he was looking forward to hearing more towards.  That of the implementation of UNDRIP, environmental measures and the continuation of the range of supports that have been part of the NDP COVID response program

I look forward to the next budget that the Finance Minister will bring down, to see where it is that we can continue to build a more just and socially responsible economy, one that considers the environment, one that implements things like the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, one that actually makes the possibility of British Columbia becoming what it was always hoped for: a place where, regardless of your background and orientation, you could live, thrive and survive in this province. 

Now, I know there's been a lot of speeches today. And I'm sure there are Liberal colleagues that would like to also rise and bring us back to the 1990s. 

And Maybe they can start to talk about their favourite boy bands. I know I have my own personal list. I do hope they speak to the present and the future as well — what we are doing here today as well. 

Because in passing this bill and allowing the Legislature to go through this debate, and finally come to a Committee of the Whole and have a vote — and then move on so that the programs that we've initiated can be supported, with the public dollars that are being allocated in this bill — that we can then talk about the many challenges and opportunities we face as a province. 

That we can come together as a Legislature, as we did a year ago, when it was realized that the challenges facing us in this pandemic were extraordinary, they were unprecedented, and they required all of our best thinking. They didn't require tactics. They didn't require filibustering. They didn't require taking up the agenda of the Legislature to talk about something that happened two, three decades ago. 

It talked about us dealing with the circumstances that we find ourselves in right now. 

And I think that was the best of our parliaments right across this country, when people could find common ground. 

It's not often. It's not necessarily common, but it's important. I wholeheartedly support this bill.

The Budget of Supply discussion is really just the preamble to what could be the larger rumble in the Legislature later in the Spring; that when Finance Minister Selina Robinson delivers the NDP government's financial plan and budget for 2021.

The full flight of Legislature oratory can be reviewed from the Assembly Hansard page here, or better yet, settle in to view from the House Video archive from Tuesday afternoon with a start time of

For more notes on the work of the Stikine MLA in Victoria see our archive page here.

A wider overview of some of the notes out of the provincial capital can be explored further from our political blog D'Arcy McGee.

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