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IN THE LEDGE – ‘… Rulings shouldn’t occur at the whim of the Chair’

Delta South MLA Ian Paton, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth  and Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong debating at length the Massey Tunnel replacement project, as well as what’s parliamentary language and what’s not, in Question Period, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017.

I. Paton: The Minister of Transportation has indicated that she is prepared to spend up to $1 million on a technical review of the George Massey Tunnel replacement.

In my hands, I have two reviews. The first one is the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project by WSP MMM Group of July 2016. The other one is the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project Evaluation of Crossing Scenarios by MMK Consulting in March of 2014.

On several occasions in the House, the minister has been asked directly if she is familiar with the material that is posted on her website. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I heard the actual answer, so I’d like to give the minister another opportunity.

I’m not expecting the minister to have read all 14,000 pages, but these are key reports that normally I would assume the minister responsible for the file would have reviewed. However, given the minister launched the ride-sharing review without having read the previous report, I’m sure she can understand why I must ask this question.

To the minister, has the minister read either the report entitled George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project Evaluation of Crossing Scenarios or the other one, George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project Review of Replacement Options? To the minister, a very simple question, just a yes or no.

Hon. C. Trevena: I know that the member opposite, this is his real pet concern. I think that it’s important that he does try and find his way into question period every day. But it was his government — when that side of the House was in government — that led us to the position we’re in now. Because having decided that they wanted to move ahead with a project, they did so without consulting anyone.

Our view is we acknowledge there is a problem…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the response.

Hon. C. Trevena: …but to find the right solution, we want to work with the people. We want to work with the mayors of the region. We want to work with the communities of the region to make sure that the solution we put forward deals with both the problem and the vision that people who live in the region have for their region.

I. Paton: Once again on Friday, back home in my riding, I took the afternoon to go to the tunnel replacement office in Richmond. It’s such a fascinating place to go. It’s almost like a pet project of mine to go to the tunnel replacement office, but I still believe there’s been no recollection of the minister having attended the tunnel replacement office.

Once again, I don’t find the minister’s answers very forthright. The minister prepared to spend up to $1 million on a review to find out “whether it’s let’s twin the tunnel, whether it’s let’s do a bridge and tunnel, or let’s just have the bridge.”

Both these independent reviews looked at these options closely, and I’d like to know what the minister thought — maybe she can give me an answer on what she thought — of the WSP MMM Group had to say in the summary at the end of the report, where they made specific findings.

Does the minister agree with this recommendation? And if not, why?

Hon. C. Trevena: The member said it himself — it’s his pet project. I think that he is one of the few people who is questioning this review. Even his own mayor has said, in a letter to myself: “Delta council is very supportive of the provincial government’s decision to undertake an independent review of the project. We appreciate it’s important to ensure any decision on the future of the crossing is based on the best available information.”

That’s what we’re doing. The mayor agrees it’s a good idea. Others in the region think it’s a good idea. We’re proceeding.

J. Johal: The minister doesn’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation.

Recently, my office received an e-mail from Chris, a Richmond resident. It took Chris 90 minutes to get from Ironwood Plaza in Richmond to the other side of the Fraser. Ninety minutes. Day after day, my constituents battle with this. They miss important events with family and friends.

Recently, Chris was stuck in traffic instead of watching her kid’s soccer game. In her letter it says: “I can’t begin to say how infuriating this is, day after day, to have the time with my family stolen from me. How many of my kid’s soccer games will I have to miss? I’m tired of the battle every day.”

To the minister of consultation paralysis, how many more parents will have to miss soccer games because you would rather spend a million tax dollars on another study rather than read the work that’s already been done?

Mr. Speaker: Member.

Member, if you may take your seat for a moment, please.

Member, if I may ask you to re-phrase your question and address the minister by the proper title.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members. Members, you will address ministers by their proper title.

Interjection.

Mr. Speaker: Member, thank you for your opinion. Please be seated. Member, please be seated.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Member, I will entertain points of order after question period. Thank you. Be seated please.

Member for Richmond-Queensborough, please continue.

J. Johal: To the minister, how many more parents will have to miss soccer games because she would rather spend a million taxpayer dollars on another study rather than read the work that has already been done?

Hon. C. Trevena: I’ve got to say, if we’re talking about paralysis, that side of the House had 16 years to deal with it and did absolutely nothing. And when they finally came up with a project, they hadn’t consulted anybody. Nobody wanted to see it.

Mr. Speaker: Members. Will you hear the response?

Hon. C. Trevena: Even the member for Kamloops–South Thompson, now sitting on the other side of the House, said there was “too much political calculation. We need to stop telling local communities and regions what’s best for them. We need to start engaging with them to improve the places where we live, work and play.”  That’s what we want to do.

Mr. Speaker: The member for Richmond-Queensborough on a supplemental.

J. Johal: The minister says that there’s been no consultation. I’m just going to walk you through this. There have been exhaustive environmental assessment processes here, with 145 technical and scientific reports, 14,000 pages of information pertaining to this project. Three rounds of public engagement involved 3,000 people, 35 separate meetings with Metro Vancouver and TransLink, 110 meetings each with Richmond and Delta.

If that isn’t enough, there’s the issue of safety. There’s an average of 24 ambulance trips through the tunnel every day in 2016. Six of those trips are code 3, which means lights and sirens. That is a parking lot. Massey Tunnel is a parking lot, and 80,000 people a day sit in traffic every single day. As Chris said in her letter: “Please, I’m begging you. This time for review is over. It has been reviewed to death. Let’s get the shovels back in the ground and get this bridge built now.”

Again to the minister, instead of spending all the taxpayer money on a new study, why won’t she read…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question. Thank you.

J. Johal: …the previously prepared independent reports?

Hon. C. Trevena: The member is from Richmond-Queensborough. His own mayor, the mayor of Richmond, did not agree with the project. No mayor agreed to the project, bar one. That mayor, the mayor of Delta, now agrees that it’s really important to be doing this review that we are doing. Mr. Speaker, we’ll continue with what we’re doing.

J. Sturdy: I must admit I am a little surprised that the minister would be so dismissive of the concerns of 80,000 people a day, referring to the Massey Tunnel replacement project as a “pet project”, on which I certainly don’t agree. The minister has not been very compelling with regard to her rationale as to why she needed to spend up to another $1 million on yet another review. In this House, she said: “Whether it is a bridge, whether it is twinning the tunnel, whether it is a tunnel and bridge combination…. We don’t know.”

Had the minister read the reports on her own website, she would know. It would almost be comical if this sham review wasn’t costing taxpayers so much. Will the minister confirm she is prepared to spend up to $1 million on a redundant review, simply to create the pretence of actually doing something about the largest traffic bottleneck in British Columbia?

Hon. C. Trevena: Unlike the previous government, we actually want to listen to people and to engage with people to make sure that we get the right solution. We have heard countless times that their idea, the vanity project, which was pushed through without proper study and without proper consultation, was not welcome.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Minister, if you might take your seat for a moment, please, until the noise quiets down.

Members. I remind all members that we have visitors in the gallery who are trying to hear.

Minister, please continue.

Hon. C. Trevena: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

As I said, we want to make sure that we are consulting with people, that we are doing a full study of all the possibilities rather than moving ahead with something that will be very costly without having done proper review. We want to make sure that we are spending public money wisely, not just on a vanity project which nobody agrees with.

[End of question period.]

Point of Order

M. de Jong: It was not my intention to raise any kind of a point of order, except for the fact that the Chair chose to intervene in proceedings during the course of question period.

The principle at stake here is very, very important. The rules….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

M. de Jong: Because it will govern the nature of the debate. In this chamber, the symbolism is very important — the sword-lengths and all of it. But ultimately, we do battle with language. The use of language, or the type of language we may use, is guided by two things. It is guided by the rules — the standing orders of the House — and by convention.

As I pointed out several weeks ago, when we last had this conversation, I have considered both. I have consulted Standing Order 40, from which all members can derive guidance about the use of parliamentary language.

Most members, if not all, are aware that there is language that is entirely inappropriate. There is language that causes distress. There is language that members are not happy to be confronted by, but it is not unparliamentary. If the Chair is going to purport a standard that goes beyond what is in the standing orders and beyond what has been convention in this House and parliament for literally centuries, then…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Member, continue.

M. de Jong: …it troubles me, because one of the perhaps most important tools available to all members acquires an element of unpredictability.

It is with the greatest respect, hon. Chair….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Member, please continue.

M. de Jong: These are not rulings that can or should occur at the whim of the Chair. They are guided by standing orders that have governed this place for decades — centuries, in fact. So the Chair’s intervention, as occurred just a few moments ago, to require the withdrawal of language that is not unparliamentary troubles me greatly. It suggests that there is a standard at play that none of us are aware of, that is not in any way predictable or to be anticipated and, with the greatest respect, represents, in my view, an inappropriate intervention by the Chair.

Mr. Speaker: Thank you for your opinion, Member.

S. Furstenau: As House Leader for the Greens, I rise to support your intervention. I would like to speak to some of the comments that were just made.

We have school groups coming into the gallery, and their teachers are not bringing them back because they are so dismayed by the behaviour that they’re seeing. To evoke the notion that it’s been done this way in the past is to fail as governors and elected officials, because if we evoke that, we would still have slavery. We would not have women voting.

It is not enough to say it has always been done so. I would say that it is our duty, as elected officials, to show leadership and to demonstrate that we can hold a government to account without personal assassinations and without name-calling and to have this be a place where we debate ideas and policies.

Hon. M. Farnworth: I want to respond to some of the comments. I want to start off by saying, first off, that having sat on the opposition side as well as the government side, I am very familiar with the nature of debate as it takes place in both aspects. It is part of the role of opposition, in essence, to throw things, to ask questions, to be strong in their debate, to be strong sometimes in their language.

There has been a tradition in this House of language that is acceptable and language that is not acceptable. I would remind the Chair to consult the last time I remember rising, as my colleague across the way did, around the use of a word which the previous Speaker had ruled was acceptable and the incoming speaker did not particularly care for. That was the use of the word “misleading.” At that time, I argued the point which was that the word “misleading” was perfectly appropriate. It had been used before. It had been ruled by Speakers before, but using an adjective in front of it was not appropriate. That has been the way this House has always functioned.

The current Speaker, at that particular time, said: “No, it’s not.” We had quite the debate over that particular point. That ruling has, under that Speaker, continued.

Speakers are independent, and they make rulings that we may not always agree with. But they make rulings, and it is incumbent upon this House to respect those rulings. But I also believe that, as well, as the Parliamentary Practice states, language in debate should be governed by good temperance and not by impugning the motives.

That has taken place in the House, and people have been able to be creative in a way that has been demonstrated that malintent is not the case for the language. That’s usually started off by respectfully addressing a minister of the Crown by their proper title in terms of asking the question. Sometimes subsequent to that, there has been…. As my colleagues and I have known, we have found a creative way to ask a question as well.

So what I would ask, hon. Speaker, is that we remind the House that the rules in our Parliamentary Practice do guide us and that this chamber is often the place where heated debate takes place. But if temperance is what guides us, then we will be just fine in terms of how our question period and the rest of the debates, in fact, take place.

Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Member.

Thank you to all of the members who made comments. I will take them under advisement.

Source: BC Hansard (draft transcript)

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About Mel Rothenburger (5538 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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