NORTH THOMPSON MLA and Opposition Environment Critic Peter Milobar made me smile this week with his proposal that Greater Victoria MLAs not receive a per diem meal allowance while sitting in the legislature similar to their out of town counterparts. Stating that it was a matter of principles, Milobar argued that MLAs who could go home at the end of the day should bring their own lunch.
I wasn’t smiling so much about his proposal, but the memories he brought back. Milobar and I worked together for almost six years on City of Kamloops council. At least once or twice a month, council meetings spanned the dinner hour. The council meeting would end at about 5 p.m. Then a public hearing started at 7 p.m.
Two hours isn’t much time, but in a town the size of Kamloops, everyone on council would have had sufficient time to make it home and back for a quick dinner, even if it was just Kraft dinner. But that’s not what happened.
Whenever there was an evening public hearing, council went out together for dinner paid for by the City. It may seem extravagant to some, but more often than not, City council meetings would start at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. in the morning with in-camera or committee meetings. They could often last until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
Providing a meal close to City Hall was, and is, a way to get council’s batteries recharged, and also make sure everyone wasn’t spending most of their break going to and fro their homes.
Milobar made me smile this week, because it made me remember how enjoyable the council dinners were which Milobar and I shared, and how it gave council members a way to get to know each other outside the contentious council chambers.
During the entire time I was on council with Milobar, I never once heard him raise concerns about having his dinners paid for by the City. Not once. This is the same Milobar who now states his fellow Victoria MLAs should pay for their own meals during long days in the legislature.
So this week, Milobar didn’t just make me smile. He also made me shake my head in disbelief. Disbelief that of all the issues he could raise, this is the one he’s standing up for.
I’m truly unsure if he remembers that he is the Environment Critic. In a vast province, with a long list of environmental concerns, this was the issue he decided to bring forward. It’s as if he’s decided the province doesn’t need an Environment Critic, just a petty meals expense critic.
So, in order to help him out a bit, I am going to provide a list of potential items he could bring forward. I’d be happy if he was to use any of them. These are issues that could be resolved, if there was a champion, and as the Environment Critic, I hope he does just that.
First, get rid of rural dead, rusting cars. Take a drive in any direction from Kamloops and you will see dead cars strewn on rural properties. Many have been there for decades.
Government policies for disposing of old vehicles are not working for rural B.C. Hundreds, no thousands of vehicles, scatter rural B.C. Old vehicles destroy the environment and are a blight on the scenery as well.
As Environment Critic, I encourage Milobar to champion a program that adequately compensates property owners to get rid of their dead cars. Maybe have a pickup program too.
Second, Milobar could push for more tools for municipalities, regional districts and First Nations for managing at-risk species. Milobar knows that many at-risk species are within local government and First Nations’ areas. Here in Kamloops, the Western Rattlesnake is just one. He could push for more tools for planning, habitat preservation, and education that would help local governments preserve our natural heritage. While there are 754 species at risk in B.C, and the Selkirk Mountain Cariboo herds are on the brink of extinction, we hear crickets from the Opposition Critic on the Environment.
Third, as Environment Critic he could speak loudly for changes to the BC Water Act. The current wave of flooding will seriously compromise rural water systems across the Southern Interior. After the flood waters recede, people will face contaminated water getting into water systems. Even before the flooding, there were hundreds of water advisories in Interior Health’s region. Water is both environment and health, and with his background as chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional Hospital Board, he could bring a lot to the table.
There are even more issues he could speak up on, from increasing oversight of crematoriums next to residential areas, to providing translation services at environmental review meetings for non-English speakers, to modernizing the BC Parks system to incorporate more joint management with First Nations.
Pleasant memories of Kamloops City council dinners aside, I expect any opposition, no matter their party, to earn their salt by doing their job. It’s time for Milobar to take his role as Opposition Critic for the Environment more seriously. For me, as someone who’s helping to pay his wages, and hence his lunch, these are just a few suggestions of where I’d rather have him spend his time.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.