With their voter base crumbling and the 2013 general election fast approaching, one might expect the Liberals to be governing with a sense of urgency. One might expect them to be flooding the House with a bold legislative agenda that sets them apart from the surging Conservatives and over-confident New Democrats.
The legislature will probably not even convene this fall, and we know that the 2013 spring session will last just long enough for the Liberals to drop a rosy budget before adjourning proceedings to head off to the hustings.
The current spring session is really the government’s last window of legislative opportunity, its last chance to establish an aggressive policy agenda ahead of an election that could redefine the political landscape.
So why is this government giving every indication it is content to mark time? Since the legislature convened on Feb. 14, the Liberals have introduced 11 pieces of legislation. Not one is ground-breaking. Only two have received royal assent — Bill 22, to chill the bitter teachers’ contract dispute, and Bill 27, a budget housekeeping measure. The rest are basically routine statute amendment acts and only two have reached second reading.
What’s even more remarkable is what’s missing from the very thin order paper.
A few weeks ago, Premier Christy Clark dragged the media to a home out in Saanich where she proudly announced that effective April 1 a new “Seniors’ Home Renovation Tax Credit” would be available to help with the cost of permanent home renovations so that British Columbians aged 65 and over will have the flexibility to remain in their own homes longer.
“Home is where the heart is,” she beamed.
If there was a little déjà vu happening that day it was probably because the tax credit had been announced back in February as part of Budget 2012/13.
The refundable credit is worth up to $1,000 and seniors, keen to get started on their spring renovation projects, have been scrambling to get specifics. Because the premier’s media event happened in Saanich, NDP MLA Lana Popham (Saanich South) received a number of inquiries from excited seniors.
“My community office continues to receive calls, emails and visits from seniors who are excited about a brand new program that has already been announced and re-announced several times. In fact, there is no way to apply for it. The exact rules of the program have not been established and the enabling legislation has not even been introduced,” Popham says.
That’s right folks; the Liberals launched the program with the usual media fanfare before they had even bothered to get the requisite legislation on the calendar. The earliest that enabling legislation can be introduced is April 16 when our MLAs return to work after a two-week break.
If the legislation had been introduced right after the budget was presented, then the Opposition might have been able to debate it before April 1 and question why the government is specifically excluding general maintenance from the program. It might have been able to ask why the tax credits will only apply to seniors needing accessibility upgrades, a fraction of potential beneficiaries.
There is an upside. When the Liberals finally get around to tabling the legislation, the NDP can introduce an amendment to change the title of the bill to the “After-the-fact, Applies-to-few, Seniors’ Wheelchair Ramp Tax Credit Act.” M