Christy Clark faced a serious issue in her first question period as premier.
Her response was empty. Attorney General Barry Penner was a more capable government spokesman.
The issue is the missing and murdered women’s inquiry.
Commissioner Wally Oppal, a former Liberal attorney general, had to decide who had a right to participate in the inquiry – to question witnesses and play an active role.
Oppal ruled 13 groups had a legitimate interest. They included families of the women killed by Robert Pickton, a coalition of sex-worker groups, several aboriginal organizations and some agencies who worked with the Downtown Eastside people who were Pickton’s prey.
And he said that to play their proper role, they would need public funding to help with legal costs.
The government rejected Oppal’s recommendation. The families of the missing women would get funding for a shared lawyer. No one else would get public money.
Except, of course, police. They will have a battery of publicly funded lawyers to look after their interests when the botched investigation is examined. Crown prosecutors will have taxpayer-funded lawyers. So will the government and any politicians who might be called as witnesses or even referred to during the inquiry.
But the organizations supporting prostitutes, whose concerns about missing women were ignored, they’re shut out. First Nations who want to ask questions to see if racism played in the role in the lack of urgency when women began disappearing, they’re on their own.
Oppal said he had only recommended funding for those who had a role to play in getting answers and had “satisfied me that they would not be able to participate fully without financial support.”
The government decided to exclude those groups from full participation. Police and politicians would have a battalion of lawyers to protect their interests. Natives, poor women, the disadvantaged – they would have no one.
And it made the decision despite having provided funding for groups with standing at the inquiry into the death of Frank Paul, who died after being left in an alley by Vancouver police.
The NDP basically repeated a single question – would Clark and the government accept Oppal’s judgment and fund some legal costs for all parties that should be part of the inquiry.
Clark expressed sympathy. She did a bizarre little riff about families first and the HST rate reduction and B.C. Ferries fares and ICBC, although what that had to do with murdered women was unclear.
But she never addressed the questions or Oppal’s recommendations or the issue.
MLA Carole James noted the inquiry would not have been called without the efforts of some of the groups.
Clark responded that “the government said at the time that they would support an inquiry when the legal proceedings were complete. The government kept their promise.”
That’s not true. The Liberal government consistently refused to commit to an inquiry even when police called for one.
And she maintained the groups could participate even if they didn’t have lawyers to represent them at the inquiry. Oppal disagrees.
And if Clark is serious, she could prove it by announcing no public funds will be spent on lawyers for politicians, police and prosecutors. But she won’t.
Penner at least addressed the issue. It would cost too much to pay for the legal representation. There were parts of the inquiry where people who didn’t have lawyers could be heard.
But he also failed to address the fact that insiders – police and prosecutors and politicians past and present – have unlimited public funding for legal representation.
The outsiders get nothing.
Inquiries do become costly as legal fees mount. But why not impose limits on all involved, while providing equitable funding?
Instead, the government decided that the powerful would have all the funding needed to protect their interests at the inquiry. The powerless could watch from the spectators’ gallery.
And Clark never really defended the decision, or even showed that she understood its significance.
Footnote: One aspect of the question period was welcome.
Because of the serious topic, MLAs on both sides refrained from the normal shouted insults, rants and cheap theatrics that degrade the legislature.
Sadly, some journalists seemed disappointed by the lack of rudeness and stupidity.