Gimmick aside, throne speech adequate

Throne speeches are supposed to set out the government’s agenda for the legislative session. But they’re typically full of nice-sounding but meaningless phrases, big visions and praise for the party in power’s brilliance.

Throne speeches are supposed to set out the government’s agenda for the legislative session. But they’re typically full of nice-sounding but meaningless phrases, big visions and praise for the party in power’s brilliance.

Clark’s first effort this week offered the usual rehash of past promises – in this case, barely past, since she replayed last week’s jobs strategy.

And it gave a hint of the government’s direction.

But it also featured the kind of poorly thought out gimmickry that threatens to build the perception of Clark as a less-than-serious premier.

First, the positive. Something is apparently going to happen in education, though it’s unclear what.

The B.C. College of Teachers, in charge of ensuring teachers are properly trained and certified, is going to be overhauled or replaced. That’s good. The college has been a captive of the teachers’ union, and locked in a conflict of interest.

And the government is going to do something about the lack of support for special needs students in schools.

It doesn’t have a choice; a court ruling this spring found it broke the law in arbitrarily removing class size and composition limits from teachers’ contracts and gave it a year to fix the problem. The changes are a step toward that.

Beyond that, the education changes get fuzzy. The speech talks about abandoning “a 20th century curriculum with 20th century teaching methods.” Teachers skills will be improved and parents will get “in how, when and where education takes place.”

I have no idea what that means. The education budget is effectively frozen for the next two years, so there’s not a lot of money for new initiatives.

The speech sent confusing messages on the current two-year public sector wage freeze. It appeared to announce the freeze would be eased next spring, despite the weak economy. But the government says increases will only be available if unions and employer can find ways to cut costs within existing budgets, freeing some money for contract improvements.

It’s worth a try, and both sides should be motivated: The unions, to get increases for members; the government, to avoid pre-election job action.

There was the usual nod to health care. The government will try to ensure every British Columbian has a family doctor by 2015, promote disease prevention and seek efficiencies. All dandy, but hardly a new direction.

And the speech acknowledged the problems of delays in the justice system. The speech promised legislation to encourage people to settle family law disputes – divorce, child custody and the like – outside the court system. That should be a priority.

Then it rather bizarrely floated the idea of allowing cameras in the courtrooms when anyone charged in the Stanley up riot appeared.

Cameras in courtrooms, despite some potential problems, would be good. Most of us have no real idea how the system works, or the kind of cases that occupy the courts.

But the criminal justice branch and Crown prosecutors – independent of the politicians – have rejected the idea of singling out people charged in connection with the riots, as opposed to gangsters or other offenders.

Judges might have similar qualms.

And spending more court time dealing with the issue, when people are being released across the province because of excessive delays, would be foolish.

This week, in Rossland, the B.C. Supreme Court released a man charged with possession of meth for the purpose of trafficking and assaulting an RCMP officer by driving a truck into him because of  delays.  There simply isn’t enough time to deal with complicated trials in the region.

The speech didn’t address the shortage of prosecutors, judges and courtrooms, beyond a proposal to have retired judges work part-time on occasion.

There was the promise of a February Family Day holiday, beginning in 2013. There wasn’t anything on forestry, housing affordability or poor British Columbians.

Footnote: The speech was a departure from Gordon Campbell’s tendency to float grand visions, often forgotten, in his throne speeches. There were the five great goals for a golden decade, the conversation on health, the new relationship, the war on climate change, the focus on the Heartland. A more modest approach, given the tough economic times, was pragmatic.


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