Black Press legislature reporter Tom Fletcher spoke with B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson as a raucous spring session wrapped up with battles over labour and agriculture legislation. He describes the outlook for the minority government and what he would do about gasoline prices.
TF: You’re leading the largest opposition ever in B.C., and you’ve just finished the spring legislative session. How would you rate your effectiveness as an opposition?
AW: I think in the month of April we showed what we’re made of, because the NDP were on the ropes about mountain caribou, about ICBC, about gasoline prices, about their disgusting treatment of 17,000 women working in the social services sector, and they’ve felt the embarrassment. And that’s our job, because we want to hold them to account.
TF: We’ve seen a few moves by the Green Party in the minority government. Are you resigned to the current government surviving to 2021?
AW: The routine in Canada is that minority governments survive two to three years, and we’re coming up to the two-year point with this NDP-Green coalition. We saw the NDP were willing to try to force through labour legislation that was very one-sided, and the Greens rebelled against that and voted with us on an amendment to stop this union raiding process on construction projects.
So we’re starting to see things change with the Greens, and we’re optimistic that there’ll be an opportunity for the voters to express their preferences well before the fall of 2021.
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) June 1, 2019
TF: The target for raiding was clearly the independent unions and contractors that have taken up quite a lot of the construction market, and what they’ve told me is the NDP is doing the bidding of the B.C. Building Trades. Is that your take on it?
AW: The NDP came to power in a world where 85 per cent of heavy construction is done by non-union workers in non-union companies. They decided to push back on that and make it easier for unions to raid those organizations and try to organize them. They’ve been rebuffed somewhat, and in response to that, they’ve put together their phoney community benefits agreements, which are driving up the costs of construction to favour the small number of union contractors that they are beholden to.
So we’re seeing a 32 per cent cost overrun on a two-km section of highway in the Rogers Pass, so you and I are going to pay an extra $20 million to get absolutely nothing more out of it.
TF: There are a half dozen of those projects lined up. Are we going to see more of these kinds of cost overruns?
AW: The concern is if they get into this 20-30 per cent cost overrun space on billion-dollar projects, that will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary spending to favour the union bosses. That means no hospital in Surrey, no new hospital in Richmond. The NDP has to be honest about this.
TF: Another change is union successorship rights, extended into private food services, into janitorial services, into bus transportation. What’s your take on that?
AW: There’s a place for organized labour and collective bargaining in our society. It has shifted over the last 30 years, and now we see a heavily unionized public sector and much reduced unionization in the private sector. Clearly what the NDP are trying to do is do their friends the union bosses some favours by opening up the option of easier labour certification and succession in the private sector. Whether that’s viable in today’s economy is a very valid question. But they don’t care. They’re going to force it through anyway.
TF: Former Tk’emlups Chief Shane Gottfriedson visited the legislature, representing one of several Indigenous groups bidding to take a controlling stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline. Do you think that’s what will emerge?
AW: All of us as federal taxpayers own a pipeline that we don’t want and we don’t know how to operate. And the prospect of doubling the pipeline is something that I as a federal taxpayer have no interest in. If other people want to come in as investors and take it over, that’s great. And if they happen to be Indigenous, that’s their decision. The extra benefit is validating the position that there are tens of thousands of aboriginal people in B.C. and Alberta who want to proceed with resource development, and that needs to be more widely understood.
TF: We’ve heard a lot from you about gasoline prices in the last little while, and some days it sounds to me like the B.C. Liberals are campaigning against the carbon tax. Can you clarify that?
AW: We’re coming into a federal election where the carbon tax will be front and centre. British Columbia is in a good position under the B.C. Liberal program that we control our own circumstances. We’ll find out after that federal election whether carbon taxes are going to be compulsory in Canada or not, and so we need to wait and see.
In terms of gas prices, we have John Horgan sitting on the highest gas prices ever recorded in North America, and the highest taxes on gasoline ever recorded. So those two aren’t just a coincidence. He has the choice to make gas cheaper in British Columbia, and he keeps coming up with one excuse after another that makes no sense at all.
He can do two things to reduce gas prices. One is to reduce the taxes and the other is to make peace with Alberta so we don’t have a constrained supply from our major supplier. Why would he pick a fight with the people we need most?
TF: What taxes would you cut? The carbon tax?
AW: The carbon tax needs to be basically frozen and the NDP plan to increase it again on July 1. We need to wait for the outcome of the federal election and see if it’s going to be one imposed by the federal government or one where we control our circumstances.
The motor fuel tax is another big chunk of that taxation, along with the Translink taxes in the Lower Mainland and a smaller transportation tax here in Victoria. So there is room to move on taxation if John Horgan wants to, and he’s pretending it’s just not an issue, and he’s told his B.C. Utilities Commission investigators they’re not allowed to talk about taxation, because it’s the obvious number one issue they should be address.
TF: I still didn’t catch which tax you would cut.
AW: Motor fuel tax should be capped when we see surges in gasoline prices to give British Columbians a break.