Reflecting on fall legislative session

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka talks about working in the official opposition

The fall session at the BC Legislature was a new experience for Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, as he continues to meet the challenges of his new role as the region’s provincial representative.

Shypitka, who won the Kootenay East riding for the BC Liberals in the provincial election last May, is serving as the critic for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources in opposition after an NDP-Green alliance formed a majority shortly after the vote.

“There’s a lot of challenges with what we’re facing in Victoria right now,” said Shypitka. “I went into this whole fall session with eyes wide open. I accepted the fact that we were in opposition, that didn’t deter me at all. I saw the other side, the Greens and even the NDP saying they have a coalition-type agreement and that they wanted to work across party lines and be inclusive and work in the best interests of British Columbians.

“So I was actually fairly excited about that; I want to work with everybody, however I was disappointed — that’s an understatement — on what transpired in the fall session.”

Following the May election, which returned a Liberal minority government with 43 seats out of 87, the NDP and Green Party announced a supply and confidence agreement, where the Green caucus of three MLAs would support the 41-member NDP caucus in confidence votes, giving the alliance a majority.

During the fall session, the NDP tackled legislation through 16 bills that included campaign finance reform, electoral reform and raising corporate taxes and personal taxes on high-income earners.

Shypitka is especially concerned with electoral reform and the plans for an upcoming referendum on proportional representation.

“We’re going to be seeing a referendum come to British Columbia next year…in regards to proportional representation which will, in my opinion, kill rural representation,” he said. “It’ll kill representation in the Lower Mainland as well. You’ll see a complete change in our electoral system and this is fine by the Greens.

“That’s the biggest challenge is getting over the hurdle of proportional representation, educating people and ensuring that this vote gets defeated. We’ve been through this vote twice already since 2005; it’s been voted down both times.”

Past referendum votes in 2005 and 2009 have required a 60 per cent majority, with over 50 per cent majority in 60 per cent of the province’s electoral districts.

Shypitka adds that he has also heard feedback from disenfranchised NDP voters who have been expecting investments for $10-a-day daycare and affordable housing, which were two major policy initiatives from the NDP election campaign.

The NDP unveiled their cabinet team in July, and Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall was named Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. When the BC Liberals announced their shadow cabinet, Shypitka was appointed as the ministry critic.

“It’s a really big file and I was honoured to take that on,” he said.

Shypitka said he is proud of the work that he’s been able to do with his critic position and holding his NDP counterpart to account.

During the fall session, Shypitka said he participated in the estimates process as it relates to his shadow ministry position in preparation for the 2018 budget.

“Estimates are kind of a cross between financial audits and a legal discovery,” Shypitka said. “It’s kind of like Question Period a bit, but then you have to factor in all the dollars and cents in regards to the budget.”

That allowed him to press the NDP on issues such as the Site C dam, the development of Liquified Natural Gas industry and the use of fracking in mining.

Closer to home, Shypitka says he remains to stay focused on local issues such as supporting the development of additional daycare spaces, doctor recruitment and reducing wait times and addressing wildlife population concerns.

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