B.C. Attorney General David Eby and Premier John Horgan announce their ill-fated referendum on proportional representation voting, June 2018. (Black Press files)

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This column has given credit where credit is due to B.C. Attorney General David Eby. Faced with billion-dollar deficits at the Insurance Corp. of B.C., Eby has capped “pain and suffering” awards and moved minor injuries out of court to administrative hearings.

Naturally, the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. is suing the province in an effort to prevent the loss of the hugely increased income its members have extracted from ICBC, partly due to aggressive U.S.-style personal injury tactics adopted by B.C. lawyers.

The association’s lawsuit notes that the average ICBC “pain and suffering” payout for 2016 was $16,499, which is “almost exactly three times the cap” legislated by the B.C. NDP government. Now $5,500 is all you can get, and ICBC is back on its way to solvency after a $1 billion bailout from B.C. taxpayers that was included in this year’s B.C. budget.

The election of Jason Kenney as Alberta premier highlights another one of Eby’s legal adventures, one that isn’t going so well.

B.C. now has lawyers working on two separate Alberta cases. One is arguing that B.C. should be able to regulate petroleum shipments from Alberta (diluted bitumen), and the other suggests that Alberta should not be able to restrict shipments of petroleum to B.C. (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel).

Outgoing NDP premier Rachel Notley passed the “turn off the taps” law but didn’t enact it. Eby rushed his team into court to argue that it’s an unconstitutional infringement on trade, but alas, their case was tossed out.

Come back when there’s an actual law in place, Eby was told. With Kenney in the Alberta premier’s office, that will be soon, and B.C. pump prices will likely be headed towards $2 a litre. In 2018, the original Trans Mountain pipeline shipped more than half its volume as crude to Washington state refineries, with smaller shares to the Burnaby refinery and Westridge terminal for export. The smallest share of pipeline space is refined fuels to B.C., and it’s a safe bet that will get smaller. B.C. may have to buy jet fuel from Asia.

As taxpayers absorbed that billing, B.C.’s bid for jurisdiction over heavy crude shipments from Alberta carries on. It’s a “reference case,” basically asking the B.C. Court of Appeal for advice rather than a ruling.

It’s a pathetic little show for anti-pipeline voters, according to Notley, and she’s polite about it compared to Kenney.

Now comes the threat of legal action by a group of social services agencies, whose union employees are getting raises three times as big as their non-union workers. In some cases this happens within the same contracted agency, running care facilities for developmentally disabled children and adults.

READ MORE: NDP avoids questions about $40M union-only wage fund

READ MORE: B.C. braces for another round of Alberta pipeline battle

The B.C. CEO Network, a Prince George-based group representing more than 120 of these agencies, has served Finance Minister Carole James with notice that if this sweetheart deal with the B.C. Government Employees’ Union and other NDP-friendly unions isn’t fixed, they will go to court.

In a statement released with their lawyer’s letter, the B.C. CEO Network board notes that 17,000 employees are affected. The network represents union, non-union and partially union agencies, which report their wage payments through the Community Social Services Employers Association every year.

Premier John Horgan claimed the “low wage redress” money was withheld from non-union employees because their bosses might keep it without a union contract to set pay. Eby’s might need more lawyers to defend that statement.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


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