Theresa and Kenny Michell at the B.C. legislature March 7 to describe their experience since Kenny was severely burned in January 2012 sawmill explosion.

Theresa and Kenny Michell at the B.C. legislature March 7 to describe their experience since Kenny was severely burned in January 2012 sawmill explosion.

Forget the issues, pass the muffins

The scandalous new MLA lounge with "free muffins" is part of a strikingly expensive refit to improve legislature wheelchair access

VICTORIA – Proceedings here at the B.C. legislature were briefly thrust into the spotlight last week, firing up the radio talk shows and twitter feeds.

No, it wasn’t the B.C. Liberal government forcing through legislation to allow industrial “research” for things like pipeline routes in provincial parks, or the debate on sanctioned wolf and grizzly kills. It wasn’t the teacher strike vote, as the scripted motions of that ritual combat are well known to weary parents.

It was muffins. More specifically, “free” muffins in a newly relocated and equipped MLA lounge, and a rack installed to hold the said muffins at a cost of $733.

This was portrayed as part of a spending spree by Richmond East MLA Linda Reid, elected Speaker last summer. In fact it’s just the latest phase of a strikingly expensive refit to provide wheelchair access, which Reid has championed.

The new MLA lounge replaces a seldom-used one at the top of steep stairs high in the 1898 stone structure. The new lounge is served by a ramp near the chamber exit to another under-used room in the library, and equipped with big-screen TVs to follow proceedings, similar to those installed in the legislature chamber last year.

Everything done here is expensive, from matching ornate woodwork to upgrading ancient plumbing and wiring. But the public, conditioned by media to expect corruption and scandal, would rather be outraged about free muffins.

Prior to this, MLAs had to troop down to the basement dining room to put muffins and coffee on their expense accounts, or have an assistant fetch them. The outraged talk shows didn’t mention that. There are access issues in the dining room too, a fact more difficult to ignore with Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux, Paralympian Michelle Stilwell and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan now elected to serve using their wheelchairs.

A costly new outside access ramp assisted Kenny Michell, who visited last week to tell his harrowing story of the Burns Lake sawmill explosion that nearly burned him to death in 2012 and left him in a wheelchair.

The NDP brought a delegation of survivors and family members of the dead from sawdust explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George. They supported the opposition’s demand for an independent inquiry, although their own demands ranged from counselling for long-suffering wives to seeing someone punished for alleged negligence.

The scandal pushed in this tragic story is that some evidence was not protected by WorkSafeBC and wouldn’t have been admissible in court. Prosecutors also said they had enough evidence for charges, but the companies or executives would be able to show “due diligence” that would likely result in acquittal.

What that means in English is that the explosion risk of extra-dry dust and air wasn’t fully grasped by either mill operators or WorkSafeBC. All B.C. mills are now subject to more scrutiny, and a coroner’s inquest will be calling witnesses this fall to see what lessons can be learned.

Back to pipelines through parks. This may seem like a scandal to urban B.C. residents who already fret about the possibility of the 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline, or one of several proposed gas pipelines, intruding on a park.

It’s not as well known that Trans Mountain completed a major twinning and upgrading project on the Alberta side in 2008. It crosses Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper National Park, without incident or scandal to date.

But back to muffingate, as it’s become known around here. I don’t know why people are so cynical and uninterested in serious issues. I wish I did.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Follow me on Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

lotto max logo
Are you the lucky winner?

A $1 million ticket was bought in Burns Lake for Friday’s Lotto… Continue reading

Jill Mackenzie carefully replaces books on the shelves at the Houston Public Library. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
District approves annual library grant

Craft kits featured for summer reading club

The tradition of Houston Christian School grads giving Bibles to incoming kindergarten students will take place this year, but outdoors and in a modified fashion. (File photo)
Houston Christian School grad day is June 24

Grads themselves have set tone for the day, says teacher

Scott Richmond will be starting as the new vice principal for HSS and TSE. (Submitted/Houston Today)
Houston gets a new vice principal

Scott Richmond takes over from Dwayne Anderson who moved to Smithers

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read