A long-running Health Ministry scandal upstaged the main event Thursday for British Columbia politicians recalled to the legislature to deal with a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas project.Attorney General Suzanne Anton said she will introduce a legislative change next week, giving the province's ombudsperson more powers to investigate the firings of eight health researchers, including one who committed suicide.
The government appointed Jay Chalke to conduct a review of the September 2012 dismissals despite repeated calls for a public inquiry by the Opposition New Democrats, the workers and their families.
On Wednesday, an all-party committee began debating Chalke's likely appointment to head a review of the firings and suggested Thursday that a decision is likely by month's end.
"We're in here because we've been given one choice as a committee, and the choice is to refer to the ombudsperson or not," said NDP committee member Carole James. "A public inquiry is the route it should have gone."
Committee chairman, Liberal Scott Hamilton, said next week's legislative change would ensure the ombudsperson faces no further roadblocks to conduct a review.
Hamilton said he supports an ombudsperson review over a public inquiry, but the committee, of which the Liberals hold the majority, has the final say.
"It's an opportunity for us to do this faster, cheaper, more efficiently," he said. "There's no reason for us to change course now."
Hamilton said the main focus of the summer legislative sitting is a proposed LNG law, but in regards to the health firings "the timing's impeccable, obviously, for us to be able to deal with something like this."
The legislature was recalled this week to ratify a law involving a proposed LNG plant near Prince Rupert but the health firings took precedence again Thursday after the NDP's repeated attacks on the government.
Chalke appeared before the committee Wednesday and said he needs more powers to access data and interview witnesses if he does an investigation.
The government has consistently refused calls for a public inquiry, saying that would an expensive and lengthy process.