British Columbia's new Liberal government is taking photo radar off the province's roads today after making the politically popular announcement during its historic televised cabinet meeting yesterday.
Attorney-General Geoff Plant unveiled the plans to eliminate photo radar as television cameras rolled in the B.C. Legislature during Canada's first open cabinet meeting, broadcast on the province's parliamentary channel.
The announcement, one of Premier Gordon Campbell's showpiece promises in the May election campaign, means as of today photo radar will no longer be in effect.
But those motorists issued tickets up until yesterday will still have to pay fines. It will cost the province nearly $6-million to phase out the program, Mr. Plant said.
"I think people in British Columbia are going to be pleased to see the end of photo radar and I hope they will pay off their tickets so we can get it behind us," Mr. Campbell told reporters after the meeting.
"I thought we had a good discussion," he said of the meeting, believed to the Commonwealth's first televised cabinet meeting. "It was a good meeting and I was pleased with the ministers' comfort level."
The photo-radar announcement was one of the few highlights during the 2½-hour proceedings, which failed to attract the maximum live audience of 20 spectators, in addition to 20 reporters. The drama of the democratic experience was lost on Denis Oliver, who nodded off during the first hour of introductions by the province's 27 cabinet ministers. A security guard had to wake him up.
"I was just bored," Mr. Oliver said afterward. "It was more show than meeting. I thought it would have had more meat and potatoes to it."
Parliamentary tradition calls for cabinet meetings to be held behind closed doors and remain secret. Mr. Campbell promised to open public cabinet meetings and to scrap photo radar within 90 days of taking office.
The legislature's caucus room was transformed into a makeshift TV studio with filtered lights, four cameras and speakers. Five of the spectators were nurses entangled in a continuing labour dispute with the province. Several wore T-shirts that read: "Nurses = Official Opposition."
Adriane Carr, the B.C. Green Party Leader, was also in the audience. "It was fundamentally a lot of public relations," she said.
Interim NDP Leader Joy MacPhail, who watched the proceedings on TV in Vancouver, said, "It wasn't a real cabinet meeting."
Little was said about the province's simmering labour talks with the nurses or the Vancouver transit strike.
"They think if they ignore it, it will go away," said nurse Peggy Eburne, who was in attendance.
Mr. Campbell told reporters, "Open cabinet meetings will not be places where we are discussing labour negotiations."
Mr. Plant later described the province's photo radar as "an unmitigated disaster.
"What it did and has done from the day it started was undermine public confidence in the rule of law and law enforcement in British Columbia," he said.
Mr. Plant added that the decision to scrap the program and take 30 photo radar vans off the province's streets and highways is not a licence for speeding. B.C. will return to conventional methods of stopping speeders, relying on standard traffic policing, he said.
Alberta is the only province left with photo radar. Critics say photo radar is a cash cow that does not prevent traffic crashes and speeding-related injuries and deaths.
It was implemented by the NDP government in B.C. in 1996. It generated $2.3-million last year. There are still an estimated 222,578 tickets outstanding, for an anticipated revenue of nearly $12-million. The minimum fine is $100.
Mike Harris's Ontario Conservatives scrapped photo radar after being elected in 1995.
The province has said no to a coroner's jury recommending its return after a deadly accident along Highway 401.
Saskatchewan says it will not use photo radar, while Nova Scotia wants proof that it reduces road fatalities first. Manitoba is also considering it, and Quebec is looking at implementing photo radar by the fall.
The B.C. cabinet also reiterated its support yesterday of a joint agreement with the federal government for the creation of a national park in the southern Gulf Islands.
Finance Minister Gary Collins also hinted at looming cost-cutting while warning there would be no money for new programs.