COLUMNS: Confusion on parliamentary privilege

The NDP/Green government is secure for a while but it has many issues to deal with

By winning the Nanaimo by-election, the NDP/Green government is secure for a while but it has many issues to deal with, one of them being what some call the “Legislative scandal.”

The Opposition Leader has a plan to fix it, the Auditor General promises to get to the bottom of it, the RCMP and two Special Prosecutors are investigating it, and we assume Premier Horgan & Co. are on top of it all. The investigations might be helped by two recent court rulings that found parliamentary privilege doesn’t always protect MLAs or Legislative Assembly staff.

Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond was B.C.’s first Child and Youth Representative. During her 10 years on the job, the former Saskatchewan judge was known to criticize government policies. When her tenure was over in 2016, she says the government reneged on her pension agreement, so she launched a lawsuit. Former Attorney General Geoff Plant, one of the government ‘s lawyers on the case, argued the Legislative staff, who allegedly made, then broke the agreement, couldn’t be sued because of parliamentary privilege.

BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson didn’t buy it. He ruled the legislature’s internal proceedings would not be compromised by Turpel-Lafond’s lawsuit,and he allowed the case to proceed.

“The parliamentary privilege asserted in this case is cast too broadly,” he concluded.

The second case involves MLA Rich Coleman who hoped parliamentary privilege would allow him to avoid testifying in a lawsuit that dates back to his stint as Forest Minister. The court rejected the government lawyer’s arguments of parliamentary privilege. Mr. Coleman has been subpoenaed and may have to appear in court as a witness during the trial. There seems to be some confusion over what is parliamentary privilege and what isn’t.

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One thing you can count on is that you never can count on Cariboo weather.

Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian and book author.

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