Under the current government, the B.C. legislature seems to have become a necessary evil to be used sparingly or otherwise avoided.
In the Liberals first term, former premier Campbell introduced a sweeping set of democratic reforms that were supposed to elevate the role of individual MLAs, revitalize committees, and improve the function of the legislature.
A budget transparency act, fixed session dates, fixed election dates, “free” votes within the governing party, promises to use legislative committees more, and open Cabinet meeting, were all hailed as a “new era” in democratic government in B.C.
Slowly but surely, each of these promises has been broken or made a mockery of by the actions of the government. So, here we are in 2011 with two new leaders, a ton of government bills and budget estimates yet to be debated, and the government House leader announced, once again, that debate will be unilaterally time limited. To be fair, however, more debate time would not resolve the real problem we have in this legislature. The sad fact is that both sides use every opportunity to politicize debate purely for electioneering purposes. Simply adding more time will not ensure there’ll be any more quality to the debate. The 7.5 hours of “debate” on the HST motion is a classic example of this. This wasn’t “debate;” it was pure political rhetoric by MLAs from both parties in advance of a possible election this fall.
The real solution to this matter lies in the government sticking to the fixed sessional dates for both fall and spring sessions, with the focus on the budget in the spring and legislation in the fall. However, legislation and budget debate should also be moved to permanent standing committees rather debate in the Chamber.
B.C. is one of the few jurisdictions that uses “sessional” select standing committees that are formed and dissolved each session during a Parliament. I’ve put forward and Amendment to the Standing Orders calling for B.C. to change to permanent standing committees — that’s really the best way to introduce more quality to the debate.
And, hopefully, that quality will lead to better overall governance.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.