Friday, September 08, 2006

Cancelled fall legislature a disservice to public

VICTORIA - You’re getting short-changed by the Liberals’ decision to cancel the fall session of the legislature.
House leader Mike de Jong confirmed the government is pulling the plug on the session, which was to start Oct. 2 and run until the end of November.
The government has no legislation to pass, he said, so there’s no need. "We're not sitting just for the sake of sitting or passing laws just for the sake of passing laws," he said. "That's not how I measure a successful government."
Fair enough. More laws does not equal better government. In fact, sometimes the public would be well-served by fewer big new ideas from government.
But a successful government can be measured by its willingness to account for its actions and policies. And any government can be improved when MLAs - from all parties - have a chance to raise questions and concerns on behalf of their communities.
The Liberals are shutting down an opportunity for those kind of useful debates.
Gordon Campbell introduced fixed fall and spring legislative sessions in 2001. That was a useful improvement. In the past sessions had been called and ended at the whim of the party in power. When the heat got too much - either  summer heat or political heat - the government could shut the legislature down. The legislature only sat for 40 days in 1996, when the newly elected NDP government was taking a kicking over its false campaign claim of a balanced budget.
The Liberals hinted this might happen in last year’s Throne Speech, which said fall sessions were intended to deal with unfinished business from the spring.
Politically, the move probably makes sense. There’s a sharper focus on the government when the legislature is in session. The opposition uses Question Period each day to grill ministers about policies and problems, and reporters and columnists are watching closely. The government faces a daily risk of bad-news stories. (The Liberals deserve full credit for doubling the length of Question Period to 30 minutes, a major improvement.)
But cancelling the session brings another set of political problems. NDP leader Carole James was quick to accuse the Liberals of “running away from the public" and trying to avoid accountability. Anytime an issue emerges over the next few months James will be reminding people that the legislature could have worked at finding solutions if the sitting hadn’t been cancelled.
Leaving politics aside, the cancellation is a loss for the public. The accountability that the legislature provides is important. Without it, issues can be ignored and problems can fester.
Until last fall’s legislative session, for example, the government had insisted that everything was fine in the ministry of children and families, despite evidence of mounting problems that were leaving children at risk.
It took daily hammering by the NDP to force the government to admit that the system, battered by budget cuts and mismanagement, was in fact failing. Without the session, and the forum it provided, the Hughes inquiry and badly needed improvements might have been stalled. Children and families would have suffered as a result.
And while the focus is on Question Period, the legislature provides a forum for all MLAs - Liberals and New Democrats - to raise issues important to their communities.
There’s no shortage of issues. Communities across B.C. are struggling with homelessness, addictions and mental illness. Health care remains an issue. Forest-dependent communities are waiting for information on how the softwood lumber agreement will affect them. De Jong said that even with the cancelled session, the legislature will sit for a fairly typical number of days this year.
That’s not true. The legislature sat for 42 days in the spring. That will be the third fewest days sine 1991. The average for the last decade is about 63 days.
A much shortened session might have made sense. But the public, and MLAs, are poorly served by the decision to cancel the entire sitting.
Footnote: The legislature may be recalled for one day in the fall. A special committee is seeking a candidate to become the child and youth officer, a new advocacy and oversight position recommended by Ted Hughes in his report on child protection problems. If the committee comes up with a recommendation, the legislature would have to approve the choice.


Anonymous said... remind me again why it is that we need to elect sixty-something MPs, pay them all outrageous salaries, give them staff, offices, travel privileges etc?

This is not a representative democracry any more. What we have is an Emperor and a bunch of overpaid, spineless, useless flunkies.

Anonymous said...

Gordy gives and Gordo taketh away. In opposition he railed about shortage of time in the house. What are you hiding and that sort of inflammatory stuff. He gets elected so brings in fixed times. But now he doesn't want to hear real questions so shuts it down. Once more proving that Gord does what he wants and to heck with everyone else. A few blogs have suggested the official opposition set up shop on the lawn in front of the buildings. and people keep telling the world that the BC Governing methods are out to lunch. No wonder. and shame on your MR. Premier. By the way the Reaside cartoon of Gordy moving the traffic along so they can't see the mess of Children and Families was pretty good. Besides he has some experiece in cops getting involved in roadside incidents Go take a look

Gazetteer said...

I'm not sure I agree entirely with Anon-o-One at the top of the thread, but I sure would be interested to hear Mr. Willcocks opinion some time on the power, including budgetary clout, that appears to have been concentrated in the Premier's office over the past 3 or 4 years.


paul said...

The concentration of power is a good topic. It's not just the Liberals. Backbenchers have been losing the ability to represent their constituents effectively in all Canadian governments. In terms of gaining influence and power, they're smarter to pay attention to what the premier and his staff want than what their constituents want.
I lived in Red Deer at the time of the Mulroney sweep. Our MP was a really decent Conservative, a farmer and sound person, who had been in opposition for eight years. It was really sad to see how disillusioned he was after a year in government. He thought he would have a chance to change things, but he didn't.
(As an aside, I'm always troubled by the claim MLAs are overpaid. It's good money, at $75,000 base pay. But you can't really claim it's wildly out of line. Reporters are being paid about the same just to write about them.
And I'm troubled by the tendency to blame this on Gordon Campbell. It's a bigger, structural problem. The former NDP government would have done the same thing under the same circumstances.)

Anonymous said...

How do we know the NDP would do the same under the same circumstances. What circumstances are you alluding to?

Gazetteer said...

Thanks Mr. Willcocks.

And I agree that concientious MLA's are not overpaid (at least not while they are still in office).


Anonymous said...

I agree with Paul. I live in the Okanagan and we have Stockwell Day as our MP, who after years of delivering nothing in opposition is finally now a member of government and a Minister to boot Yet so far he has failed to deliver even six bucks to our riding. He even wrote a letter to the editor explaining why he cannot deliver any money to get some much needed projects done. According to Stockwell, if they gave money to his riding, they would have to do so equally to every riding in Canada and that would be just to expensive. It was the most absurd thing I have ever read. I felt insulted just reading it.

I think it is silly to suggest that MLA’s quit working if the house does not sit, but sitting is part of the job and after going four years without any “official” opposition, BC decided to elect some and they must be given the opportunity to do the job they were elected to do. Opposition is an important part of any democracy, and it is surprising as it is disappointing that someone as intelligent as Campbell fails to see that.

We all know that MLA’s would like to be paid more money, and I believe they deserve to be, however NOT if this is the way they are going to go about things. Maybe Carole James should offer to back the pay raises in exchange for the house sitting ?

BC Mary said...

And didn't the Campbell government cut off the spring session of the B.C. Legislature, too? Before even the Budget was properly debated?

Could be anxiety relating to the Basi & Virk & B.C. Rail trial which might actually have happened in June '06, then Sept. 06, then maybe 4 Dec. 06 ... or any other day they might decide upon. After all, it's going on 3 years and counting.

There will be many embarrassing questions arising from sworn testimony at the biggest trial this province has ever held.

So, who knows, we might never see another sitting of the B.C. Legislature.

For today's breaking news (ha ha) see:

Anonymous said...

The Libs have nothing to shove down BCers throats so why even look like you care about anything.The con job continues.

BC Mary said...

Plus ... Paul ... when you're giving credit to the Campbell group for extending Question Period to a whole (gasp!) 30 minutes ...

Wasn't it this Campbell Group which, when they faced a 2-woman Opposition, reduced Question Period to a mere 15minutes?