Thursday, September 11, 2008

Liberals cheat voters by cancelling fall sitting

You can see why Gordon Campbell decided to cancel the fall sitting of the legislature. His government would spend six weeks getting batted around on bunch of contentious issues.
Cancel the session and everything changes. Instead of facing daily questions from the opposition and journalists, the premier can make one or two carefully planned appearances a week. Cut a ribbon here, speak to a friendly group there, make good news announcements in time for the evening news and dump the bad ones when you're on a private jet bound for another country.
It's an easier life. That's the problem with democracy, even a flawed version like our own. It's inconvenient to face all those questions and criticisms when you just want to wield power.
The Liberals cancelled the scheduled fall sitting this week. They had no legislation to present, so why bother, said house leader Mike de Jong.
That's not exactly true. The Liberals have three bills - on resource roads, improved insurance industry regulation and wills and estates - that they wanted to pass in the spring, but dropped because of lack of time. (They also could have delayed some of the half-dozen bills that were pushed through with no debate on the last day of the spring session.)
They were ready, and considered important then.
And there are other areas where they have acknowledged change is needed - like improving the police complaints process - and have had lots of time to draft the bills.
Even leaving aside the excuse, the Liberals know that the legislature isn't just a place to pass bills. When MLAs - government and opposition - gather in that red-carpeted chamber, it's their chance to speak on behalf of their constituents.
They can raise the issues and concerns that matter to people back home. They can ask cabinet ministers what's being done about issues, from seniors care to forestry to potholed roads.
By cancelling the session, Campbell is denying them and the public that right.
The decision carries some political risk. A recent poll found British Columbians believed Campbell is out of touch and uninterested in their concerns. Shutting down the legislature reinforces that impression.
And the timing, right after Stephen Harper and Jack Layton were pilloried for trying to avoid debating Green leader Elizabeth May, was a problem. It looks like Campbell is afraid of debating Carole James.
But the Liberals figure the risks of a session are greater. There is a lot of anger over the carbon tax, and it's being ramped up by Harper's attacks. Campbell still hasn't provided any justification for the massive hike in pay scales for senior government managers.
There are potential questions on a range of issues that could make the government look bad, from seniors care to forestry problems to the efforts to deny help to the disabled based on an arbitrary IQ level.
And there are smaller embarrassments, like Campbell's decision to fly to the Beijing Games on a private jet with a developer and party supporter.
Campbell says people have told him cabinet ministers and MLAs should be out in the ridings, talking with them.
But the legislature will have sat for only 47 days this year, among the fewest in a non-election year in more than two decades. If the fall session had lasted the full six weeks, MLAs would still have 180 working days free this year. That seems plenty of time to keep up with local concerns.
De Jong was right to say there's no point passing laws just to keep the legislature busy. But he can't really be saying that the government no longer cares about the bills it introduced in the spring and sees no need to update or improve any other legislation.
Still, that's that. MLAs lose their chance to speak for their constituents. The legislature will sit for about 19 days in the spring and then break for the election.
Not democratic, but it suits Campbell's political purposes.
Footnote: There's probably not a big political price for the decision to abandon the sitting. Most people aren't all that aware of where MLAs are or what they're doing. But the decision does reinforce the impression that Campbell doesn't really accept the idea of accountability and raises the perception of arrogance.


Anonymous said...

There's no work to be done by the government -- so no need for a fall sitting. See, the Republicans are right.

Nothing to get to the bottom of involving BC Rail, no food safety issues to worry about, no drug addicts wanting rehab but unable to access the limited number of beds, nothing. No work for a government to do.

Anonymous said...

Notjing to sit for' Like the smozzle of BC's ferry system and the mess the health authorities make of senior care. The disasterous home care.nope nothing at all

Gazetteer said...

What I find most disturbing about all this is what Mr. Willcocks has in "brackets" in the post, which is....

They also could have delayed some of the half-dozen bills that were pushed through with no debate on the last day of the spring session.......

Actually,there were eight bills rammed through via closure on the last day of the spring legislative session the most egregious of which was, in my opinion at least, #42.

Most have likely forgotten the number, but many will remember the name, which was the 'Election Amendment Act'. Unofficially, it is often called the 'Election Gag Law' because it limits third party pre-election spending. However, it will also disenfranchise many of British Columbians poorest citizens.

Anyway, regardless the specifics of this law the point is that, in addition to the loss of question period, the raising of constituent concerns, and the passing of bills, there is a fourth component of the parliamentary process which, it would appear based on the evidence, is being willfully suppressed here, and that is debate.

Which is most definitely not, no matter how Mr. de Jong may wish to spin it, a trivial matter.

Just before Bill 42 was passed back in May of this year Jody Paterson wrote an insightful column in the Times-Colonist on the disenfranchisement issue. She also made a very convincing case that concerns about 'fraud' are not a reasonable justification for it. I commented upon that column and the issue issue more generally here for anybody who's interested.

Lastly, here's the link to the third reading version of Bill 42 and the Hansard record of the its debate-free passage.