House management challenging again for BC NDP in Fall session

Nov 25, 2021 | 42-2, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

We have seen a troubling erosion of democracy under the BC NDP. My colleague Sonia Furstenau and I have raised our concerns several times.

It feels like the government has a disregard for the democratic process. In the Spring sittings, we have seen less time provided for debate on Budget Estimates, the line-by-line review of ministerial budgets by the opposition.

At committee stage of Bills, where we review each clause, we have a growing concern that Ministers rarely answer the question, rather they resort to offering vague responses trying to run out the time.

How this BC NDP government manages the House is another indication of the contempt they have for the processes of our legislature. One of the common beliefs around the legislature is that the advice from the political advisors is that nobody pays attention to the legislative debates. This is a sad justification for whoever occupies the governing seats to pay little attention to the established democratic processes.

Shouldn’t your government be operating like every British Columbian is watching whether they are or not?

Time allocation, or closure, is used by a government when they get to the end of a legislative session and the debate on their legislation has not been completed.

In the past, closure motions are brought with agreement of the government and opposition to shut down debate by a certain time.
Vaughn Palmer, Les Leyne and Rob Shaw shared their thoughts on how the opinions of politicians seem to change depending on what side of the House they sit. In opposition, we light our hair on fire (if we have any) because the use of closure is anti-democratic. Government on the other hand, sees it as a necessary way to maintain order, and not have debates drag on for eternity.

Vaughn, Les and Rob have been around this building for much longer than I have, and I respect the point they make. However, this Fall sitting need not end with Bills proposing to make substantive change in forestry and freedom of information policy without the appropriate debate and through closure.

Over the past four years, the BC NDP has consistently had challenges managing their legislative agenda. The 2021 Fall sitting was not unique. It was obvious weeks ago that problems with timing would arise.

Even as the opposition, advocates, stakeholders and experts were raising significant issues with the Bills on the table, and with just a few days left in the session, the BC NDP continued tabling new Bills. As these controversial Bills were grinding through the legislative process, the Minister of Forests tabled an 80-page amendment just two weeks before the end of session. That was followed by two more Bills.

The BC Liberals moved a motion to hoist, or delay, the Forest Act amendments until the upcoming Spring session starting in February. This is my contribution to the debate on the motion.

[Transcript]

I appreciate the opportunity to stand and speak to the hoist motion on this — one of two forestry bills that are currently in debate in this House. It’s something that I think is quite remarkable.

I know that closure of debate is not new. We asked the librarians to take a look at that for us, and it has actually been used often over the last decade or so. It’s a tool that’s used as a government is trying to get to the end of session and have their legislative agenda ended. You know, one of the things I found remarkable about a lot of the instances of closure that have showed up since 2003 is that, in many instances, closure has come by agreement, where both sides of the House — their House Leaders, the Whips, whoever it is — get together and have a conversation about it.

Oftentimes closure is needed because the official opposition and the opposition just in general — which is the part of the opposition that I’m in — are asking a lot of questions. This isn’t to pass judgment on the questions that are being asked. Let’s just assume that every question that’s asked at that stage of debate is valid and is necessary in informing the public about the bill that’s in front of them. Perhaps there has been a time or two when a few questions that were needless were asked as well.

However, it is the job of the opposition to scrutinize these bills, because we don’t, in this chamber, make an assumption that the piece of legislation that has been brought forward by the democratically elected government of this House is perfect. We make the assumption that the opposition, the loyal opposition, has a very legitimate and very important job in this system of government that we have: to scrutinize and to hold government accountable.

That’s what the stages of this debate process that we have this in this House are all about: ensuring that the people of British Columbia understand the laws that their elected governments are making and understand that those laws have been able to withstand the test of the scrutiny of the members of this side of the House.

[4:15 p.m.]
At times — not every session — government needs to be able to invoke closure in order to be able to get to the end of a session. As I said earlier, many times it has happened by agreement.

What’s unique about the situation that we’re facing today is not a challenge of House management. That has been a challenge that I have experienced since the day I was elected here in 2017. There has always been a challenge in managing the House, from my experience. I have complained about various aspects of House mismanagement, I would say, over that period. I never had a chance to experience what the management of the House was like prior to 2017, but I can tell you, it’s been a challenge over the last four-and-a-half years, five years, that I’ve been here.

What’s unique about the closure of this bill is that it was brought in — as has been pointed out previously, an 80-page bill, brought in last week — into a legislative agenda that already was languishing. There were already questions as to whether or not…. Anybody who has been in these chambers for any period of time — you get a sense. You have a feeling about what is coming, and about what the last couple of weeks are going to be like in any session. In this case, the last week.

I had a feeling about four weeks ago that this House was in trouble. Partly because there was some time spent in this fall session in October debating the throne speech. There is an article written about it. That’s a first to me. That is a real indication that the government simply does not have its legislative agenda in order. It’s remarkable that a forest minister would not be available to be here to listen to the debate about the bill that they have tabled, because they are in the committee stage of another forestry bill that they had tabled. That is remarkable, and an indication of really, really poor House management.

There should be an expectation by the people of British Columbia that the minister tabling a bill is available to listen to the debate, because we would at least like to pretend that that debate is going to inform the minister and the ministry. There is no pretence here. The minister is currently unavailable, and in fact, I had to pull myself away from that debate to come and do this, and to plead with my colleagues to give me a few minutes of the time, so that then I can go back and ask questions in the committee stage of that debate. A really, really remarkable mismanagement of the House. One that I find totally unacceptable.

You see, I’m not so much irritated by the fact that we got to a point where we have closure. I’m irritated at the fact that we have a bill that is going to pass that is substantial, that had very little, if any, or no time, for scrutiny by the members of this side of the House. See, we get elected here on behalf of the people of British Columbia, so that the people of British Columbia don’t have to spend their time doing this work. We do this on behalf of the people of British Columbia, so that then they can go and do all of the other things that we need British Columbians to do.

I can tell British Columbians, at this point in the debate, that the bill that we’re debating right now is not going to have — this forest act, I can’t remember which one…. Is it 28? 28. I got it right. That Bill 28 did not have the benefit of scrutiny. That might be the first time that a government tabled a bill and then invoked closure with less than just a few hours of debate available at committee stage. An 80-page bill. I think it is important.

[4:20 p.m.]
It is completely appropriate to be raising the times in which members on the other side of the House have raised concerns about the use of this tactic. Again, I’m less concerned about when this tactic is used when the opposition is legitimately or has been dragging their feet on something. That’s not the case in this bill. It was the government’s choice to put this bill on the table. We didn’t force them to bring this bill to the table. They put it there.

Now we’re going to have fundamental changes, complex changes, to forestry legislation, most of which, as I review the bill, are supportable. However, the nuances, the complexities need to be fleshed out and understood. Zero percent opportunity to do that. That’s what’s so egregious here. It’s not so much that the government…. It’s irritating that the government is using this tactic, especially when they could have chosen to manage the House more efficiently. That’s the reason why I stand in support of this hoist motion.

What is the hurry to have this done now, when this process could be started 60 days from now, the same number of days that the other forestry bill is giving Indigenous nations to respond to a notification? It’s the same period of time between now and when this bill could be put on the papers. Okay, so maybe it’s 60 days plus two weeks — 74 days, give or take. Once we get through that throne speech, there could be a bill that’s already drafted. We could put it on the order papers immediately.

Just in wrapping up…. I’ve got just a few seconds left here. I just want to say that one of the techniques that the former government used, which I would like to see this government employ, was putting bills on the order papers in the spring for debate in the fall. This is a really, really important nuance, because we’re debating bills that we’ve had less than 24 hours to review. That, to me, is as much an affront to the democratic process in this House as it is putting a bill on the table a week before we’re done and then not giving the House a chance to debate it before closing the debate.

The idea that we are given zero time to understand the bill that we’re debating is also an indication from this government that they don’t want serious debate on their legislation. I find that inappropriate. So I stand with this hoist motion because I think that it is entirely acceptable to suggest that this bill be pushed outside of this legislative session and be brought back first thing in the next legislative session, which starts about two months from now, for debate, and for us to flesh out all of the important things that the Minister of Forests wants to do with this bill and the intentions that this government has with the reforms of forestry.

I pass no judgment on it, but I will judge harshly a government that decides to put substantive legislation on the table and then give the people who were elected to do this job no time to do it. That is inappropriate and should not be supported by any members of this House, whether you sit on this side of the House or that side of the House.

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