Bill 12: Property Law Amendment Act is the legislation promised by Minister Selina Robinson (Finance) last Fall to introduce a “cooling off period” which government is now calling a “Homebuyer Protection Period.”
This Bill is another example of the BC NDP using enabling legislation to give them the power to create regulations later. This is an affront to our democratic process. The objective of the Bill is to give home purchasers the ability to rescind an offer.
Initially, government floated the idea making it sound like an initiative to cool B.C.’s famously hot real estate market. Now they are framing it as a consumer protection effort.
Minister Robinson, and other BC NDP Members, reminded B.C.ers that buying a home is the biggest purchase people make. Yet, they are asking their elected representatives to vote on a Bill with literally no detail. All detail will all come later, secretly, in regulation. Astonishing.
I appreciate the opportunity to offer some of my initial thoughts on Bill 12, the Property Law Amendment Act. Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to actually have any kind of informed debate on this bill. Basically, other than the pieces of paper that have been put in front of us with a couple of clauses, the content of this bill doesn’t exist. The important pieces, the information that will impact the public, will all come later. It will all come after this debate has been adjourned — even, I fear, in committee stage.
We’re not going to have the details that I think the public in British Columbia deserve from their democratically elected institution.
As I have, unfortunately, continued to repeat in this House, the process in this chamber is an important one. This government and previous governments — and this government is the one that I’m focused on now — have found a way around the process. They have found a way to skirt the democratic process that this chamber is supposed to function on. By offering only enabling legislation, by offering a few pieces of paper that give the ministry and the minister and the cabinet the power to fill in the blanks later, there’s no opportunity for the public to understand what it is that their elected officials, their elected representatives, are actually debating.
That’s a big problem in a democracy. It’s supposed to be all out in front of the public. The members of the opposition are supposed to be given the benefit and the opportunity to be able to challenge the notions that the government is putting on the table to create a law. That’s our job.
Essentially, the government has taken that away from the members of the opposition to be able to do their job on behalf of the people of this province. It’s called Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Our job is to challenge and to test the laws that the government has put on the table, and we’re not able to do it.
It was good of the Ministry of Finance to offer us a briefing, although it was 30 minutes that, frankly, we could have been doing literally anything else and would have gotten more information about this bill.
I felt for ministry staff. I felt for ministry staff, because it was, frankly, embarrassing for them to not be able to do their job either. All of the decisions that are going to be made in this bill were political. Therefore, the civil servants who are there to serve the public in a similar way — to administrate the work of the politicians — couldn’t even answer the questions. You could see the challenge that they were put in as myself and the other members of the opposition were there to ask important questions so that we could then have an informed debate in this House. So that this debate, actually, could be about the bill rather than about the erosion and undermining of our democracy.
Actually, if the government wants to continue to put this kind of enabling legislation on the order papers for debate, and they really want me to continue to have to stand for the next three years and talk about how they’re wilfully undermining and eroding our democracy, then fine. But that’s the effect of this enabling legislation and the process that this government has undertaken. The public will have no deeper understanding of a new law in the province after this debate is over. Because it’s all going to come later in regulation.
Question after question after question, in committee stage, to the minister will be responded to…. This is a prediction of mine. “That’s going to come later in regulation.”
We are engaging in a public consultation process. Again, we have put the legislation out in front of understanding the public consultation that’s currently underway by the Financial Services Authority in this province — or is done or is not done or might be done or is close to being done or something. Something happened. We don’t know, and we’ll find out later.
All we know right now is that the people’s government has gone to the people and said: “Give us the power to do this thing that we’re not going to define clearly. We’re going to give you some vague understanding of what it might be about, but we’re not going to give you the details. You just have to give us the power to do it.”
As the minister said in the press conference last year, announcing the cooling off period, which has now been re-branded…. It’s now called the home buyer protection period. As the minister said, this is the largest investment that British Columbians are going to make. The largest investment that British Columbians make: a new home or the next home.
Their elected officials are given no information on the details of that. No understanding of how aspects of this bill are going to interact with each other. No ability to test the minister on the details. I think, well, it’s a farce. It’s making a farce of this House. It’s making a farce of this chamber. It’s making a farce of our process.
I’m part of that Freedom of Information and Privacy Act committee review that the member from Kamloops–North Thompson was mentioning just a few minutes ago. That’s a tough committee to be on right now because, well, frankly, the legislative changes came last fall before the committee had a chance to review the legislation.
But last week, Sean Holman — who this House knows well and is fairly well known political scientist and journalist and studies democracy — made a presentation to the committee. He quoted Ralph Nader, who said that information is the currency of democracy. I ask the members in this House: is that what we have here? Do we have information? Do we have democracy?
I think where you have the absence of information is where you have the absence of democracy. The opposite must be true, if we accept Ralph Nader’s comment. Clearly, I think that one of the differences between a democratic and an autocratic government is control and flow of information and the amount of confidentiality and secrecy, compared to the openness of the debate and the openness of information and the flow of information.
There is no information about this bill. We know that the government wants to do something about the ability to rescind an offer once a person puts that offer on the table. We have no idea how long it will be allowed.
We have no idea the abilities of waivers. We have no idea about how it is going to interact with other offers that might be on the table. We have no idea how it is going to impact the sale of a home if the purchaser is also the seller of a home that they’re living in. We have no clue.
So, as Ralph Nader said, if information is the currency of democracy, and you have an absence of information, then you have absence of democracy. That’s what this is: an absence of democracy. Holman continued that access to information is “about whether we have enough information to make rational and empathetic decisions expected of us in a democracy during this new age of disaster.” Well, I think a lot of people in the province — millions of people in this province — would characterize the situation in our real estate market as a social disaster and as an economic disaster.
Access of information is “about whether we have enough information to make a rational and empathetic decision expected of us in a democracy during this new age of disaster.” We are dealing with a social crisis in housing in this province. We have a government that is…. And I believe that this announcement last fall was an effort to appear to be doing something.
We have a government that is…. I believe that this announcement last fall was an effort to appear to be doing something. We have a social and economic disaster. I’ll ask the question: does this bill give anybody in this House the ability to make a rational and empathetic decision?
It lacks all of the important information. Even in committee stage, when we have the ability to go into the detail…. Where the comma is placed is as important as the words that are chosen. We see these miscellaneous stats and amendments will move a comma. My former colleague used to talk about commas and apostrophes. That’s the detail that when you’re making a law, the difference in a sentence might be where the comma is placed. We have no idea what letters are going to be used — what numbers will be used in this bill. We will not know that.
We will not know that when we get to the end of committee stage, because this government — this Minister of Finance — is explicitly asking us to pass a bill with no information. Is explicitly asking us: “Make an irrational decision.” This Minister of Finance is asking their colleagues in the B.C. NDP government to make an irrational decision, a decision to approve a bill that nobody in this House will have any information about, in a disastrous housing crisis, where people’s lives, their livelihoods, their safety, their security — where everything about their life is on the table.
We have been asked in this House to make an irrational decision to approve a bill that we don’t know the impact that it could or could not have on the people of British Columbia. It really is an offence to this democracy. It is not how the process in this place was designed to work, or should work.
Holman continued, do we want to cultivate democracy or do we want to salt the soil of fact-based communities that we have spent centuries building together? That is a powerful question that every member of this House is being challenged with, with this Bill 12. Are we going to allow enabling legislation that literally has no substance to it to salt the soil of our fact-based societies? Democratic societies that are empowered, that exist the way they do today, because of access to information, access to the ability to understand what’s being said, what’s being asked of you and for your ability to make a rational and empathetic decision.
The point Holman was making — the point that needs to be grasped by every member of this House, some of who will stand and vote on this bill without spending any moments considering it, because they are rightfully doing other business…. They have put their trust in the people here that are tasked with stewarding this bill through this House — the minister, the critics in the opposition. They trust us to be putting something of value on the table. Are we salting the soil of our fact-based communities, ones that our predecessors have nurtured and have spent centuries building together, as Holman says.
I understand why a minister may need to put a section in a bill that enables them to do things in regulation. That’s not what I’m talking about here.
If we have speakers coming up, saying, “Well, that member for Saanich North and the Islands clearly doesn’t understand how legislation works. Clearly, ministers have to put in enabling sections. Clearly, there’s a need for aspects of bills to be enabling,” that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about here is a situation in which we have an entire bill that is enabling — no other information.
One section is a bunch of consequential amendments and emptiness — a void, a vacuum. Nothing. Salting the soil of our fact-based communities. Undermining and eroding our democracy. People have spent decades in this place sitting by, quietly allowing this undermining and erosion to happen. Stunning. It’s stunning.
I imagine that there’s probably going to be division called on this. I imagine that this House will be full. I imagine that everybody will stand and sit when they’re told to stand and sit, and many people in this place will have no idea what just happened. I said I imagine. It’s an allegation, sure. It’s also been my experience, repeatedly.
When we take a look at this, the only thing I will leave British Columbians with is an apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to serve you well today. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to evaluate the details of this legislation, which will have a small or a large impact on the place that you live — as the Minister of Finance said, on the largest investment that you will or you have already made.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we can’t do our job, because we’re left with nothing, just like the minister’s own staff. Left with nothing to talk about in the briefing. We just ended the briefing. We said: “Well, okay, that’s great. Thank you.” Nothing to talk about. Nothing to talk about. Great.
We can say that we were briefed. I guess the only thing that’s appropriate is to apologize that at second reading, I can’t give you more information about what’s in this bill. Likely more apologies to come, as we go through the committee stage of this debate and try to get to the details of what’s in this bill and still get no information about how this is going to impact British Columbians and their largest investment that they’re going to make — or that they have made in their homes — in a real estate market that is unattainable and unachievable for many British Columbians and a rental market that is growingly unattainable and unachievable for many British Columbians in a disaster — a social and economic disaster.