Nurturing Democracy: Value of Parliamentary Work and Opposition Members

Feb 25, 2023 | Blog, Governance | 0 comments

It is hard to believe that following my criticisms of the second week of the Spring legislative session that I would be given reason to once again note the bewildering legislative agenda of the BC NDP. The third week was worse! But it was not all bad news.

Week 3 was a unique three day week in the legislature. It is normal practice that on weeks with statutory holidays MLAs stay in their constituency. Last week however the government called us back (at tremendous cost) to discuss Bill 5, Bill 7, and Bill 8. Bill 5 is not really available to debate because the province is negotiating with the lawyers the BC NDP offended with the contents of the proposal.

So, just two bills, a grand total of 17 clauses. Astonishingly, they produced no new legislation and on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Government House Leader dragged out the debate on the remarkably thin legislative agenda, getting his Members to filibuster their own bills stretching time until the budget is presented next week. On Thursday afternoon we debated Motion 18. It gives direction to a Special Committee to review Private Members* time. (*Members who are not in Cabinet.)

This is the good news. For the past 18 months, I and my colleague Sonia Furstenau have been working with Opposition House Leader Todd Stone, and asking for the Government House Leader to reform our parliamentary practice to allow for more debate and votes on policy initiatives from Private Members.

Over that time, the Clerk’s Office completed a jurisdictional scan, offered advice and options, on how we can make the legislative agenda more accessible to all MLAs. You can see my 30-minute speech about the initiative here. This week when Hon. Ravi Kahlon called Motion 18, which proposes a Special Committee to review the issue and report back by October, it showed how MLAs can be effective no matter where they sit.

There is a belief in our political culture that voters should vote for the MLA from the governing party, because that is the only way their riding will get noticed. It’s a fallacy, voters can’t accurately predict who will form government from the ballot box.

It is often the opposite. On many occasions it has been beneficial for my constituents that I was not part of the governing party. The public advocacy of the MLAs in the governing party is often muted. I have been in opposition since my election in 2017. The government continues to invest in Saanich North and the Islands, and my work in the legislature this week showed how valuable it is for my constituents for me to be where I am.

Motion 18 is the result of collaborative work of bi-partisan opposition members committed to advancing quality parliamentary reforms. And, there would be no public acknowledgement of the potential dissolution of the Island Coastal Economic Trust (the Trust) by the BC NDP government.

Learn more about the Island Coastal Economic Trust

View a summary of the Proposal

The Trust region covers Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, including the rural island communities I represent in the Southern Gulf Islands! Other than Saanich North and the Islands (my riding) and Cowichan Valley (my BC Green Caucus colleague Sonia Furstenau’s riding), the rest are represented by BC NDP Members. They have been publicly silent, reluctant to advocate for the Trust.

Designed as a sinking fund 17 years ago, the Trust has distributed nearly $60 million in modest community grants, generating approximately $315 million in economic activity in rural communities in the region. It’s running out of money and if it is not re-capitalized by the province it will be dissolved and the communities will be without a critical economic engine right when they need it most.

In September 2022, the Trust submitted to the government a comprehensive 25-year vision. They propose a first-of-its-kind co-governance model with First Nations, grounded in a well-being framework. The Trust will create a permanent fund, investing a minimum of $150 million, that will generate between $7-12 million annually. They will never touch the initial provincial investment and will produce a billion dollars in economic activity over the next 25 years. In the ensuing months I have patiently waited to hear the response and with just a few days left to Budget 2023, someone needed to say something publicly. Why has the BC NDP Minister, and the Members representing all these communities, been silent?

As a Member of the Opposition I had the opportunity to get a public response from the Minister on the record. In addition, I followed up with a second question seeking the Minister clarify her previous response.

If there was not an opposition Member to raise this issue, the government could easily sweep this critical decision under the rug, leaving the constituents of those rural Island-Coastal communities unaware because their elected representatives failed to publicly advocate, and failed to deliver a critical tool that can invest in community-driven initiatives.

Question Period

Tuesday February 21, 2023Clock Ticking for ICET: Will BC NDP Government Prioritize Support for Rural Communities on Vancouver Island and Coast?

Thursday February 23, 2023Does the BC NDP see the exciting economic engine of a re-capitalized Island Coastal Economic Trust?

Les Leyne: Fund has done a lot of good on Island; province is mum on its future – MLA Olsen, Glacier outlets

Island officials push province to renew $55 million community development fund – MLA Olsen, Black Press


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