On Wednesday afternoon, when Government House Leader, Hon. Ravi Kahlon introduced his motion of time allocation into the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, House business immediately deteriorated into mayhem. [2:50pm]
Vaughn Palmer describes the scene,
“The formal name for Kahlon’s motion is “time allocation” or “closure.” The informal term is “the guillotine.” As B.C. United MLA Mike de Jong quipped in a related context, thus did the fall session of the B.C. legislature have its “Robespierre moment.”
I’ve seen many closure motions during four decades covering the legislature. Several were introduced by de Jong during his days as house leader for the B.C. Liberals.
Usually, the motion allows a day or two before closure takes effect. I don’t recall one as ruthless as Kahlon’s, which cut off debate 30 minutes after it was introduced.
After a couple of procedural wrangles, there was almost no time left on the clock”
Ruthless indeed. However, his introduction of the motion was problematic. Hence the “procedural wrangles” Palmer notes, Independent Member Adam Walker (Parksville-Qualicum), Official Opposition House Leader Todd Stone, and Third Party House Leader (me) all rose to raise points of order and to reserve a Question of Privilege.
On Thursday morning, Todd Stone and I laid out our argument that the Government House Leader misled the House when he stated “we have tried to reach an informal agreement…” with opposition House Leaders. Here is my transcript. Below you will see the ruling from the Speaker which he delivered at the beginning of the afternoon session. You can watch the video in the Hansard link below, look to the top left corner of the webpage. Video will be posted here soon.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a point that the minister responded to both, yet I was not able to provide my comments to the initial response.
Yesterday I rose on my right to raise a point of personal privilege. I wish to address it now. Yesterday the Government House Leader said: I rise “in my capacity as the Government House Leader to move a time allocation motion. Under Standing Order 81.1, we have tried to reach an informal agreement on the allocation of time for the business of this House with three distinct opposition House Leaders as well as an independent member. However, we are unable to reach a consensus.”
The Government House Leader misled this House. He did not try to reach an informal agreement on the time allocation for the business of this House.
It should be known that throughout this session, communication has been chaotic and infrequent between House Leaders. It is the role of the Government House Leader to manage the business of government. So the Government House Leader has a role of convener because the government creates the agenda. From the beginning of this session, the Government House Leader never created space for the opposition House Leaders to properly manage the House — quick phone call notifications, pleasant but not really collaborative.
The Government House Leader was unavailable for our standing meeting on Monday and was unavailable for the House Leaders’ lunch that was hosted earlier this week on Monday. There was no direct communication from him the next day or the next day. I had to go to his office to try to meet with him, and the only time we had available was five minutes before we entered the chamber, in here, where I was handed the motion for closure, for time allocation.
Frankly, partisanship among House Leaders need be muted. Along with the Speaker, the Clerk and their teams, the House Leaders need to work together to effectively manage this democratic institution. Currently, there is a reeking toxicity and a deeply unfortunate state of affairs in the way that this House is managed. We’ve said it multiple times, and it came to this.
My colleague the member for Cowichan Valley and I enjoyed regular, respectful House business meetings with the former Government House Leader.
No matter the politics in question period, the member for Port Coquitlam was also able to have House management meetings about the activities of this place. With the current Government House Leader, that has never been a priority for him.
I am only saying this publicly this way because the Government House Leader stood in here yesterday and told British Columbians that he attempted to “get an informal agreement from me on time management and time allocation.” He was closing his own legislation on bills that he and I had fiercely debated. He did his job as Housing Minister. I did my job as critic.
But as Government House Leader, he was faced a dilemma in the management of this House. All of his legislation. Extend the session or shut it down. Again, two sessions in a row, this Government House Leader has chosen to shut it down. That’s the debate. That’s the democracy. Our democracy is being actively and eroded and undermined.
This administration consistently chooses to drop massive legislation in November: forest bills in ’21, a health bill in ’22 and housing bills here in ’23. They give little time for the public to understand it, and then they shut it down. They rally their majority who stand every time no matter what. Yesterday morning, we were notified by the Government House Leader’s office that Bill 45 was no longer being debated, and the Government House Leader had decided to shut down the Douglas Fir room. He was reducing the debate to just this chamber. The Government House Leader delivered his closure motion to us in the side room off the hallway. If we are under such a time crunch, why are we reducing the number of rooms that we are working in?
Yesterday, I raised the point in the debate on Bill 46 that it’s actually policy that is under a different ministry. It is only a choice of government to have the Minister of Housing shepherding a bill about the Local Government Act through. It’s a choice of government that is a totally inefficient use of time and necessitated his motion to shut this debate down. Yesterday, the Speaker read Standing Order 81.1, time allocations, into the record: “A minister of the Crown, who from his or her place in the House, has stated that an agreement could not be reached.” It goes on, but that’s where I’ll end the quote.
I suppose the Speaker may rule that all the minister of the Crown needs to do is state that an agreement could not be reached. A reasonable person, and those watching Bill 44 know that we had a long conversation about “reasonable,” the word. In a democratic institution, a reasonable person would expect that an informal agreement had been discussed, that time management was discussed as well. Well, it hadn’t. There have been zero conversations with all the House Leaders. There was no space given at any time throughout the week.
Prior to the fiasco in here yesterday, frankly an embarrassment, I was already activated and anyone in in the hallway saw me. I was being told, while being handed the motion to close, that the Conservatives didn’t agree and so therefore we couldn’t get agreement. Then for him to stand in here and tell the public that I was being unreasonable…. That must not be allowed to stand. I act honourably in this place. I deeply respect the role of the Speaker in both my culture and in this House. I respect the speaker, respect the House.
Everybody watching closely knew this Government House Leader was backing further and further into a corner all week. It’s important context for this. All week. He had a choice and unfortunately, he has decided again not to collaborate and put some construct time around the debate, but to shutter the people’s democracy. No opportunity for me to talk to the House Leader of the Fourth Party. He and I actually have a productive relationship when it comes to House Leader business because it’s strictly non-partisan.
This is less about the minister’s need to only state that an agreement could not be reached. Because that’s not what he said. What the minister said is that he “tried, but was unable to reach an informal agreement.”
That might be semantic for people watching and for the people of this House, but for reputation and integrity and dignity, it’s not semantic. It’s real. I’m not an unreasonable person, especially if you actually try and that did not happen in this case.
Functional, respectful House management is the responsibility of the Government House Leader. He has not tried. He advanced a fallacy that it was I or my Opposition House Leader colleagues who were acting so unreasonable that he wasn’t even able to get an informal agreement.
There needs to be reconciliation. There needs to be an intervention. This is not just the fall session of 2023. This is the spring session of 2023. This is the fall session of 2022. This is 100 percent of the sessions under this new Premier, shuttering important debate, shuttering the people’s House because of unfortunate conversations that this Premier and that Government House Leader don’t want to have.
When I have to stand in here and defend myself as being a reasonable person, I find it offensive. I’m asking, Mr. Speaker, that you intervene in this situation, and that you reconcile this so that spring of 2024 isn’t a fiasco as well.
Question of Privilege – (Speaker’s Ruling)
Members, before we proceed any further, the Chair is prepared to rule on the questions of privilege raised earlier today by the official opposition House Leader and the Third Party House Leader, both of which were taken under advisement.
While unusual, the crux of the matter outlined in both members’ grievances, in raising their questions of privilege, is the same, so the Chair will deliver one ruling.
The Chair thanks the members for following the proper procedure for raising a question of privilege and is grateful to the official opposition House Leader and the Third Party House Leader for their thoughtful submissions and to the Government House Leader for his responses.
In the interests of time, and in an attempt to return to the House with all possible expediency, the Chair’s ruling will be brief.
The official opposition House Leader and the Third Party House Leader outlined in their submissions their view that the Government House Leader misled the House in his remarks prior to moving a time allocation motion under Standing Order 81.1 on November 29, 2023.
An imputation with respect to a member misleading this House is a very serious matter that the Chair must approach with utmost care. In deciding on such a matter, the Chair must examine any evidence that (1) proves that the statement was misleading, (2) establishes that the member — in this case, the Government House Leader — making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect and (3) proves the member intended to mislead the House in making the statement.
In reviewing the submissions made to the Chair, the dispute at hand appears to be a matter of disagreement about interpretation about the words spoken by the Government House Leader when he informed the House that a consensus could not be reached amongst the parties. As the Chair noted in a ruling only yesterday, a disagreement or debate between two members is not a matter for the Chair to weigh into or adjudicate.
As such, it’s the ruling of the Chair that a prima facie breach of privilege has not occurred.
Prior to concluding, the Chair will note an awareness of the frustrations that exist around the management of House business — the frustration that is rooted in a genuine desire that all members have to undertake their parliamentary duties and to fulfil the democratic process.
The Chair acknowledges that the House Leaders have a key role in ensuring the smooth operation of the House. In the coming weeks, the Chair will take it upon himself to work with the House Leaders to find a better and more collaborative way forward, prior to the resumption of House sitting in 2024.