Once again we are heading towards the close of the Legislative session with the prospect of substantial amounts of legislation neither fully debated nor properly scrutinized. The very reason we have a Legislature with duly elected members is so that government proposals - the laws of BC - are not imposed without the opportunity for them to be discussed, critiqued and sometimes amended. This is a basic foundation for our democracy - a foundation this BC Liberal government has once again chosen to undermine.
The Throne speech, which started the session, was delivered last October. This spring we have been in Victoria since February. But instead of bringing forward its legislation over this period, the BC Liberals have introduced 16 bills in the last ten days. With just ten sitting days left, and the Premier resolute that the session will not be extended beyond the end of May, this leaves us unable to give any real scrutiny to these laws.
The government’s incompetence, and its tendency towards autocracy, is perhaps best illustrated by two bills we debated this week. On Monday
and then on Tuesday
we debated two separate bills which were both amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act. The first a rises from a Supreme Court ruling to the roadside breath tests that overturned legislation introduced a couple of years ago. The second introduces a new system for paying traffic fines. I spoke to both of these and raised questions of competence and capacity within the government to allow two amendment bills rather than one. The amendments which change rules concerning roadside breath testing came because of the government was so hasty in passing the initial law. I am among many who are concerned that because we are not being given opportunity for proper scrutiny on how people pay their fines, this legislation could also open to a court challenge.
With massive backlogs in the courts system, and regular stays of charges, the government earlier this year said it would review the judicial system. Changes, however, seem to be coming in a piecemeal fashion ahead of a report from the government’s own appointee who is examining the situation across the province. This week we saw legislation introduced
which moves small claims from the courts to tribunals. While this is said to be an effort to make justice more accessible, I am concerned about it. The legislation still allows for lawyers to be involved which will still be costly and cumbersome. The tribunal members are appointed by cabinet, and cabinet can amend the way that the tribunals operate. This is very significant because, like other democracies, we currently have a clear separation of powers between the legislature, cabinet and the judiciary. By giving powers over the tribunal to the cabinet, this separation is being blurred. This is extremely dangerous for our democratic system and the rule of law under which we live.
For all of us living on the Big Island or any of the other islands, the bill to amend the Coastal Ferry Act is very bad news. Simply put, it ignores the countless pleas of those who presented to the Ferry Commissioner when he toured the province last fall. Instead of freezing and rolling back fares, it will allow for fare increases and for frequency of service to be downgraded. It does not acknowledge that ferries are part of our highway system. This is absolutely outrageous and will add to the slow death of many of our coastal communities that have been struggling under the pseudo-privatized ferry regime for years. Have no doubt that I will be vociferously opposing this - if we actually get the opportunity.
There was also a bill tabled which will increase the amount of protected areas in BC. While on the surface this seems a good move, it also changes the boundaries to the river conservancy around the Klinaklini. A few years ago I received a commitment from the then environment minister, Barry Penner, that there would be no changes to the conservancy. However, the new legislation would open the way for a massive independent power project in this pristine area. The same bill also has a section in which a provincial park is transferred to a first nation as part of treaty agreement. This is a change from the current system under which parks are not included in land settlements. If we get the opportunity I will be asking the minister for clarification on both these actions and the expected impacts and repercussions.
One of our roles as legislators is to give reasoned consideration to bills. This government is circumventing that. A solution is that instead of pushing all these bills through in 10 days we have a fall session, which is quite normal - there was a fall session last year. This would mean legislation could be considered in the community through the summer and debated in the fall. However fearful of facing opposition the BC Liberals are steadfast in refusing this option.
Instead, the government’s way of dealing with the legislative crunch is have simultaneous debates happening in three separate locations. The normal procedure is that debate occurs in the main legislative chamber and the ongoing analysis and review of the budget happens in one of the committee rooms. Now the government will start yet another debate on new legislation in a third committee room. While this may solve some of the process problems it does not allow for us to have time for reasoned consideration or analysis of the impacts. And the process is happening so fast it does not allow us to discuss proposed legislation fully with stakeholders before it becomes law.
To mark Child and Youth Mental Health Day I spoke about the government’s inaction on the issue and the particular vulnerabilities of those in rural areas. I also asked the Minister of Education some questions about his ministry’s actions on identifying and supporting young people with mental health problems
I was very privileged this week to be able to attend a Citizenship Ceremony in Campbell River. It is always good to remind ourselves that how fortunate we are in this country, and never forget that how fragile our democracy is.
On Friday I have meetings with a number of constituents in Campbell River and on Saturday will be in Gold River, to celebrate Gold River Days. I look forward to seeing lots of people there.
As always, I can be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, in Campbell River on 250 287 5100, Port Hardy 250 949 9473 or toll free on 1 866 387 5100; or you can friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.