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October 19, 2007

Legislation Missing in Week One

The first full week of the fall sitting of BC's Legislature has drawn to a close; a full week being 26 sitting hours spread over 4 days. What's notable about the first week is what is missing. Despite the Premier's September 13th announcement that he would interfere in the work of the independent Electoral Boundaries Commission, we have yet to see the promised legislation. The Commission halted its public hearings, knowing that it would have to start over. Time is running out; the next election is scheduled for May 12, 2009. Nineteen months may seem like a long time, but that's less than the Commission spent on the first draft before it was told to start over, and it is essential to hold public hearings on the draft that will be the product of the Premier's interference. The entire matter of what riding boundaries BC will use for the 2009 election may end up being determined by the courts if an application is made for an injunction preventing change on Campbell's terms.

Meanwhile the parties have shown that rapid progress can be made when they agree. Three bills introduced in the spring quickly passed second reading on Tuesday, and committee stage debate has begun on one of them, the Adult Guardianship Bill. There was even a shock in question period when Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong succinctly stated "We are rejecting it outright" when he was asked about Martin Zlotnik's proposal to use land from the Pacific Spirit Park rather than the University Golf Course when negotiating with the Musquem. If there were more direct answers like that, the short work week would prove adequate for holding the government accountable. Unfortunately, those examples are the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to debate in BC's Legislature.

Although it is certain that Bill 40, the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act, will pass with the support of 70 or more of the 79 MLAs, approximately 12 hours have been devoted to second reading of the Bill, with no end in sight. That is nothing compared to the lengthy filibuster Gordon Campbell and his caucus delivered when the Nisga'a treaty came before the Legislature. Not only has Campbell completely reversed his position since then, but the rules of the Legislature have changed. In 1999 the Opposition could determine when the Legislature adjourned by engaging in seemingly interminable stalling tactics; since 2001 the BC Legislature operates on a fixed calendar, which may not be honoured when it comes to the number of sitting days, but is honoured when it comes to Standing Order 81.1, automatic closure that assures all government business passes by the date fixed for adjournment. That power of time allocation will assure that the government gets its way when the controversial Bills changing TransLink, enabling TILMA, setting climate change goals and interfering with the Boundaries Commission are called for debate.

 
 

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