Editorial: Legislature must meet to answer policy questions

From:  Vancouver Sun    November 21, 2013

British Columbians are seriously disadvantaged by a legislature that remains shuttered, unable to carry out its essential function as a forum for public debate.

An Agricultural Land Reserve in crisis? Forecasts showing B.C.’s long-touted greenhouse gas targets being blown? B.C. signing an agreement with Alberta in support of a national energy policy?

These are fundamental topics warranting a full public airing that, appropriately, would challenge and help shape public policy.

This won’t happen, however, because Christy Clark, who won a provincial election last May, mandated a 17-day session to pass the new Liberal government’s budget, and then proceeded to cancel any fall sitting of the legislature.

Since the start of the year, MLAs have sat for only 36 days.

As a result, government actions and policies are not receiving the scrutiny they would receive had elected members of the legislature been able to convene.

It is obvious that sitting governments prefer to have free rein, to carry on without being questioned or forced to defend decisions. But this is not in keeping with our system of responsible government.

Canada’s Constitution mandates that sittings of Parliament and the provincial legislatures must take place every 12 months.

A set number of sitting days is not specified, but parliamentary records show B.C.’s government sits relatively few days when compared to its counterparts.

The two other large provinces, Ontario and Quebec, in 2012 and 2013 sat for 143 and 121 days respectively. B.C. sat for just 83 days during that time period.

And so, even the most substantial matters are not being debated.

For example, we learned last week Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm pushed for a rodeo to be built in his riding on farmland that falls within the Agricultural Land Reserve and that Pimm is recommending to Cabinet the ALR broaden its considerations to take account of the needs of the oil and gas industry.

Is this a recommendation the government would favour in a province where less than five per cent of land is arable and as existing farmland dwindles by the year?

Also last week, internal B.C. government documents came to light showing development of a liquefied natural gas industry in the province could double greenhouse gas emissions, so that B.C.’s total emissions would be similar to those of Alberta.

This, when the province has pledged to reduce its total emissions by 2020 down to a third of its 2007 emissions.

Does the province propose to abandon its 2020 target?

Earlier this month, Clark met with her Alberta counterpart Alison Redford and reversed her earlier stand against Canada developing a national energy policy.

How does this new position square with her government’s rejection last spring of the Northern Gateway pipeline? Does this mean the government will be endorsing an expansion of Kinder Morgan’s alternative TransMountain pipeline route?

For now, with the legislature not sitting, the public can only guess at the answers to such questions. Clearly this is not the way democracy is supposed to work.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


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