Libs, Green spat help­ing NDP

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The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - ROB SHAW Van­cou­ver Sun

.C.’s New Demo­crat gov­ern­ment is watch­ing most of its bills sail un­changed through its first ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture, in part be­cause the prov­ince’s two op­po­si­tion par­ties can’t – or won’t – work to­gether to ac­com­plish any­thing.

Changes to the prov­ince’s lob­by­ing rules late last week pro­vided the per­fect ex­am­ple of the dis­trust­ful and dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship that’s built up be­tween the B.C. Lib­er­als and Greens.

The 41 Lib­er­als and three Greens hold enough votes to over­whelm Premier John Hor­gan‘s 41 New Democrats. They could have al­tered his flawed lob­by­ing re­forms, which con­tain mas­sive loop­holes, to give the leg­is­la­tion some real teeth. Both sides in­sisted they wanted change. Both sides drafted amend­ments. And yet, in the end, the Lib­er­als and Greens ended up in a cor­ner squab­bling among them­selves while the NDP passed its bill into law, un­touched.

The whole sad spec­ta­cle seems to have proven the Lib­er­als and Greens can’t co-op­er­ate even on things they agree upon. There’s still a lot of re­sent­ment within the Lib­er­als for Green Leader Andrew Weaver’s de­ci­sion to sup­port the NDP this sum­mer top­ple the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, and in­stall Hor­gan as premier. And there re­mains a lot of hubris waft­ing from the Greens, who, for a party of only three MLAs, have wielded ex­tra­or­di­nary power in re­cent months and clearly ex­pect their over­sized in­flu­ence to con­tinue.

Bri­tish Columbians are the ones pay­ing for the dys­func­tion be­tween the two op­po­si­tion par­ties, in the form of sub­stan­dard NDP laws that could have been fixed.

The lob­by­ing re­forms are a case in point. The NDP law is ba­si­cally a sim­ple two-year ban on cab­i­net min­is­ters, po­lit­i­cal staff and se­nior civil ser­vants from us­ing their in­side knowl­edge to profit as a lob­by­ist within 24 months of leav­ing their gov­ern­ment jobs.

Yet the law only ad­dresses one of five rec­om­men­da­tions to fix lob­by­ing made by B.C.’s in­de­pen­dent Of­fice of the Reg­is­trar of Lob­by­ists, and fails to tackle such things as record­ing the names of peo­ple or or­ga­ni­za­tions that stand to ben­e­fit from the lob­by­ing or re­mov­ing a pro­vi­sion to al­low in-house lob­by­ists to lobby for 100 hours be­fore reg­is­ter­ing.

Lib­eral critic Lau­rie Throness tried to amend the bill to fix an­other prob­lem. He pro­posed to ex­pand the law to cover or­di­nary MLAs, staff who work in the NDPGreen power-shar­ing sec­re­tariat and peo­ple who sat on the NDP’s tran­si­tion team this sum­mer as it pre­pared to form gov­ern­ment. All hold pow­er­ful in­sider knowl­edge of gov­ern­ment oper­a­tions that could be ex­ploited for per­sonal gain in lob­by­ing.

“There are cat­e­gories of peo­ple who are not cap­tured by the bill but who are, nonethe­less, in­flu­en­tial in gov­ern­ment,” he said. “We be­lieve that the gov­ern­ment has pur­posely left them out in or­der to pro­tect its own favourites so that they will have the op­tion of go­ing on im­me­di­ately af­ter leav­ing of­fice to have a lu­cra­tive ca­reer as a lob­by­ist.”

At­tor­ney Gen­eral David Eby said the amend­ment was rife with un­en­force­able lan­guage – at one point it pro­posed to ap­ply to any­one with “in­side gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion,” for which Eby said there’s no le­gal def­i­ni­tion.

With the NDP op­posed, the fate of the lob­by­ing re­forms rested with the Greens.

Weaver was up­set Throness didn’t tell him about his changes un­til the night be­fore they were in­tro­duced Thurs­day. He thought Throness should have put his amend­ment – which only had three clauses – through a new leg­isla­tive draft­ing process for op­po­si­tion par­ties. Those seemed like solv­able prob­lems, in the mo­ment.

The Greens had their own lob­by­ing amend­ments, which would have added monthly re­port­ing and a five-year rolling re­view of the law. But they were never in­tro­duced for a vote. In­stead, the Greens cut a deal with the NDP to hold off on the re­forms un­til late 2018, when a sec­ond NDP lob­by­ing bill might come for­ward af­ter a round of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. Key word: might. In the mean­time, the loop­holes re­main wide open for a full year.

At the end of the day, Eby’s flawed lob­by­ing bill passed into law, prob­lems and all, with­out a sin­gle change.

Hardly a proud mo­ment of leg­isla­tive co-op­er­a­tion by op­po­si­tion par­ties that seemed to share the same goal, but let per­sonal an­i­mos­ity, pol­i­tics and ego get in the way of ac­tu­ally do­ing their jobs on be­half of the pub­lic.

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