Libs, Green spat helping NDP
.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.