Times Colonist

Campbell attacks democracy with rush of new laws

- PAUL WILLCOCKS

Left, right, green or inbetween, you should be appalled at the way the spring legislativ­e session ended last week.

In the space of 67 minutes, the government forced six bills through the legislatur­e.

No debate. No chance for any MLA — government or opposition — to ask how the new laws would affect the people they represente­d.

Just a rubber-stamp vote on laws imposed from above that will change the way British Columbians live, without debate or questions.

These weren’t housekeepi­ng bills. In the space of minutes, the government forced through a bill authorizin­g a carbon tax that will, by 2012, bring in more than $1 billion a year in taxes on fuels. (The money will be redistribu­ted through other tax breaks.)

I think that’s a good idea. But a lot of people — from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Williams Lake Mayor Scott Nelson — disagree. Critics say the tax will be costly and unfair, hurting northern communitie­s.

MLAs should debate a fundamenta­l economic change like the tax. They should be able to ask questions about the effects on their communitie­s. That didn’t happen.

It took 11 minutes to ram through a bill that limits the ability of individual­s or organizati­ons to raise public policy issues in the three months before an election. Only political parties are free to communicat­e their views. The bill was rushed through despite Attorney General Wally Oppal’s earlier promise of a full debate.

And on it went, in a process that wouldn’t be out of place in Castro’s Cuba.

You can argue about whose fault this was. But everyone should agree it was a travesty. Laws were imposed on ordinary people with no debate or scrutiny. A handful of people — an inner circle of politician­s and bureaucrat­s — dictated how we will live.

The Liberals blame the New Democrats for taking too long to debate the budget and other bills.

But the government introduced its last 10 bills with fewer than 16 sitting days left in the session and piles of earlier legislatio­n still not debated.

The NDP says the government could have extended the session to allow debate on the laws. Or it could have delayed some legislatio­n to the scheduled fall session, where the bills could have been fully debated.

Instead, it used closure to force the bills into law in the final moments before MLAs returned to their constituen­cies.

The fixed legislativ­e session introduced by the Liberals included plans for a fall session — six weeks are scheduled this year.

But Premier Gordon Campbell has tried to avoid fall sittings. (In fact, he has not been keen on having the legislatur­e sit at all.)

That’s understand­able. When the legislatur­e is sitting, the government faces daily questions from the opposition. The issues are troublesom­e and the media are paying attention.

When the legislatur­e isn’t sitting, the government has much greater control of the agenda, deciding when and how to make announceme­nts.

As a journalist, it is a little embarrassi­ng to acknowledg­e that the media are so dependent on the 30 minutes of question period to generate stories. But there it is.

Despite all the fingerpoin­ting, the government — that means Campbell — has to take responsibi­lity for this assault on democracy.

Even if it believes the NDP took too much time debating the budget or other measures, it was the government that decided to push these bills through the legislatur­e without debate.

It had options. The election gag law, for example, could have been introduced last year. Other legislatio­n could have waited until the fall.

Instead, the Liberals — unlike any government in B.C.’s history — have made closure a routine way of doing business.

The principle that laws must be debated by the people’s representa­tives before they are voted on is central to our democratic system.

The Campbell government’s failure to accept that basic tenet of democracy betrays a dangerous arrogance.

Footnote: The expectatio­n is that the Liberals won’t call a fall session of the legislatur­e, meaning that MLAs won’t sit again until next spring.

The legislatur­e will have been in session for 47 days this year, one of the briefest in a non-election year in two decades.

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