Campbell attacks democracy with rush of new laws
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.