May 5, 2008"Not a Dime without Debate"
Many British Columbians don't know whether the BC Legislature is sitting or not, and many don't care. That doesn't stop them from becoming very angry when they learn what is happening; it is like taking for granted that your car is going to start until it doesn't. The Campbell government is on the verge of ramming 23 Bills through the Legislature with virtually no debate; that's much worse than a car breaking down, that's a fundamental failure of democracy. As of Friday, May 2nd, 23 Bills had not yet passed second reading, let alone passed the detailed committee stage that precedes third reading.Until Campbell came to power in 2001, the rules that governed the BC Legislature saw the government call the session to order and the Opposition adjourn it. In other words, debate would continue for as long as the Opposition wanted to examine the government's legislation and spending estimates. On most occasions that meant that BC's Legislature sat into June, and occasionally into July. Campbell changed the rules and implemented a fixed legislative calendar, except that in 2006 he didn't honor the calendar, not calling the House until late November. A major feature of the fixed legislative calendar, is that according to the amended rules of the Legislature all designated government business must pass by the pre-set date for adjournment in late May (or be voted on, which is the same thing, with a majority government). If the government and the opposition can't agree on how that will happen, the government introduces closure (time-allocation) to limit debate and force budgets and legislation through the Legislature with little or no debate.
Unless the Campbell government announces that a substantial portion of its 2008 spring legislative agenda will be set over to the fall, it will demonstrate an extreme abuse of power.
The pending legislation (10 of the 23 Bills were just introduced last week) includes substantial changes in how British Columbians live. The carbon tax, the cap and trade system for carbon emissions, limits on third party advertising before and during election campaigns, and a change to health legislation that puts a definition of "sustainability" on the same grounds as the concepts of universality, accessibility and comprehensiveness are but a few of the fundamental changes that the Campbell government appears willing to ram through without much debate by May 29th.
The legislature only sits for four days a week, no longer in the evenings, and it recesses for a week or more in every week in which there is a statutory holiday, hence, between May 5th and May 29th, it sits for only 12 days. It is outrageous that the Campbell government would contemplate substantial legislation with little or no opportunity for scrutiny. It is not just the Official Opposition that would be offended; during the period of legislative debate, those who know something about pending legislation engage the public through the news media and feed their concerns to the Opposition as well as lobbying the government. Limiting debate means limiting opportunities for public involvement in the democratic process.
If the government forces passage of all 23 Bills that are currently outstanding by May 29th, its abuse of power may become more of a political issue than the substance of any of its most controversial legislation.
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