Everyone loses in flood of bills
The B.C. Liberal government is undermining democracy and the public interest by forcing a flood of last-minute legislation through the legislature.
There are seven sitting days left, and 22 bills still to be fully debated. A major piece of legislation, the act that will repeal the HST, was not even introduced until Monday.
Yet the government refuses to adopt the obvious solution of extending the sitting of the legislature so MLAs can do their jobs, the legislation can be properly reviewed and, if necessary, amended, and citizens have a chance to offer their views.
The flood of last-minute legislation - eight bills were introduced last week - betrays MLAs on both side of the house. They were elected to represent the citizens of their constituency and make sure laws are clear and in the public interest.
When hundreds of pages of new legislation are pushed through in a matter of days, MLAs become puppets, voting along party lines. The lack of a full debate also means there is no record of legislators' intent, something the courts turn to when laws are challenged.
And the rushed legislation cheats the public. The process should allow time for interested citizens or stakeholders to review the proposed legislation and raise concerns through their MLAs or directly to the minister responsible.
The bureaucrats drafting legislation and the cabinet ministers signing off on it aren't necessarily experts on all the real-world impacts. The government should have learned by now that shutting the public out of the process is wrong and damaging. The risk is that bad laws will be passed without the scrutiny that could have improved them.
B.C. information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham, for example, has identified major problems in four bills, and called on the government to withdraw one of them entirely. That legislation would allow emergency responders - ambulance staff or firefighters - to apply to the courts to compel an accident victim to provide blood samples for testing if they had reason to fear risky contact as a result of their work.
Denham says this is a serious intrusion into what has been considered our right to control our own bodies. Dr. Perry Kendall, the province's medical health officer, wrote MLAs urging them to vote against the law. The measure has no real value, he said. If there is a risk of exposure, emergency responders should receive immediate testing and treatment. Waiting for court-ordered tests of an accident victim puts them at risk.
Whatever the decision of MLAs, this is not the kind of bill to be rushed into law. Other bills affect British Columbians' pensions, the legal system, food safety. They deserve proper review.
The government says drafting the bill repealing the HST has proved extremely complex, resulting in the other legislation being delayed until late in the session.
That's hardly reassuring. Complex legislation, drafted in haste, is now to be forced through the legislature in days. Tax measures that affect business, the economy and families will be rushed into effect without proper debate and scrutiny.
The B.C. Liberals risk anger over the way the HST is being repealed, just as they suffered it over the way the tax was introduced.
There are simple solutions - extend the session to allow full debate, put off some legislation to the fall and send others to rarely used legislative committees for review.
MLAs have been in the legislature for just 180 days since the 2009 election. Most British Columbians have shown up at their workplaces about 700 days in the same period. MLAs do, of course, work when the legislature isn't sitting, but reviewing legislation and budgets should be a core function.
Democracy is undermined - and the public poorly served - when a government denies elected representatives the chance to properly scrutinize and debate new laws.
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