The introductory statement on every piece of legislation presented in the legislature reads: “Her Majesty, with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia, enacts as follows.”
The problem: MLAs don’t get to give “advice” or “consent.” Very, very few MLAs actually get to see legislation as it’s being crafted. Mostly only the ministers responsible for a bill are involved in the actual drafting process – and this isn’t always the case either.
MLAs only get to vote for or against a bill based on the politics surrounding the legislation and the specific orders of their respective caucus whip or party leader.
Worse yet, few British Columbians get to participate in the drafting of legislation. There are occasions, such as the public consultation on the new Water Modernization Act, when there is a reasonable attempt at public consultation, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Bottom line: the process of creating legislation, of making the laws which govern our province, is not a very democratic one. Even for MLAs and other elected officials.
The lack of consultation with stakeholders, citizens and MLAs all too often results in poorly conceived laws that then have to be amended, sometimes over and over again. The province also enacts laws that restrict what local government can do, without having to consult with the duly elected local government representatives who can be negatively impacted by those laws.
This week two bills were tabled in the legislature, the HST Referendum Act and a Trade Agreement with Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In the case of the trade agreement, the government proved it had learned nothing from the backlash against the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) with Alberta. These agreements with the other provinces undermine our ability to engage in regional economic development opportunities and to favor local contractors and businesses over those from other provinces.
There is another fundamental flaw in the Trade Agreement Act – the actual content of the trade agreement is outside of the act. In other words, the legislation puts in place an agreement that was reached behind closed doors and doesn’t allow the B.C. legislature to even give “advice and consent” on its contents. Any changes to the agreement can now be done without ever informing the legislature or seeking approval from it.
The HST Referendum Act (which enables the June mail-in referendum to replace the one scheduled for the fall) is only being presented because of a massive backlash against the HST – a classic example of what happens when a law is made without consultation with the public, especially a tax law.
Other parliaments require legislation to go through a committee process where witnesses can be called, people and organizations that have an interest in or expertise related to the legislation can make presentations, and MLAs from all parties participate.
We need this kind of process in B.C. Hopefully, it may be part of the legislative reforms the premier promised – whenever those reforms get revealed.
But, in order for committees to work well, partisanship must be parked. That will require the leader’s of both parties to put the interests of British Columbians ahead of the political interests of their parties.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.