Analysis

Furious feedback: B.C. government launching one public consultation every week

It may slow down legislation, but it gives the government multiple times to put out announcements on election promises, while giving Premier John Horgan opportunities to show that he's listening to the public.

Is it a government that listens to the people, or stalling on issues?

A few of the ongoing consultations by the B.C government that the public can take part in at the moment. (govTogetherBC)

On Tuesday morning, the B.C. government gave word to reporters there would be an announcement on ticket scalping in a couple of hours. 

Having said last year it was exploring the idea of banning scalper bots — software programmed to instantly and automatically make bulk purchases — and having seen legislation pass in Alberta and Ontario, there was some expectation the announcement would be about concrete measures the government would take.

Instead, it announced another consultation, its fourth in seven days.

If you're an NDP supporter, it was another sign the government wants to stay connected to voters — an important consideration, given how the B.C. Liberals were characterized as out of touch by the end of their tenure. 

If you're not, it was another moment where the government has pushed off making a decision.   

"We want to hear what the public has to say, what the industry has to say," said Farnworth, when asked about the need for a consultation on this issue. "If we didn't consult, you'd probably be going 'why didn't you consult with British Columbians?'"

It's a hypothetical, so there's no way of knowing if that's the case. But the exchange brought to light what's becoming a deliberate strategy by this NDP government.

Contrast from Liberals

In total, the government has launched 32 public consultations on its website since taking power 33 weeks ago, on everything from the grizzly bear hunt to Kootenay Lake ferry service improvements to the future of the Agricultural Land Reserve

Compared to the Christy Clark government from 2013 to 2017, it's an increase of about 20 per cent. But if it feels like more, it's because the majority of the B.C. Liberal consultations were on natural resource projects or local transportation projects. 

The NDP meanwhile, has sent many of its big campaign pledges — including electoral reform and a $15-an-hour minimum wage — to the public for feedback before coming forward with specifics.

In addition, it's put plenty of larger questions to a review, including action on money laundering, a replacement for the Massey Tunnel, and the province's environment assessment process. 

The process may slow down legislation, but it gives the government multiple times to put out announcements on election promises, while giving Premier John Horgan opportunities to show that he's listening to the public.

"I'm unapologetic about talking to people about what they want to see," said Horgan, contrasting his government's approach to the B.C. Liberals.

"We thought about this, we were deliberate about this ... I will never apologize for talking to British Columbians."

Predetermined outcomes

Naturally, the B.C. Liberals have a different take on the government's penchant for public engagement.

"Instead of making decisions, they keep punting things off to consultation after consultation,"  said Mary Polak, the party's house leader. "Meanwhile, British Columbians are waiting to see what they actually intend to do."

Polak was also critical that while formal reviews were happening for some legislation, there's no such mechanism in place for the controversial health payroll and speculation taxes announced in the budget, whose details will be unveiled in the months to come. 

There's also the question of whether the consultations have changed the government's mind on any topic, or just provided cover for what it already wanted to do. A communications official didn't provide any concrete examples, but pointed out the extensive feedback the government received on cannabis regulations (nearly 50,000 online forms completed), and the ban on grizzly bear hunting (4,200 total responses received).

It's likely the only way one could determine the government's true feelings on the subject would be through a freedom of information request, which would take months to be returned.

Luckily, there's a public consultation going on for that right now too. 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.