British Columbia

Legislature breaks for summer after Liberals shut down debate

Amid jeering and cries of "Shame!" from Opposition benches, the B.C. legislature passed seven bills on Thursday evening before adjourning for the summer.

Amid jeering and cries of "Shame!" from Opposition benches, the B.C. legislature passed seven bills on Thursday evening before adjourning for the summer.

NDP house leader Mike Farnsworth called the government's tactics undemocratic and unprecedented even before the ruling Liberals cut off debate and forced votes on some of the most contentious legislation before the house.

But his Liberal counterpart, Mike de Jong, said the opposition had ample time to debate the bills, since all the legislation was before the legislature a full month before the house was scheduled to rise on May 29.

Among the bills passed Thursday: 

  • Bill 21, the Medicare Protection Act, which enshrines sustainability in law and is meant to ensure health expenditures are within taxpayers' ability to pay.
  • Bill 32, the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement Implementation Act, which removes trade barriers between B.C. and Alberta.
  • Bill 37, the Carbon Tax Act, which imposes a tax on gasoline of 2.4 cents a litre, effective July 1, to help fund programs to fight climate change.
  • Bill 42, the Election Amendment Act, which places a $150,000 cap on spending on election advertising by advocacy groups during the 60 days before the start of a campaign and the 28 days of the campaign.

All the bills were given third reading between 5 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. PT, in keeping with a motion passed earlier in May committing the legislature to pass all the bills the Campbell government considered critical to its agenda. Three other bills were withdrawn.

Even before the final bills were passed, NDP members lamented the use of closure to force them through the legislature.

"We're not even going to get to talk any more, so exactly what is it I'm doing to earn my wages?" Corky Evans, the member for Nelson-Creston, asked reporters. "Why do we keep this building? Why don't we just have a king? I don't get that.…

"I hope it's offensive to the 20,000 people who sent me here. I hope it's offensive to everybody, because we had had wars so that Parliament would exist. Even if you think what happens in there is dumb, at least it has to happen."

The opposition was particularly incensed that one of the bills passed through closure was a budget bill, the Carbon Tax, introduced in late April. Normally, budget bills are introduced early in the sitting.

But the Liberals played down the concerns, even refusing to use the word "closure" to describe the way they halted debate.

"These are bills that have been on the order paper for a month," de Jong said.

"The obligation of government is to table legislation in a timely way — I think I challenged people yesterday to go back 30 years and see that this is the earliest that the complete legislative agenda has been before the house — and the opposition has a responsibility to allocate time so that those bills can be debated."

NDP government held long summer sessions

During the years the NDP was in power, governments sometimes continued introducing legislation as late as June and even early July. Some years, that kept the house sitting until mid-summer, with disgruntled members on both sides complaining about late-night sittings and a lack of family time.

The NDP used closure to force a vote on the Nisga'a treaty in 1999, but only after days of debate.

When the Liberals were elected in 2001, they introduced a fixed legislative calendar, which requires the house to rise by a certain date.

The NDP supports the principle of a legislative calendar, but leader Carole James said the Campbell government has used it as a hammer to terminate debate on contentious issues.

"With the Liberals now, you know when the start of the session is. You know when the end of the session is. Why wait so long to introduce bills and then ram them through? The only answer is that the Liberals don't want debate," said James.

Corrections

  • NDP House Leader Mike Farnsworth called the government's tactics undemocratic and unprecedented even before the government cut off debate and forced votes on some of the most contentious legislation before the legislature, not just after, as previously reported.
    May 30, 2008 1:10 AM PT

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