British Columbia

'Quality, not quantity': In first legislative session, NDP passes fewer bills than previous Liberals

The first legislative session under the new NDP government has come to a close.

Delayed transition of power and multiple reviews slowed pace

Politicians generally sit in the B.C. Legislature for a spring and fall session. (CBC)

Politicians sometimes point to the number of pieces of legislation they pass as an indicator of success.

That isn't the case with B.C.'s new NDP government. Its first legislative session came to an end on Thursday with 16 bills enacted. 

"It was, I think, a very positive session," said Premier John Horgan at a press conference to conclude the fall sitting of the legislature.

"We passed a number of key bills. We worked on a number of initiatives that we laid out in our platform, and we have much more to do."

By contrast, when the Liberals took power in 2001, they passed 25 in their first full session — and over the course of their 16 years, they averaged 25 bills passed during regular sittings in the spring and fall.

The relatively slower pace doesn't concern Horgan. 

"These were big pieces of legislation. We've been debating right until today. I don't know how many more bills we could have had ... and still be able to do what we achieved this session," he said.

"I don't think you should measure the success of a session by the output of bills."

However, one political observer suggests the government will have to speed its pace next session. ​University of Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford said reviews will likely have to turn into concrete action to satisfy NDP voters.

"Their supporters are expecting big things," Telford said.

"If they don't start to pick up the pace and deliver more in the next session, then perhaps they will be disappointing people and put pressure on the alliance like they've got with the Greens," he said.

Campaign finance and electoral reform

Some of the 16 bills enacted were relatively minor, including extending the term of judicial appointments from 10 to 12 years, or allowing sheriffs to conduct risk or threat assessments.

But several were on big subjects the NDP had campaigned on, including campaign finance reform at a provincial level and for municipal governments and school boards.

Three bills were also related to the budget update presented in September, which raised taxes for high earners and provided funding for modular housing. 

"It's quality, not quantity," said Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. "I don't know how we could have gone at a faster pace. I'm flat out. I've redefined my personal definition of exhaustion." 

Weaver said part of the reason for fewer bills was likely because the government didn't get access to financial documents until later in the summer. After last May's provincial election, it took over two months for the NDP to form a government, gaining enough seats only after forging an alliance with the Greens.

"There has been a ton of good work done in this session, and I'm really delighted with our ongoing working relationship with the NDP," said Weaver.

Premier John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver speak to media on Monday, September 18, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Results of reviews to come

The NDP has also opted to review several issues instead of bringing in immediate legislation, including how marijuana will be regulated, how a child-care plan should be set up, the use of industry professionals to review environmental risks, and many more. 

Telford says the "cautious" pace is indicative of the NDP trying to prove to voters it can govern for an extended period.

"I think [Horgan] quite deliberately wanted to go slowly and make sure of himself before making some of the bigger decisions he has to make.

The next session is expected to begin in February, with a full budget, and a newly elected leader of the B.C. Liberal Party serving as opposition. ​