British Columbia

Legislature love-in? Why there's been more cross-party co-operation in Victoria this session

The high-profile time change and youth vaping bills originated from the Opposition, while the historic Indigenous rights law passed unanimously in a significant show of co-operation from all sides.

High-profile bills originate from the Opposition, while historic law passes unanimously

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivers the speech from the throne in the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Feb. 12, 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It's 10:43 a.m. Thursday, the final day of the fall sitting.

Shouts are heard, fists bang on tables, fingers point accusingly across the aisle. The dramatic scene known as question period lasts about 30 minutes every day when the B.C. Legislature is in session.

A spectator watching from the gallery might easily be fooled into thinking the harsh heckling is the only thing that happens in the chamber. But beneath the stage play lies an undercurrent of co-operation.

Bills are debated. Legislation passes. In fact, some of this session's most high-profile laws originated from across the aisle, in the Opposition benches. 

"There are opportunities to work together," said Attorney General David Eby. "Just because a good idea comes from another party doesn't mean it's not a good idea."

Bills originate from Opposition benches

Last March, B.C. Liberal MLA Linda Larson formally introduced a private member's bill that would see B.C. stay on permanent daylight time.

Fast forward eight months and the NDP solidifies the hugely popular idea through the Interpretation Amendment Act.

In April, BC Liberal MLA Todd Stone put forward a private member's bill suggesting changes to the Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act to keep addictive products out of the hands of kids. This month, the NDP morphed the idea into legislation headlined by tighter regulations and higher taxes. 

Just because a good idea comes from another party doesn't mean it's not a good idea.- B.C. Attorney General David Eby

In an interview with CBC, Eby also cited the example of a B.C. Liberal amendment to the Trespass Act that was adopted right then and there on the floor.

"The Opposition raised the issue of responding to farmers concerned about people trespassing on farms ... We took that feedback, and in the middle [of debate], quickly drafted the amendment and included it in the new bill." 

This spirit of co-operation has its roots in the earliest days of this government. Fresh off its win in the last provincial election, the NDP vowed it would do things differently.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall's son became the first baby in B.C.'s legislative chamber after it voted unanimously in March 2018 to allow children under the age of two on the floor of the legislature while it's in session. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

In 2017, for the first time ever, the New Democrats decided to offer professional legal resources to the other parties to help them draft their own private member's bills. That offer still stands today. 

"So when they make proposals, they can be well drafted and they can actually be adopted because they use legislative language and they don't have to be edited," said Eby, adding they're trying to govern in a different way. 

New era of co-operation

The image that crystallizes the all-party co-operation is an emotional moment in October when history was made.

Every single politician in the chamber stood in applause as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was formally introduced as legislation for the first time in the country. 

Premier John Horgan, Green leader Andrew Weaver, Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson leave the chamber moments after Indigenous rights legislation was introduced. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

"When you're talking about people's basic human rights, that's never a time for partisanship," said B.C. Liberal House Leader Mary Polak in an interview.

"There were still important questions to be asked, and we ask those questions, but I think the characterization of this was the legislature coming together to right some wrongs." 

Polak said there is one idea she's disappointed the government didn't hear: her own private member's bill allowing a married couple to hyphenate their last names without having to file for a costly legal name change.

"I don't know why they didn't call it forward for debate, but I'll try again next session," Polak chuckled. 

'A real cultural shift'

Unity aside, there's no place for naivety; by nature, the makeup of a minority government forces compromise. And that's most explicitly obvious in the power-sharing agreement struck by the NDP and the Greens after the last election. 

"[That dynamic] created the beginnings of a real cultural shift," said Green Party House Leader Sonia Furstenau. "It opens up the space for more collaboration and less partisanship in the work that we're doing here,"

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan and B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver sign an agreement in Victoria aimed at creating a stable minority government on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Furstenau pointed out party agreement can have many different looks, with sometimes unexpected alignments. 

"What I still look forward to is collaboration between the two Opposition parties to bring things forward to government; collaboration more informally between the Opposition and the government," she said Wednesday.

And in an era of political divide, she said it's key to keep the public interest at the centre of everything that's done in this building. 

"A lot of what happens in here doesn't typically filter out to the mainstream," she said Wednesday. "When people see only question period as an example of the work that's happening here, it's not really reflective of the bigger picture."

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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