BC Green House Leader Adam Olsen said government’s “chaotic legislative agenda” gives MLAs little, if any time to assess bills.
“This House should be a democracy,” Olsen said Wednesday (Nov. 22). “It is not acting like a democracy. We have essentially given power to a group of people, the executive, and they have full control over what we debate, when we debate it and for how long we debate it.”
He made these comments after House Leader Ravi Kahlon had tabled an eventually successful motion to extend House business until 9 p.m. with a break between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Government also extended house business Monday.
“Now, it’s true we have a fulsome agenda,” Kahlon said Monday in justifying the extension that day. “(What) we’re actually talking about here is working later in the day than was scheduled to. I think all members in this House would agree that British Columbians work hard every single day. British Columbians sometimes have to work a little later in the day…(people) are counting on us to address the challenges we have.”
Kahlon at the time also accused the opposition of hypocrisy, noting BC United, then known as BC Liberals, used its control of the legislative agenda to push through Bill 29 in 2008, “firing 10,000 health care workers, mostly women, mostly racialized women.”
“My mom happened to be one,” Kahlon said in responding to criticism from BC United’s Mike de Jong, MLA for Abbotsford-West, about extending business. “He didn’t think that was an issue at that time, when he was sitting on this side, because at the time, he believed he wanted to give people the opportunity to go ahead and have their moment to speak. So it’s hard to take that member’s comments seriously.”
But Olsen did not buy those arguments on Wednesday in accusing the government of blurring the lines between the executive branch of government headed by the Premier and Cabinet and the legislative branch.
Olsen said it is the responsibility of the people who manage this place to ensure what he called “a healthy separation” between the executive branch bringing forward legislation and governing this province and the legislative branch scrutinizing their work.
“How does anybody know what the impact of the housing bills are in front of us?” Olsen said. “It is infuriating, because then we have to go back out to our constituencies,” he added.
Olsen said the House and its management should not be at the “whim of the people” who table the legislation, then deny legislators the time they need to be able to understand the legislation in front of them, so that they can ask informed questions.
“The people of British Columbia need to understand how their democracy is being run right now, because it’s teetering and that is not an exaggeration,” he said.
BC United House Leader Todd Stone had offered a similar critique.
“I understand that government has got a tough job to bring forward that legislation,” Stone said. “It has to figure out the timing of it and all the rest of it. But the opposition is expected, by the people that we represent and by British Columbians generally, to come here and actually scrutinize the legislation, actually hold the government accountable. That’s how the system is supposed to work.”
Kahlon said Thursday morning that extending hours later into the day actually gives people more opportunity to speak to bills.
“What we are trying to do with the extended hours is to give everybody an opportunity to have their say, ask their questions and I have been answering every single question when it comes to housing,” he said. “I think that’s healthy for democracy.”