On June 2 as the clock struck 5 p.m., the B.C. legislature rose for the summer after completing the shortest session of my six years as an MLA.
The BC Liberal government used closure to end debate on six of the remaining pieces of legislation and on the $40 billion dollar provincial budget.
Since last June, the legislature has sat for only 24 days. By way of example, the House of Commons in Ottawa opened up the day we shut down and will sit for a month before taking a summer break.
Our federal Parliament will be at work this month for almost as long as our provincial body has been engaged in a whole year.
Why should we care? Many would argue that the time we are in session is occupied by yelling matches and disrespect that would make most adults wince and perhaps frighten more impressionable youngsters.
It is true that the “theatre” of politics is the half hour of question period that is the centre of a day in the life of our Legislature. That is when the media reporters gather to watch the fireworks.
But it is the work of committees and the more reasonable debate on taxation and spending that is the real work of our government.
The main function of any level of government is to collect enough money through taxes and rents on our natural resources to pay for the services our society expects.
Health and education make up the largest cut of our collective wealth, but we spend sizable amounts of money on transportation and other social services as well.
That spending is laid out each February in the budget and is usually the focus of attention. But over the past few years we have spent less and less time examining the spending and more time focused on the yelling.
In my experience, most MLAs seek elected office to make their communities better. In the weeks we have had to raise issues of importance, I have sat down with the minister of transportation and made the case for improvements in the morning commute and long term investments in public transit. I have called on the BC Liberals to look at our aging population in the south Island and how we can better provide services for seniors.
Of immediate concern to parents and our school board is the need to replace Belmont secondary with two new high schools. As more young families move to our area the requirement for more school space becomes more important. I made that case, along with Belmont student Ravi Parmar, directly to the minister of education.
When the legislature is in session I know where and when I can find the decision makers and try to convince them that our priorities are more pressing than those in other communities.
That advocacy work is where real change can happen. Reasonable people have a reasonable discussion.
It doesn’t sound much like the politics we see in the headlines, but that is where change takes place.
I believe most British Columbians expect MLAs to put the public interest ahead of partisan attacks.
In April I was appointed house leader for the Official Opposition, and I am now in a position to change some of the disappointing elements of our political processes. Over the coming months I intend to do just that.
—John Horgan (NDP) is the MLA for Juan de Fuca.