Last week I argued that the Leader of the Official Opposition acted in a cowardly fashion in attempting to shut down estimates of the Office of the Premier. I pointed out that it was cowardly for two reasons. First, the fact that the Leader of the Opposition would run away from an opportunity to question the Premier on a diverse array of issues is cowardly. It’s his job to do so. It certainly appears that he is afraid of challenging the Premier face to face.
If the Leader of the Opposition is afraid, that’s one thing. I was not afraid. I would have been willing to take much more than my allocated time on Thursday if extra time was available. I had prepared six longer primary questions (which would spin off into numerous smaller follow ups). I had other secondary questions that I would have loved to raise on a diverse range of topics, from housing through social services through education and so forth. And this brings me to the second reason why I think it’s cowardly.
Just because the Leader of the Opposition no longer wants to ask questions does not give him the right to go against a long standing tradition of organized time allocation and take away my right as well. The people of British Columbia deserve better leadership and better opposition.
Today in the Legislature I rose on a point of order. As you will see from my Point of Order, it is my view that the estimates of the Office of the Premier have not yet concluded due to a procedural error. Once more, the BC NDP asked the Chair to not allow me time.
The text and video of my point of my point of order are reproduced below. At the end, I once more link the Video showing proceedings that closed Premier’s estimates.
On Tuesday, May 17 the Chair provided a very thoughtful and thorough analysis in ruling against my point of order. I appreciate the work that went into it. I have reproduced the ruling at the end of this post.
A. Weaver: I rise on a point of order. This is the first time I have been able to rise on this point of order for two reasons. First, on Thursday of last week, I spent much of the day in communications with a variety of offices to determine what transpired with respect to the closing of debate on estimates for the Office of the Premier. I also only received the relevant Hansard clip on Friday.
As I’d mentioned to the Speaker’s office on Thursday last week, my office had coordinated through the Opposition House Leader’s office that I would be speaking to the Premier’s estimates. It was agreed that I would rise early Thursday morning.
Between 6:20 and 6:25 on Wednesday last week, at 292 minutes, 14 seconds of the online Hansard video on May 11, the Premier rose in estimates and stated the following: “With that, Mr. Chair, I rise to report progress and ask leave to sit again.” The Chair then said this: “Hon. members, you heard the motion. All in favour say aye.” The motion carried.
At this point, the committee had risen, and it was very clear that the Chair left his seat. There appeared to be some commotion in the chamber after the passing of this motion. Conversations went back and forth between the Premier and the Leader of the Official Opposition. The Chair remained standing during these conversations. Some notes got passed around. The Clerk also stood to speak with the Premier. The Chair returned to his seat but said nothing while the Clerk was standing and speaking to the Premier.
Eventually the Chair issued a single word. “Premier,” he said. At this point the Premier is audibly heard on Hansard saying: “It’s not mine.” She’s referring to a motion written on a piece of paper that had been passed to her. The Premier then says the following: “By agreement with the opposition, I move that the committee rise and report completion of the resolution and ask leave to sit again.” After this motion passes, the Premier states this: “Are you sure that was legally done?”
In my view, there is a very clear procedural error here. The Chair at no time called the committee back to order while sitting in the chair. Since the earlier motion to rise and report progress had indeed passed, the second motion regarding completion would, in my view, be out of order, as the committee had not been called to order again. It had simply risen.
As such, it is my view that the estimates of the Office of the Premier have not yet concluded. Hon. Chair, I would kindly ask that you consider these comments and consider providing a ruling to this House at a later time. Thank you for your consideration of this very important matter.
M. Farnworth: This is not a procedural point of order. In fact, it would be classed as argument. So, hon. Chair, I respectfully ask that you rule that this is, in fact, not a point of order.
The Chair: Hon. Members, I would take the member’s point of order on advisement. Thank you.
The Chair: Before I recognize the Minister of Finance, I have a statement to make.
On Monday, May 16, at the commencement of Committee of Supply, Section B, the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head rose on a point of order regarding the conclusion of estimates of the Office of the Premier on Wednesday, May 11. I have reviewed the Votes and Proceedings, the Hansard transcript and the video of the proceedings in question.
I acknowledge the question the member raised, but I do not agree that the Committee of Supply was not properly constituted and that, therefore, it could not consider or adopt the motion regarding Vote 10, the 2016-17 estimates for the Office of the Premier.
The proceedings unfolded as follows. An initial motion was moved by the hon. Premier that the committee “rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.” The Chair put the motion to the committee, and the motion was carried. Normally, the presiding officer would leave the chair and report to the Speaker. However, that did not occur.
Although the presiding officer rose briefly, he was immediately advised that it was the will of the committee to complete consideration of the estimates of the Office of the Premier. At that point, the committee had not formally closed proceedings, nor did the Chair declare that the committee was adjourned. In addition, Office of the Premier staff remained in the Chamber, though it is required that all public servants must depart immediately upon the adjournment of Committee proceedings.
The presiding officer resumed formal proceedings and recognized the Premier, who moved the motion to report completion of the estimates for the Office of the Premier. This motion, and the motion to approve Vote 10, were duly adopted with consent of the committee had altered its original decision to report progress by unanimous agreement of all members duly present and assembled in the chamber at that time.
The Chair did not call the committee back to order, as a recess or adjournment had not been declared. There had simply been a pause in the proceedings in order to confer and clarify with committee members on the status of business. This is not an unusual practice, as presiding officers often will consult informally with members during proceedings to clarify the status of business under consideration or to coordinate matters relating to the management of parliamentary business.
While the video recording captured the informal discussions of members, pursuant to the longstanding Hansard transcript practice they were clearly not part of the formal proceedings. Further, it should be noted that during the entire proceedings, the mace remained in the lowered position, indicating that the House was in committee. In addition, the Speaker had not resumed the chair nor received a report from the committee.
In other words, at all times during the closing of the estimates of the Office of the Premier, the Committee of Supply remained constituted. The presiding officer followed the correct procedure to continue in committee and allow the will of the committee to be respected. It is immaterial that the informal discussion among members to complete the estimates occurred off the record and were recorded on video as interjections.
The Chair heard these discussions and continued to preside in Committee of Supply, rather than reporting to the Speaker. The Premier’s final motions were moved with the unanimous consent of the Members present, were deemed in order and duly passed.
Accordingly, the remainder of the proceedings and the closing of the Estimates of the Office of the Premier on May 11 were in order.
A. Weaver: I just wish to thank you for a very thoughtful and thorough analysis of my point of order, and I do appreciate the work that went into it.