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Committee Stage for Bill 5: Constitution Amendment Act

Today in the legislature we debated Bill 5: Constitution Amendment Act 2017 at committee stage. This is a bill I spoke in favour of last week at second reading.

Below I reproduce the text and videos of two short commentaries that I offered during the deliberations of Section 1 of the Bill (the section dealing with giving the BC Greens party status).

Norm Letnick, the MLA for Kelowna Lake Country, proposed an amendment to increase the number of elected MLAs that would give party status from two (in the bill) to three (presently it’s 4). He and John Rustad, the MLA for Nechako Lakes, presented a thoughtful justification. In the end, however, their amendment did not pass.

My first commentary, reproduced below, is a response to the comments from Norm Letnick and John Rustad. My second commentary, also reproduced below, is in response to a provocative speech from Ralph Sultan, the MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano.


Video of my first commentary



Text of my first commentary


A. Weaver: I’d like to thank the member for Kelowna-Lake Country and the member for Nechako Lakes for their very thoughtful probing of this section in the legislation for us, and thank the minister and staff for their responses.

Obviously, this is a section that affects us directly as three independent MLAs that were elected as B.C. Greens in the last election. As the member for Kelowna-Lake Country has said, we are not independent. We clearly ran on a platform. We clearly articulated that platform across the province of British Columbia, and the three of us were elected on that platform, the B.C. Green platform. I agree with the member for Kelowna–Lake Country. When you run on a political platform, it’s very difficult to be viewed as independent, so obviously we support that statement.

The question boils down to three versus two versus four, and that’s what we’re debating here. When I look at this, I ask the question: What about the future? What about the next election? I am drawn by the analogy to 2001, where we had a situation — and prior to that, in the 1990s — where the Reform Party also had a number of MLAs, two MLAs sitting here in the Legislature.

I look at that, and I think that there should have been, at the time, party status for these people. The subsequent questions about whether the funding should be this or whether the names and titles should be that are very good questions. I think we can address those in different forums. So, for example, LAMC would deal with any funding issues. I agree with the member. It doesn’t really make sense for three of us to have a Deputy Whip. Like, we don’t.

I would like to put at ease the members opposite with respect to offices in Vancouver. Again, I think, ultimately, we are judged by the taxpayer. What would the taxpayer say, if the B.C. Green Party were suddenly to look at a big office in Vancouver with no MLAs sitting in Metro Vancouver? I would suggest that the jury of the public would be quite judgmental on that, so this is not something we’re actively pursuing because it’s not something, frankly, that we think is correct. If there had been four of us, and two were from Vancouver and two from Victoria, maybe a slightly different thing. In our case, we’re probably not actively pursue this.

It’s important, again, coming back to the three-versus-two to think, what about the next election? I hope that we can bring it upon ourselves to actively campaign in the upcoming referendum for proportional representation. I know that the official opposition will do this, with humble….

Interjection.

A. Weaver: The former official opposition. It’s hard to take that off your….

Interjection.

A. Weaver: I know, I’ve seen other MLAs in the opposition say the same thing.

I know that the government will campaign for it, as we will, obviously. I know that in the throne speech of the summer, the B.C. Liberals said they were supporting proportional representation, and there are members on record who support it as well. If we get this proportional representation passing in the fall of next year, we’ll move to a 2021 election wherein there may be a multitude of parties. Wouldn’t it be healthy for us to recognize a democracy wherein two parties can be recognized as two parties?

Now, I understand. We can’t have…. Let’s suppose two members opposite decide that they want to form the disgruntled Liberal Party, and they so register according to rules, coming up to suggesting that they should then have a question every day. Well, that’s not something that’s within the…. We have to look to precedent there, and it would start to become silly.

The precedent in the House, of course, is that when the NDP had two and when the Reform had two, there was a question a day, typically with a third party. We haven’t had four parties, and that would be a new precedent. I think we would look with the members opposite very carefully to say: “What is fair? What is truly representative?” Is it that two members are disgruntled, and now they figure they should have undue influence in this Legislature?

I’m not sure. They ran on a platform. They would have run on a platform that was a Liberal platform, but now they’re suddenly claiming to be something different. It’s a slightly different situation. I’m sure, seeing the openness of the government here to providing us legislative drafters, that this is something that we could discuss.

I believe, if we think to the future, that the number two is the correct number, in light of the history here in British Columbia. But I recognize the concerns that have been raised by both the member for Kelowna–Lake Country and the member for Nechako Lakes and agree that many of these concerns would have to be addressed. They’re hypothetical right now, but they would have to be addressed. I think that the legislation, which appeals to LAMC as well as the Legislature as a whole, could indeed address that, if that situation were to arise.

I don’t think it’ll arise till the next election anyway, because we have a big happy camp over on that side — unless, of course, we could actually end this debate if two members opposite would like to come and join the B.C. Green Party here. We’d have five and away we go.

J. Rustad: Why two? You just need one to get four.

A. Weaver: We’ll take two.

With that, I thank you, and I look forward to the vote.


Text of Ralph Sultan Commentary


R. Sultan: I think the first point to be made is that this bill is only part of a package of bills totalling four in number which, cumulatively, will change the working of democracy in the provincial government in British Columbia. I really believe that. And I accuse the government of employing a salami technique to introduce one little bill at a time and distract the argument on this one — do a discussion of LAMC or perhaps an office in Vancouver —when the grand sum total is much more far-reaching and certainly changes parliament as we know it.

I support the amendment to Bill 5 reducing from three to two the number of persons required to constitute a fully fledged political party in this House. The point is made: “Well, really. Three, five — does it really make much difference?” Well, it’s a 50 percent difference. Certainly, I think, the precedent to go to two members is very significant indeed.

The rumoured reason for this amendment, the scuttlebutt in the corridors, is that the Green Party is faced with the loss of a member crossing the floor, and they’re going to only have two members. My heavens. Therefore, we must change the laws of parliament to preserve the sanctity of the Green Party as a party with full standing. If that is indeed the reason — it’s pure speculation on my part; I would not expect either confirmation or denial of that possibility — it strikes me as being a very trivial reason and not one that should constitute the foundation of our government.

It’s also speculated — and perhaps I can speak with a little bit more personal knowledge on this matter — that some members in the…. What was the label attached? The disgruntled Liberal faction would split off and form their own parties. Indeed, the arithmetic suggests…. We have 42 sitting members, which might, theoretically, under this law, enable 21 new parties, in the extreme. A rather a radical suggestion, but legally possible, I presume.

As the member for Kelowna–Lake Country has already enumerated, and as he reminded me, even though we only have two or three members, they are entitled to party leader, House Leader, Whip, caucus chair, Deputy Whip, an office in Vancouver, members of LAMC, two questions each in QP — we’ll have to extend QP for most of the day, it appears — a certain amount of research money — and, certainly, will dilute the official opposition integrity and strength, which may, in fact, be the ultimate purpose of this amendment.

I have to point out that this fundamental change in our democratic process is being introduced at a time when the official opposition is crippled by being in the middle of a leadership campaign, and we are being distracted. I don’t think that this is time for calm reflection and judicious weighing in balance of the structure of this House when fully one half of the House is distracted with other very important functions.

Finally, have we considered — and I will pose it as a question to the Attorney — what the lessons may be from other jurisdictions? Here are five, for example, drawn from Europe. Belgium in 2010, and 11 parties in parliament. They took 581 days to negotiate a government. For the rest of the time, they really did not have a functioning government.

We’ve seen the logrolling, the midnight meetings and so on that went into the makeup of the coalition or whatever it’s called between the Greens and the NDP. Well, multiply that exponentially as we increase the number of parties we’re talking about.

Consider the Netherlands in 2017 — 208 days to form a government, a four-party coalition government involving 13 parties.

Spain in 2015 — 314 days without a government. No government was actually formed. They held a new election six months later, contested by 12 parties — 12 parties in parliament.

Italy has had two separate systems since 1993 — 65 governments in 70 years, hardly a formula for stability. Currently 28 parties — 28 parties in Italy.

Germany, I have not added up the number of parties, but it strikes me as being worthy of note that one of the parties that will take seats in the Reichstag, if I get the name of their parliament correct, will be, really, a reborn Nazi party.

This is an example of what happens when you have small, very special-purpose parties, dealing with a group of zealots who are bound and determined to be represented in parliament. I do not think that this is a formula for stability and certainty or, in fact, good public policy.

So I must ask the Attorney. When the changes, when we add up the slices of salami, are so significant, isn’t it remarkable, with a government noted for its rush to consult on everything from fish farms to taxi cab licences, that we see no outside consultation, no outside experts, no deliberation beyond this particular hall this afternoon and in the ensuing days, when we debate the other parts of the package as individual pieces — that we are having otherwise thought and deliberation presented for our consideration?

I find it unusual. I could use stronger language. Let me quote the former Attorney on this subject. “This bill is important far beyond the suggestion of its short number of sections in terms of its effect on our democracy. This is part of a package brought forward by the NDP in recent days consisting of Bill 3, Bill 5, Bill 6, and Bill 9. The cumulative effect of them being to change our democratic system substantively, with no consultation, no public consultation whatsoever.”

No public consultation whatsoever. We’re just going to pass it and — what the hell — get on with life. No reference to any expert panels, and no consultation more broadly than in the cabinet room.

So my question to the current Attorney is: why not? Why no consultation? Is not the future operation of this House more important than how we determine taxi licences and fish farms?


Video of my second commentary



Text of my second commentary


A. Weaver: I think the last comment needs to go challenged. We have an assertion here that the legislation going from three to two is somehow — two to three — is about power.

Now, I recognize that the mindset of B.C. Liberals is nothing more than: “We’ve got to get into power, and forget public policy. Forget public policy. Let’s not work together. It’s all about the power.”

You don’t have to believe me. You could go to the education parliamentary democracy meeting and listen to one of the members from Abbotsford who told the teachers from British Columbia here that the role of the official opposition is to get into power.

I understand why the member for West Vancouver–Capilano thinks it’s about power. I understand that because that’s all they can think about.

What we’re trying to do here is actually work together — work together to put people first, not to put our corporate donors first, and I recognize how….

Interjections.

The Chair: Through the Chair.

A. Weaver: I recognize how banning corporate donations….

The Chair: On the amendment, Member.

A. Weaver: I do appreciate being brought back to the amendment. The reason why I so diverged is because we were specifically addressed by the member opposite with respect to a package of bills which this is not a package of bills.

We’re focusing specifically on one amendment. I’d love to listen to the further discussions of this amendment, but to suggest that somehow the National Socialist Party will arrive in British Columbia because of this amendment is truly outrageous.

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