In the last provincial election, the BC Greens were the only party to campaign on modernizing and strengthening British Columbia’s lobbying regulations to restrict undue influence from special interests. It was such an important issue to us that we ensured a commitment to lobbying reform was enshrined in the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) that we signed with the BC NDP. Section 3.1d of that agreement states:
The parties agree that legislation will be introduced in the 1st sitting of the next session of the BC Legislative Assembly with a BC New Democrat Government to:
Part of our collective commitment was fulfilled with the introduction of Bill 8 — Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017, which I spoke to at second reading.
Bill 8 was introduced at first reading on October 2, 2017.
We recognized that the Bill did not address all of the important issues contained in the Registrar of Lobbyists’ 2013 report entitled Recommendations for Changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act. As such my colleague, Adam Olsen (our critic on this file) initiated an extensive process of consultation in an attempt to strengthen the Bill.
One of the remarkable changes that has occurred since government changed is that the Attorney General has allowed members of the opposition access (on a trial basis) to legislative drafters to develop and draft amendments to proposed legislation. This is important since without access to their legal and statutory expertise, opposition MLAs would have a difficult time ensuring that amendments conform to legal requirements/precedent. We took advantage of this opportunity and developed a number of proposed amendments to Bill 8.
Our amendments appeared on the order papers on Wednesday, October 1, thereby giving all MLAs time to digest their implications prior to debate of the bill at committee stage a day later.
Unfortunately, during the drafting process we realized that our amendments could be ruled out of order as they introduced new sections to the original bill. My colleague, Adam Olsen, discussed this with the Attorney General who in turn committed to supporting our amendments in legislation to be introduced in the Fall of 2018 as part of the comprehensive review of the Lobbyists Registration Act promised under the CASA agreement. And so we decided not to move our amendments and risk that they fail solely on procedural grounds. This is how parties work together to advance good public policy.
The BC Liberals, who ignored the Registrar of Lobbyists’ 2013 report when they were in government, decided that they too wanted to introduce an amendment. Rather than trying to build support for their amendment by giving MLAs advance notice, the BC Liberal amendment only appeared on the Thursday afternoon order papers, a few minutes before the afternoon session started. To make matters worse, they didn’t take advantage of the legislative drafters in drafting their amendment.
What I hope you will see from the video and text of our debate (reproduced below) is that while the BC Greens support the intent of the BC Liberal amendment, we simply cannot support the amendment as written. In fact, at about 11:55 in the video Adam Olsen jokingly suggests (while I was being heckled by the BC Liberals) that their amendment was drawn up using a crayon. We encourage the BC Liberals to ensure that they submit their ideas as part of the review process promised under the third bullet of section 3.1d of the CASA agreement. That is precisely what we are going to do. If three Green MLAs can do our homework in consulting, preparing and drafting amendments, the BC Liberals with their 41 MLAs surely can do the same.
As seen in the debate exchange reproduce below, I understand that there is ingrained cynicism within the BC Liberals who have spent 16 years in government and now see themselves in opposition. But I am perplexed by the cynicism embedded in the Vancouver Sun article written about this issue. The misleading headline states “Liberals, Greens failure to co-operate lets NDP pass bad laws”.
The bad law is what is present in the existing Lobbyists Registration Act. The BC NDP legislation substantially improves this. But the BC Greens argue that it is not enough. Both the BC NDP and the BC Liberals agree. We are committed to working collaboratively to ensure that we get the best possible legislation. And this will emerge in the Fall of 2018 after an extensive review of the existing legislation.
I was quite surprised by the rather outrageous comments made by the Leader of the BC Liberals who apparently “stood watching and fuming” as I was interviewed. Referring to me, he stated that “he doesn’t understand how this place works”. He then states “Why should Laurie be telling him what he’s doing? It’s not like they are telling us what they are doing either. It’s silly. Why would you get upset when somebody comes in and does their job? It’s the height of immaturity.”
I guess that is exactly the problem. I do understand how the Legislature has worked historically. For the most recent incarnation of the BC liberals, politics seems to be all about the quest for power and finding that gotcha moment. Indeed we did let the BC Liberals know about our motions well in advance as they appeared on the public order papers a day early. In fact, I personally delivered their house leader hard copies of our proposed amendments on Tuesday afternoon (2 days before the debates). We’ve also let them know about other proposed amendments. But springing amendments on someone at the last minute without the benefit of thoughtful reflection is hardly appropriate in the quest to advance good public policy.
In my view, the debate speaks for itself.
A. Weaver: Thank you to the Attorney General.
Also, there was quite a remarkable turn of events that occurred in this session. That was that the Attorney General allowed members of the opposition and the third party access to legislative drafters to propose amendments. My colleague the member for Saanich North and the Islands will speak to this issue much more substantively and thoroughly shortly.
My question is relevant and germane to our actual conditions of discussing and contemplating support for this amendment. A question is posed directly to the member for Chilliwack-Kent, who did actually bring this amendment forward. Did he actually have this amendment go through the legislative drafters that we were granted access to in order to propose amendments prior to their submission that fit the legal definitions that were required and that were consistent with all other statutes that exist in British Columbia, or did he so choose not to have access to those legislative drafters?
L. Throness: I did not choose to do that. I was told that I had two routes, and I chose the route that I chose. Certainly, the drafting language can be cleaned up after we pass the amendment. We would have that access, as the member noted, to drafters now or then.
A. Weaver: I will stop there. I will admit that I do have trouble passing an amendment and turning that into law if that amendment has not gone through legal counsel to ensure that that amendment would actually meet the terms required for it to be legally approved in British Columbia.
Hon. D. Eby: Thank you to all the members for their remarks.
A. Olsen: I’d just like to address the amendment on behalf of myself and my colleagues. When this bill, Bill 8, was initially introduced, I was asked in the media about it. I said that it was a good start. It was a good start to amending a lobbyists registration act that had holes in it that you could drive a bus through.
Some of the challenges. A lobbyists bill that only requires someone to note who they intend to lobby is a problem. That’s not actually being able to keep track of who they’re lobbying and what they’re lobbying them on or for how long they’re lobbying. These are all things that I’ve brought up and suggested that we needed to tighten up on.
In fact, I did take the opportunity to take the other route that the member for Chilliwack-Kent chose not to. That was to work with government, to meet with the folks at the lobbyists registry office, to talk to them about the various things that they’ve recommended in the past that should be done in order to tighten up this legislation that did have these large gaps. In fact, the lobbyists industry themselves have requested and have asked for these changes to be made in order that there’s a level of fairness within the lobbying industry.
We spent quite a bit of time in our office working. I spent time working with my staff, going back and forth, to draft up amendments that were then put on the order papers so that the members in the opposition could see them. We took the time to have them properly drafted so that, at the time that we were going to be asked to vote on them, they were complete.
This is the work, the good work, that needs to be done in this place. I spent time speaking with the Attorney General about whether or not we were going to be able to bring these forward. Of course, there are some difficulties with them. We secured an agreement.
I think, in this case, where we’ve got an amendment that’s put in front of us a couple of hours before…. I seem to remember that this seems to be a practice. A piece of legislation or amendment gets dropped, and then when there are significant and substantive reasons why you wouldn’t support an amendment, as the Attorney General pointed out, had significant issues with the way it’s written…. If that’s the way that the members in the opposition suggest that we do business — agree to an amendment to make a bill and then go back and fix it later — to me, that is very challenging.
We need to have what we’re voting on in front of us. We need to have the ability to be able to take a look at it, to be able to digest it and then to ensure that what we’re voting on is something that is actually going to be able to withstand the test of time. To the point that the Attorney General made, the fact of the matter is that if the point was to capture the members of the confidence and supply secretariat, then perhaps it would have been better to find a way to capture those people without using the name of the confidence and supply secretariat. With a very simple name change of the secretariat, confidence and supply secretariat 2, those people then don’t fall into this legislation, which has to, by the way, withstand the test of time.
It’s not just for this minority government that we are creating lobbyists registration act amendments. It is for every government that comes after it. It’s for all of that.
I think what’s important here is that we take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. We have a commitment from the government that they are going to do a full review. This is a completely supportable suggestion that is being made by the members across to strengthen this legislation, to add definition to the legislation, to increase the people who are captured by this.
Those are good amendments. I suggested that to the member for Chilliwack-Kent. To do it in an ad hoc way, to drop it on this place and to suggest that that’s what we should do is adopt a poorly written, “off the side of the desk” piece, when in fact, there was the legal…. And to have other members suggest: “Oh, it’s just fine. I don’t know that legalese, so I’m not going to engage in it. It doesn’t matter anyway. It can be fixed later.” That’s very problematic.
The Chair: Members. The member for Saanich North and the Islands has the floor.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I would just suggest that this is an opportunity. Put this to the review that’s going to happen. Put this through, and make sure that the people of the lobbyist registry office have a chance to look at this, have a chance to ensure that they get it right, to capture everybody that needs to be captured in it.
This is not about not capturing people. The smirks and smiles and all that…. That’s fine. This is not about the conspiracy theories that we’ve seen in this. Rather than using this opportunity as a soapbox, let’s make this lobbyists registry act a great lobbyist registry act. And let’s put it into the process.
I don’t think that this legislation is done yet. I’ve said that publicly. So to sit here and listen and hear that there is actually this thing that we’re trying to hide, trying to run, trying to not get this right… That’s just simply not the case. I’ve stood up in front of the media and publicly said: “This isn’t quite done yet.”
We’ve put forward amendments in a way that I think they should be put forward. This member put forward amendments in an ad hoc way, with language that is clearly problematic. They shouldn’t be supported, and I will not be supporting them.
L. Throness: I would just like to answer a few of the objections that have been raised. First of all, the minister insinuated that I wanted to exclude myself in not including MLAs in the amendment. I would remind him…. Perhaps he doesn’t know that I was parliamentary secretary up until a few months ago. Therefore, I would certainly be captured by the legislation, and we would be happy to be captured by the legislation.
The second thing that he said was that the name of the confidence and cabinet secretariat might change. My Green Party colleague said the same. Well, what if they changed the name of the parliamentary secretary as well? That, too, is in the act.
What if they change the name of “executive council” to “executive committee” one day? That might change as well. But we know that the confidence and cabinet secretariat will be in place for at least four years, so it’s important to capture that.
The final thing I would say is that the Green member said that they’re good amendments, but yet he relies on a flaw in process in order to avoid them. I would just suggest that he might as well call a spade a spade and say, “I’m just trying to avoid the amendment,” and be clear with voters.
A. Weaver: I’d like to rise and support my colleague here who has articulated that we actually find the contents of this amendment to be something that we could support. However, we cannot support approving legislation that, clearly, is not appropriately written and would not be consistent with a bill.
The members opposite did not take advantage of the legislative drafters that we were given access to. We used them.
A. Weaver: We use them.
It’s remarkable that the Attorney General gave all members access to legislative drafters. He recognized that this isn’t done.
Rather than actually take advantage of this, we see some really good ideas put forward by the member for Chilliwack-Kent written in a form that we simply cannot support now because it’s not legal. If we were to pass this, we would be doing a dereliction of duty in passing legislation that we knew has not gone through the legislative drafters for this House.
I can’t fathom why the member for Chilliwack-Kent did not (1) come to us and tell us about this amendment prior to the order papers this afternoon, (2) use the legislative drafters that we were given access to. Because we could have supported this. We could have supported this, and we look forward to supporting this if they actually follow the process, bring it forward in the review.
I’m not even sure, with my colleagues, some of the amendments put forward by my colleagues…. They are done legally, but I’m not sure how they will be ruled, whether they will be ruled in order or not. We’re okay with that, provided that the government is able to respect the wishes of the members here. And they’ve said in good faith that they are.
You know, I realize there’s so much deep, ingrained cynicism in members opposite that everything that is being done over here is some kind of Orwellian conspiracy theory for a quest for power and one-world governance. I get that. But really, for a second, stand back and think what we really want.
What we really want here is good public policy. We’re willing to work with members opposite. We’re willing to work with government. My colleague spent hundreds of hours with staff….
A. Olsen: Well, not hundreds.
A. Weaver: Tens of hours?
A. Olsen: Numbers of hours.
A. Weaver: Well, my colleague didn’t, but the staff certainly spent that time. The staff, collectively…. There would have been, I would say, hundreds of hours — our staff, who’ve been going to meetings, who’ve been putting this forward. I’ve got a lazy colleague here from Saanich North and the Islands, so he probably just looked at the final version and went: “Yeah, okay.” No, I’m joking.
Seriously, there was a lot of effort that went into this, and we don’t know how it’s going to move forward, but we took advantage of the tools we were given.
I encourage the member for Chilliwack-Kent to not forget this. We support the intent of this. We support the intent. We agree with you that we shouldn’t, if we had access to information, be allowed to lobby. We agree. So bring it forward in the review process.
M. Bernier: I thought maybe the leader of the Green Party grew six inches, and then I realized he was standing on a soapbox. But I do want to say…. Hopefully he realizes the joking nature of that comment. It wasn’t a personal attack by any means.
I do want to address something that was brought forward during this amendment debate. This is the fact that when the minister is saying and the members from the Third Party opposition are saying that we have an opportunity to the legislative drafters, I appreciate that. But he himself said that sometimes it can take hundreds of hours.
My question to the minister when I’m finished, then, will be: is government now willing to not bring forward any bills and not vote on any bills until the official opposition has had a chance to not only to review every single bill but have access to the drafters on every single bill anytime we have an amendment — that nothing will be voted on until all of those bills are done? Because I know he might want to go talk to his House Leader and the rest of government, because that’s not always the way things happen.
You know, there’s an opportunity to bring things to the House, as the member who brought the amendment forward did. That is something very valuable within the process that we have here within this Legislature to do. I appreciate the comments that it might not meet the legal legislative test.
I know through my time in this Legislature, and I know the minister and others…. We’ve gone through this exact process many, many times. There have been times when we’ve actually stood down on a bill so we can actually bring an amendment forward. We can make sure that the legal drafting team, the legislative drafters, can make it better, make it proper and make sure that it meets the test that the whole House can support.
When I hear that the members from the Green Party are actually supporting the intention of the amendment, my question then would be: would they be willing to also stand up and vote that we don’t vote on this bill at this time — that we actually have an opportunity to change the intention and that we actually have a chance on this motion to amend it?
I think the minister himself has even said that, you know, some of the intentions he might like, maybe not, within the amendment, and it might not meet the legal framework. And I accept that.
Again, sometimes when we look at how fast the government might want to bring a bill forward and how quickly they might want to pass that bill to meet whatever objectives — some of the bills are on a tight timeline so that they want to do that — we won’t necessarily have the opportunity to always bring it forward to the legislative drafters if we, at the last minute after reviewing it, because of the short timeline, come up with an amendment.
Again, this amendment is brought forward in good faith. This amendment is brought forward for good reason, and most people in this House sound like they’re actually agreeing with the intent. I appreciate the members from the Green Party and their position that they availed themselves, sometimes, of something maybe we didn’t in this circumstances. That doesn’t take away from the intent of the amendment to try to make the bill better.
It actually worries me when I hear that they maybe appreciate and support the amendment but that they might vote against it just on principle — that maybe a policy to their liking wasn’t followed.
With that, I want to just leave it on the amendment and say that I support the amendment. I support the intent. I support the fact that we’re trying to work collectively in this House to fix an issue.
As my member from Surrey had mentioned, the line in the sand doesn’t have to be there. We can move it. The whole point of this House is to have debate, to have discussion, to make a bill better.
I know the minister, now, sat on this side of the House and quite a few times used this exact same argument of why we should be working together and why we should be making a bill better when an amendment comes forward. This is his opportunity, now, as the minister of the Crown to actually take his own advice to work with this House to try to make a bill better.
A. Olsen: I would like to provide some clarification. In no way was this debate that we’re having today about Bill 8 held up in any way to draft this amendment. We worked within the exact amount of time that we had — the exact same amount of time that the official opposition had.
So there was no…. The meetings that we had with the members of the staff at the office of the registrar happened on the phone and in person. They happened in the time. We consulted with them. We asked them about the amendments that we had. All of these options were available to the members of the official opposition.
The fact of the matter is, is that I also needed to be convinced that there wasn’t anything from the office of the registrar. That work was done in advance, on ours. I think that there’s a considerable amount of work that we’ve done, that needed to be done, in order to bring this forward.
I have said publicly that this isn’t about limiting the number of people that should fall under this bill. The fact is that this piece of legislation that we’re amending has needed to be amended and strengthened for more than a decade. Yes, there’s been some tinkering around the edges. But for the most part, it’s been left wide open.
This government…. It was an initiative that came from our platform. The fact of the matter is, is that there is going to be a process. This is a great opportunity to put this to the process — exactly the same way as the two amendments that I’ve got, which are incredibly important, that were on the order papers a day in advance for everybody to see.
It was all there for everyone to see, for everyone to debate. But through conversation, we got a commitment — the same commitment that could be given to have this piece pushed to a review, have it considered, have it a part of the process — and brought it in.
To me, I think that there is an important principle here that we do the good work in advance. So that when it is brought forward here…. Sure, it might be done in good faith. But there’s a lot left to be desired for about the amendment that we’re debating. Still, at this stage, it’s not supportable.
Hon. D. Eby: A couple of remarks coming out of members’ comments.
One member suggested — I don’t want to misstate what he said — that across Canada, there were similar provisions that the members were putting forward. Actually, we’re more exceptional in British Columbia by taking this step.
The legislation that previously existed in B.C. —hopefully, if this bill passes to replace sections of it — was just to register. It wasn’t a prohibition. And many provinces in Canada have similar registration requirements without the prohibition.
There are significantly fewer provinces that actually have prohibitions. I went through them earlier — Quebec, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. We would join them with this bill.
I noted that the member was celebrating former MLAs coming through here. I was glad to see Terry Lake. I saw Barry Penner the other day. And Don McRae, I know, has been reaching out to folks. It is good to see former MLAs coming back to this place.
And it does raise the question that the member does, rightly, about should more MLAs be captured and should members of their staff be captured by the legislation. I accept that that’s a good question to ask.
The challenge with the proposed amendment is it’s not clear from the amendment, subsection (f), whether or not, for example, opposition MLAs are captured. I might believe that the member for Surrey-Cloverdale may have had access to inside government information. He might believe that he didn’t have access, that there wasn’t even a possibility that he had access to inside government information.
It’s not clear to me from the section whether it was, in fact, the member’s intention that opposition MLAs be captured by this amendment. Similarly, the member says that, well, he would be captured because he is a former parliamentary secretary. There is a two-year horizon. This government’s going to be here for four, just over four years, so the member will be outside of that.
Theoretically, he could go, as an opposition MLA, and lobby once his term is done here and he is replaced by an NDP MLA. Just pointing it out. There are serious tracking problems.
The big problem with the suggestion of the member of why don’t you just put it on hold and we’ll go and we’ll do this full process.
We introduced the bill October 2. It was there. Everybody had the chance to bring suggestions forward. The members chose not to do that. That’s fine. That’s their prerogative and their strategy as opposition. I don’t say there’s anything wrong with that.
The suggestion that they bring forward now, that we put it on pause and take their suggestions and turn it into legislation and so on that will actually work — the big problem is that means the bill will not pass this session. It’s just the reality.
Hon. D. Eby: I hear the member saying: “You can do it in a day.” I thought the members had been in government before. It moves a little more slowly than that, and there are other things that the drafters are working on.
This is an important first step. In my opening remarks in this very committee stage, I said to all of the members of this place: “This is a first step. We are doing a full review in 2018.”
I listed two provisions that we will be bringing in, in the fall of next year. If the member truly believes that opposition MLAs should be included in this process, in this prohibition, then let’s have that conversation. Let’s do that as part of the review.
I say if the member truly believes because I mean…. I heard a couple of the members suggest to the government — well, frankly, suggest that I was a hypocrite for bringing this proposal forward. It would be insulting if it wasn’t amusing, given the rotating door of key advisers in the Premier’s office going in and out of lobbying firms: Dimitri Pantazopoulos, Michael McDonald, Gabe Garfinkel, Matt Stickney, Minister of Education.
Where was the outrage when this was happening? Where was the prohibition when these folks were in government? There was a registry. Absolutely, there was a registry. But the registry did not prevent the kind of activity that raised the concerns of the public.
I support us moving forward with this. I accept the member’s points that there’s lots more work to be done. I agree with them, which is exactly why we’re doing the review in 2018.
If this was the last time we were going to look at the lobbyists bill, you know, maybe we would have that conversation. But in fact, I’m telling the members we have a full review process that’s going to be happening and another bill coming in the fall of 2018 where their suggestions can come forward.
There’s lots of opportunity for that. And with that, I close my remarks and hope we can vote on this.