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BC Greens send letter to BC Liberal caucus requesting better cooperation on amendments

Yesterday my caucus colleagues and I sent a letter to BC Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong concerning our desire to collaborate with the BC liberals on improving legislation.

The reason why we felt it was important to do so is that we have been blindsided by several amendments that the BC Liberals have brought forward at the last minute. It is very difficult to support amendments tabled this way as they have not gone through legislative drafters, and advance notice on the order papers has not been given to allow for thoughtful reflection upon, and stakeholder engagement in, the substance of the amendments.

In addition, this past session the BC NDP granted both the BC Liberals and the BC Greens access to legislative drafters. This good faith approach to doing politics differently was very much appreciated by our caucus and we have taken advantage of this new opportunity.

The most recent example of a BC Liberal amendment, whose intent is something we could support, but as written could not be supported, concerns changes to Bill 15: Local Elections Campaign Financing Amendment Act. It was clear from the debates that all parties agreed on the substance of what the amendment was trying to do. It was designed to allow candidates in self-funded local election campaigns to contribute an additional $1,200 (above the present $1,200 donation limit) to their own campaign. But as written, the amendment didn’t actually do what it was supposed to do.

Below I reproduce the video and text of an exchange I had with the Selina Robinson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. During this exchange I ask the Minister to outline the problems with the proposed amendment. I was also able to get on record her commitment to introduce regulations that do precisely what the amendment was trying to accomplish, but didn’t actually accomplish. The regulation will be in place for the 2018 local government elections.

Below I reproduce the video and text of our exchange as well as the text of our letter to the BC Liberal caucus. I also append the very brief media advisory that we issued.


Video of Exchange



Text of Letter


Mike de Jong
House Leader for the Official Opposition
BC Liberal Caucus
Parliament Buildings, Victoria

November 22, 2017

Dear Mr. de Jong,

We are writing to express our Caucus’ desire to collaborate with yours on improving legislation. As you know, advancing good public policy based on evidence is a core goal of our Caucus, as is working across party lines. Our parties have a history of collaboration on this front, working together under your past government to pass vital legislation that requires post-secondary institutions to have sexual violence policies and to improve labour regulations to prevent employers from requiring their employees to wear gender-specific footwear.

We request that when your caucus has amendments to legislation that your Members follow the following two processes so that we can pass the best public policy for our province. First, we request that your Members give adequate notice of amendments by putting them on the order papers in a timely fashion. Even small amendments can have significant and sometimes unanticipated implications. To responsibly consider amendments, our Caucus may need to consult with your caucus, experts, staff and each other. We need to consider the impacts on our constituents and on existing policy as well as whether the proposed amendment is constitutional. For this very same reason, bills are rarely debated the same day they are introduced.

Second, the government has recently made legislative drafters available to opposition members for the first time. As you know from your days in government, it is imperative that new laws be crafted in accordance with proper legal language and in consideration of existing statutes and amendments. We therefore request that your Caucus take advantage of the legislative drafters so that we can be assured that any proposed amendments are legally sound.

Yesterday, during our debate over Todd Stone’s amendment to Bill 15, we raised concerns that the amendment had not been placed on the order papers and had not been written by legislative drafters. Shirley Bond stated that it was improper to focus on process when debating policy. However, we believe that for the reasons discussed above, proper process is indeed a prerequisite for good public policy.

We understand that opposition Members have the right to introduce amendments without following the above processes. However, leaders of both our parties have acknowledged that this minority government is a message from British Columbians that they want us to work together. In order to do so, we must not accept the bare minimum standards that are technically required of us. Instead, it is incumbent upon us as elected representatives to make use of all opportunities available to us to ensure we advance good public policy that is in the best interests of British Columbians.

The agreement we signed with the BC NDP is grounded in a relationship of trust and built on a foundation of good faith and no surprises. Our approach has been to work with your caucus from this same foundation. We hope you will see this as a reasonable request so that we can have a productive working relationship, and so that we can deliver better outcomes for the people we represent.

Sincerely,

Andrew Weaver Sonia Furstenau Adam Olsen
Leader House Leader Caucus Chair and Whip
B.C. Green Caucus B.C. Green Caucus B.C. Green Caucus

Cc. Rich Coleman, Interim Leader, B.C. Liberal Caucus


Media Advisory


Advisory: B.C. Greens letter to B.C. Liberal caucus requesting better cooperation on amendments
For immediate release
November 22, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – The B.C. Green caucus has sent a letter to the B.C. Liberal caucus requesting better cooperation on amendments.

The full letter is attached and can be read here.

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Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca


Text of Exchange


A. Weaver: I have a number of questions for the minister as we discuss this amendment further. My first question is that two days ago, when the minister was responding to — I forget — one of the members, he or she mentioned that she saw some constitutional issues or challenges with the amendment as put forward. I was wondering if she might articulate those to us.

Hon. S. Robinson: I wanted to let the member know that we were concerned about some potential issues. So I’ve had a chance to get some legal counsel on this. Some of the concerns include the effect of the amendment as drafted is different than what we understand the amendment to be. So based on legal review, the effect of this amendment is that once a candidate makes a contribution of any amount to their own campaign then the contribution limit for that candidate’s campaign is $2,400, regardless of who is making the contribution to that candidate. This rule does not limit the $2,400 to an amount that a candidate could provide to their own campaign. It means that any individual can provide up to $2,400 to the candidates campaign. It misses the mark there.

There are also some potential legal questions that have been identified. A significant question is whether it would be justifiable and fair that candidates in the same communities are receiving different treatment on an arbitrary basis. For example, an unendorsed candidate who contributes money to their own campaign has a higher contribution limit of $2,400 while other unendorsed candidates who do not contribute to their campaign have a contribution of $1,200. Because of this question, legal advice would be required.

Another question is whether this amendment could be viewed as limiting speech in elections by prohibiting candidates from receiving contributions in certain circumstances. There’s also lack of clarity. So for example, what would a candidate do if they ended up spending $1,200 but also received campaign contributions? Would they be required to return the contributions?

The proposed amendment also does not identify the consequences of contravening this rule.

So the provision really doesn’t fit within the legislative framework. It amends section 30.01 but does not account for necessary consequential amendments for other sections — or for elections after the 2018 general local elections, if that was the intention.

So for these reasons alone, we can’t support the amendment.

A. Weaver: Thank you to the minister for her response there.

I’d like to see if I can understand where we are today. So two days ago, we had the motion brought forward by the member from Kamloops–North Thompson, a motion that initially had something to the tune of $5,000 as a potential for a self-funded campaign.

We discussed this. Obviously, there were some communication issues as to what was being debated when, and we saw this motion, literally, as we were sitting here, and had to work on the fly. There were some discussions — and with great respect and thanks, the member for Kamloops–North Thompson…. South Thompson. I do apologize. The member for Kamloops–South Thompson. It is true that they tend to sing as one voice. They clearly — North and South Thompson — support each other, and it’s good to see that in the Legislature.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: As my friend from Saanich North and the Islands says: “the Loops.” The Loopsians are very supportive here.

Coming back then. So it was modified to reflect what we were hearing here — that we didn’t know where the number was coming from. And we agreed that $2,400 was a number that seemed a little more reasonable. We clearly…. We had some support here. Not everyone in our caucus, but we felt that there was a lot of support emerging into the spirit and concept of this.

We then had a day break and had some time to reflect upon the amendment that was brought forward to us, as the minister was out of town, in Vancouver with the housing announcement, with the Prime Minister, so was unable to attend committee stage at that time.

And after some reflection, we’re now back to a position where we have the amendment on the floor. The amendment is to allow self-funded campaigns to $2,400 — or at least that’s the intent of the amendment. And I’m grateful for the clarification that the minister has, in terms of some of the issues with the amendment as written and what interpretations could be.

So my final question on this, before I decide the direction I’d like to take in terms of my vote. My understanding is the minister has formally committed to introduce regulation that captures the spirit of the intent, because she, too, has heard — like our caucus has, and members opposite had — some concern about the ability of people in, particularly, rural areas, small regions, to self-fund their campaign and not be put at a disadvantage.

A lovely example of this was mentioned by the member for Abbotsford-Mission, who somehow was being used as an example to actually argue against limiting donations, when he’s the most beautiful example of actually supporting limiting donations, because, in his case, he never funded his campaigns.

My final point then is: is it correct that the minister has committed to introduce such regulations that haven’t captured the spirit of the discussion? So that the 2018 local government elections will be subject to some regulation that will allow for increased funding by yourself to your own campaign. And that we recognize that, after that election, everything will be looked at, and there will be some reflection, using the data to move forward, as we revise legislation or regulations in the months and years ahead?

Hon. S. Robinson: I appreciate the question. And certainly, I’ve heard from UBCM, and I’ve heard from candidates, and we’ve certainly heard in this House about the self-funding piece, particularly for smaller communities.

I think it’s really important, and what I indicated is, that we do understand where members of this House are going and what it is they’re seeking. And in taking this approach, I think it’s important that we do make sure that regulation fits within the legal framework of the legislation and that we avoid the legal question marks that were raised by the amendment proposed by the member opposite.

So taking all things into consideration, we need to make sure that a regulation needs to fit the importance of monitoring the 2018 local elections, to gather information about the nature and extent of self-funded campaigns — not just on the contribution side, but on the expense side. This is the first time we’re doing that. I know that the members down the way really appreciate having good data, so it’ll be the first time that we’ll actually have this data, which will allow us to reflect on all of these components for local elections.

With all of that in mind, my intention will be to recommend a regulation that provides for candidates to make an additional campaign contribution of up to $1,200 in 2018 to their own campaign, with that being in addition to the regular contribution limit of $1,200, bringing the total in those circumstances to $2,400 for 2018. It provides for some equivalent authority for candidates endorsed by an elector organization, while ensuring that the total additional amount that is provided to an elector organization’s campaign through its endorsed candidates could not be more than $1,200 — again, for a total of $2,400 in 2018 in those circumstances.

What this will do, hon. Member, is that it will allow us to adjust to what we’ve been hearing, and it will allow us to do a number of things afterwards, to take a look at all the data to make sure that it’s hitting the mark. If it’s not hitting the mark, if that needs to be increased because we get feedback that that wasn’t quite enough, we can readily do that. Or if we learn that that was too much, then we can scale that back.

The other thing it does — and I think it’s really important — is that it allows to us be nimble. Government is not very nimble, generally speaking. So having it in regulation, should there be a by-election and we need to act appropriately and quickly, we can do that. I want to assure the member down the way that that is my intention.

A. Weaver: Thank you to the minister for the detailed response, and thank you to the member for Kamloops–South Thompson, who has brought this issue to this debate here. I am seeing here an agreement coming across party lines on this very important issue. Again, thank you to the member for Kamloops–South Thompson and thank you to the minister for responding in such an informative way.

3 Comments

  1. Bob Reckhow-Reply
    November 27, 2017 at 12:53 am

    Here is a real example of collaboration in government. Thank you, Andrew Weaver, for showing that it can actually be done. I hope to hear about dozens more of interactions like this in the coming months. I’d like to see examples like this added to school curricula, so students who will become voters in the future can have models of how government works, when it is functioning as well as it should. Changing the culture of government is infinitely more important – and more effective! – than simply changing the government. Keep up the good work!

  2. John Dove-Reply
    November 26, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    fine stuff – please stay on track with making our legislature effective and responsive Thank you

  3. Sair Killy-Reply
    November 23, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Thank you for your intelligent approach to cooperation in moving legislation forward. What a welcome change from mr De Jong’s approach. ( wanting to be able to name call). An example we can share with our children too!!! Respect and cooperation are usually expected in work environments….. hurrah for the greens and ndp!

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