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Democratic Reform

Do we trust British Columbians to determine the future direction of their democracy? Yes or no?

Yesterday in the legislature we continued debate on a hoist motion put forward by the BC Liberals on Bill 6 – 2017: Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act. The motion was designed to kill the bill aimed at enabling a referendum on proportional representation in the fall of 2018. I have already spoken in support of Bill 6 at second reading.

Anyone who has watched the debates on Bill 6 will have heard the BC Liberal MLAs lining up to argue against the merits of proportional representation. At times it seemed that they were reading the same speech. What’s remarkable is that all Bill 6 does is enable a referendum on proportional representation. There is an ongoing consultation process designed to gather feedback from British Columbians.

In the speech reproduced in video and text below, I note that the entire debate on both sides, has boiled down to one question. That one question is this: do we trust the people of British Columbia to actually determine the outcome of how their democracy would like to be?


Video of Speech



Text of Speech


A. Weaver: I rise to take my place in the debate on the hoist amendment, hoist motion brought forward by the members opposite with respect to our discussions on Bill 6, Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act.

I’ve listened to the debate. Speaker after speaker after speaker raised issues. I wonder, after reflecting upon it, if they recognize that we’re actually debating a bill that’s designed exclusively to create the legal framework for conducting a provincewide referendum before November 30, 2018, representing a proportional voting system.

Now, what I’ve heard here, in reflecting upon the need for more time, is members opposite on the one hand arguing passionately against proportional representation for reasons and rationale that are based on them actually knowing the outcome of the consultative process that is ongoing now. On the other hand, I’ve heard people argue against proportional representation in general. Some of the arguments have gone so far as to be, I would argue, somewhat outlandish.

One member opposite stated, and I quote — I mean, this is so inappropriate: “By the time they realized what had happened, it was too late. You ended up with World War II. You ended up with the Holocaust. You ended up with a number of countries that had to rebuild — meaning all of Europe. Many of the people that come to Canada should know this, because most of your ancestors came from Europe.”

This is the member for Skeena who stood up and, in arguing against letting the people of British Columbia decide whether or not they would support proportional representation, evoked the fact that this could potentially lead to the rise of nazis and a holocaust. This is so profoundly offensive that I honestly believe that that member should stand and apologize to the Legislature for those comments.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: The member opposite said I was taking it out of context. I encourage anyone here to go and read the Hansard, because it was not taken out of context. It was there for all to see.

This entire debate, on both sides, has boiled down to one question. That one question is this: do we trust the people of British Columbia to actually determine the outcome of how their democracy would like to be?

This is not….

Deputy Speaker: Member, speaking to the amendment.

A. Weaver: Hon. Speaker, I do appreciate you saying that, but I’ve listened again to speaker after speaker give speeches without referring to the amendment a single time during their speech. I have referred to the amendment many times already in this speech, yet the previous speakers have not.

I will continue to speak to the amendment and the reason why we don’t need to have the extra time. But I do reflect upon the fact that I did not hear other members do that in speaking to the amendment.

Coming back to the amendment, coming back to the rationale, we’ve had this debate boiling down to one question, on this amendment, as well as the motion before that: do we trust the people of British Columbia? Members opposite don’t seem to believe that we can trust the people of British Columbia to actually determine whether or not they want proportional representation. They don’t believe that we can trust the people of British Columbia to determine the outcome.

Their arguments against proportional representation and the need to consult further are compelling to themselves and their groups and friends, perhaps. Then vote no, if there is a referendum. But we’re not debating proportional representation. We’re debating whether or not — this one question — we trust British Columbians to have a say. And do we need another six months to actually go through?

We know the reason why members opposite have turned this debate on whether or not British Columbians are entitled to a choice into a debate on proportional representation. It’s because fundamentally, to quote their future leader, Dianne Watts. On November 4, 2017, she said this. It’s because they said this: “Because you know what, if we do not defeat this referendum, there will be no majority. There will forever be a minority of B.C. Liberals.” She also said: “That is my number one priority, and I’m hell-bent in terms of making sure that we defeat that referendum.”

Now therein lies the problem. This hoist motion that’s before us is nothing about proportional representation. It’s about fear — fear that the B.C. Liberals will actually tear apart and actually British Columbians, who we’re here to serve, will have a better choice as to who they want to represent them.

You know, I have friends in the B.C. Conservative Party. I’ve got friends in the B.C. Liberal Party. I’ve got friends in the B.C. NDP There is an unhealthy tension over there right now, an unhealthy tension because there’s a struggle for voices by members within that party. The whole purpose of proportional representation is to not create artificial coalitions, but to allow society to be reflected in terms of the makeup of the people who represent them in government….

Interjection.

A. Weaver: Again, the members opposite, who we sat patiently listening to, and it was trouble at some times, feel very uncomfortable when the truth is pointed out. The truth that this is only about whether we trust British Columbians or not.

They don’t. They don’t trust British Columbians. They need more time — throw a hoist motion forward, and in doing so, what you’re basically doing is killing the bill. We all know that a hoist motion is killing the bill. That’s the purpose of this. They want to kill the bill, because they don’t trust British Columbians to actually determine the outcome of what they think is best. They don’t trust British Columbians to vote yes or no on proportional representation because the B.C. Liberals know the answer.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: Members opposite are hung up on process. They’re hung up on process. What is ironic….

Interjection.

A. Weaver: This is the uncomfortable nature of the discussion, because the truth hurts. Let’s talk about the process, in response to the heckles from West Vancouver–Sea to Sky. This is what the process is. There is a three-month consultative process ongoing right now. I encourage members opposite to do what the B.C. Greens are doing and to do, frankly, what the NDP are doing, and make your own submissions.

I’ve listened for must be two months now. I don’t know how long we’ve been debating this bill. Member after member after member already say what proportional representation is. I heard one member saying: “Its ranked lists don’t work.” Well your leadership convention is about to go through in terms of a ranked debate. I guess it works for B.C. Liberals, but it doesn’t work for proportional representation.

I’ve heard others talk about party lists, so you’re not actually voting for people, and “that doesn’t work.” But again, we don’t actually know what the question is.

So all this fear being put forward by the B.C. Liberals, and through their hoist motion trying to kill this, is basically fear of losing power, because the B.C. Liberals care about power — not about doing what’s right for the people of British Columbia.

The irony in this as well — as we’ve heard talk, time after time, about these so-called backroom negotiations that led to this — is that the same negotiations were happening with the B.C. Liberals, who agreed to have a referendum in the fall of 2018. So I’m not sure what’s….

Interjections.

A. Weaver: It’s interesting that none of these members who actually attended those meetings seems to know exactly what went on in the meetings, but I was at those meetings. Let me tell you. There was no difference in the discussions that we had between both parties about the importance of having a referendum on proportional representation, in light of the fact that this is something that British Columbians had told us was very important to them — as the Prime Minister did as well, federally.

Let me come back to this again. Here’s the irony. I sit through question period day after day, listening to the members opposite hurl abuse at government and say: “You’re not fulfilling a promise.”

Interjections.

A. Weaver: It’s hard to hear….

Deputy Speaker: Members.

A. Weaver: “You’re not fulfilling a promise,” they will say. “This promise is broken. That promise is broken.” But here we have a promise being fulfilled — a promise that the B.C. NDP campaigned on. They campaigned in the last election on actually having a referendum on proportional representation, and that’s what this bill is doing.

This bill is simply enabling a referendum to occur. There’s no question being posed yet. There’s no structure being posed. It’s simply informing a referendum.

Interjections.

A. Weaver: See, there we have the heckling, coming back to that again — the heckling opposite, saying: “You need to put the question for it.” Well, this points to the scale of their arguments. They’re internally inconsistent. They want to consult and we need to have a six-month hoist in order to consult as to what the question is, but now they’re heckling and saying we need to know what the question is now.

This is what happens when you have a party that’s hurting, and I get that you’re hurting. I get that they’re hurting — in power for 16 years, now sitting in the benches there. There’s internal strife, as a few inner elite from the party from the past still dictate the way it will be and others don’t know what’s happening until they’re surprised in the chamber, and it frustrates them.

They see the liberty on this side of the House, where we have a working agreement, a working situation, showing British Columbians that two parties….

Interjections.

A. Weaver: It’s interesting again. Nobody wrote my speech. I’m actually just going from the cuff there, to the member of West Vancouver–Sea to Sky.

Interjections.

A. Weaver: Here, too…. It’s hard to get a word in with the heckling, but I will say what’s interesting here, with the comment about the speeches. The speeches I’ve heard to this hoist motion, time after time…. I wonder if you have one speechwriter downstairs, because I hear the same examples appearing by 41 Liberal MLAs, time in and time out. The same examples. The same rhetoric.

I was actually quite pleased with the member from Peace River North. I commented. He’s gone, but I think he wrote his speech.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: That’s true. The member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan — I have to give this to you. It cannot be said you’re not green opposite, because you’re into recycling and reusing the speeches.

Coming back to the reason why the hoist motion is not necessary…. What we’re showing right now to British Columbians is that, yes, parties can work together. They can working together despite being fundamentally different in terms of values, despite the conflict that we have between these parties in the election campaign.  We can show British Columbians that we can put people ahead of our partisan narrative.

But we see again this morning, as illustrated again, the games — which is why this is troubling to the B.C. Liberals — that get played. We need to hoist this motion. We need to hoist this bill to the future because it might affect our power. Everything is a game, and that’s what is so sad. That is what is so sad with what is going on here in the Legislature, both earlier today as well as now, when we listen to good people, good members opposite, the hon. members opposite — at times just reading scripts given to them by the 20-something-year-olds downstairs telling them to just make stuff up.

Again, I don’t want to criticize the member for Vancouver–False Creek, because his speech was very good. It was actually clear that you wrote it yourself — not something that I’ve heard very often.

It’s important, though, to recognize that this ultimately comes down to one question again. This is what the debate is. The debate is one question. Do we trust British Columbians to determine their outcome? Yes or no?

The B.C. Liberals clearly will vote later and say, “No, we don’t trust British Columbians to determine their outcome,” whereas members on this side will say: “Yes, we trust British Columbians. We trust you to have a say in your future. We will give you that say in the future, despite the fact that in the quest for a Liberal majority, at all costs, they will suppress the rights of British Columbians to have a say in their democracy.

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.

Final hurdle towards banning big money in BC Politics cleared

Today in the legislature we passed Bill 3 – Election Amendment Act, 2017 which ends the wild west era of big money in BC politics. This is a major success for the BC Green Party as we campaigned extensively on this during the last provincial election. A number of our amendments were also included in the final legislation.

Below is the media release that we issued after the bill passed.


Media Release


Final hurdle towards banning big money cleared
For immediate release
November 22, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – The Election Amendment Act, which bans corporate, union and out-of-province donations in British Columbia’s electoral system, as well as limits the amount of money individuals can contribute, has passed third reading, the final political hurdle before becoming law. The B.C. Greens consulted extensively with the government in the development of the legislation, and introduced several amendments in order to increase transparency, reduce the influence of big money already in the system and make the legislation more equitable for small parties.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we have finally taken this significant step towards to putting people back at the centre of B.C. politics,” said Weaver.

“This legislation means that votes cast by the citizens of this province, not cash from special interests, is what will drive our political system going forward.

“The B.C. Greens banned corporate and union donations to our own party in September 2016 because we recognized the importance of this issue for strengthening our democracy. Less than a year ago, B.C. was being internationally derided as the ‘wild west’ of politics due to our lax campaign finance laws. This monumental achievement demonstrates what we can accomplish when we work together to advance good public policy.”

Adam Olsen, Party spokesperson for campaign finance, noted that the legislation will improve trust in government.

“For far too long, the influence of big money in our politics has corroded British Columbians’ trust in their government,” said Olsen.

“A healthy democracy is one where citizens trust their elected officials to put their interests first and foremost. With millions of our dollars flowing to political parties every year, British Columbians were often left wondering what was truly behind government decision-making. The B.C Greens will continue to push for changes, such greater reforms to B.C.’s lobbying industry next year, which will continue to build trust between British Columbians and their leaders.”

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

BC Greens, BC Liberals and BC NDP work collaboratively to improve legislation

Today in the legislature the BC Government introduced a series of amendments designed to improve the Election Amendment Act, 2017. In their accompanying news release, the Attorney General, David Eby, stated:

I am pleased that the amendments introduced today are a tangible result of that commitment and include changes proposed by both opposition parties.

We were very pleased that the government tabled two of our proposed amendments. Below is the press release that we issued today.


Media Release


B.C. Greens work with government to increase transparency, reduce influence of big money in new campaign finance legislation
For immediate release
November 20, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, and Adam Olsen, Party spokesperson for campaign finance, welcomed the introduction of a number of amendments to the Elections Amendment Act today. Two amendments, one to phase in quarterly reporting and another to limit the influence of big money currently in the system, were ideas that the B.C. Greens brought to the table during their consultations with the government following the introduction of the legislation earlier this year.

“Big money has been a notorious defining feature for B.C. politics, and it is remarkable how far we have come since the election,” said Weaver.

“We have now achieved all-party agreement on the need to reform our campaign finance laws. All parties have brought different ideas to the table as to the shape this should take, and today we have a number of amendments that reflect the views of all three parties. This is exactly how government should work and I am deeply encouraged by the emerging instances of collaboration in this minority government.”

Olsen added that the amendments greatly strengthen the transparency and integrity of the legislation.

“We felt that quarterly reporting for political donations, which is already required federally, was an essential feature for ensuring transparency in our campaign finance system,” said Olsen.

“Quarterly reporting will give the press and the public a much more clear and timely picture of the flow of political donations in this province, which will go a long way towards increasing accountability and trust.

“The prior political contributions amendment will ensure that the big money donations currently in the system cannot directly influence voters and pay for political attack ads. This will greatly expedite the transition to a campaign finance system where people, not special interests, are what drive our politics in British Columbia.”

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

BC Liberal games & media cynicism as BC Greens & BC NDP move to improve lobbying regulations

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:

  1. Institute a multi-year prohibition on lobbying for former Senior Public Office Holders;
  2. Increase penalties for violations of the Lobbyist s Registration Act;
  3. Initiate a comprehensive review of the Lobbyists Registration Act, including the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists’ mandate, to ensure our democratic institutions and the interests of British Columbians are adequately protected from the influence of special interests.

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.


Video of Debate



Text of Debate


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.

Interjections.

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.

Interjection.

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.

Interjection.

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.