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Clark regime readies flood of bills with 10 days to go

May 09 2012

A flood of last-minute legislation by the B.C. Liberal government is threatening to bottleneck the legislature, but the premier is ruling out extra workdays for provincial politicians.

The government has more than 20 bills yet to be fully debated - with more expected - but only 10 days left on the legislative calendar this month.

One of the most complex and controversial items, the reinstatement of the provincial sales tax, hasn't even been fully written yet, raising fears it will land in the legislature with only a few days for MLAs to pore over its more than 150 pages of technical details.

"Is it malicious or is it just incompetence?" asked NDP house leader John Horgan.

The legislature adjourns May 31. The Opposition believes it needs at least two extra weeks to manage all the work, Horgan said.

Alternatively, the government could hold off on ramming all the bills into law this month and continue debating them when politicians return in the fall, he said.

But Premier Christy Clark quickly nixed that idea.

"We're not going to be extending the session," she said. Nor, she said, is she going to apologize for the fact her government has been busy introducing legislation the public has requested.

The bills yet to face the most detailed stage of debate include generic drug pricing, abolishing the school calendar, setting standards for police cooperation and reinstating a so-called gag law on third party advertising before election campaigns that had previously been shot down by B.C.'s Court of Appeal.

The Liberals introduced six bills Monday, including legislation for a new commissioner for mixed martial arts, a crackdown on unpaid transit fares in Metro Vancouver, new provincial park space and an overhaul of appeals for traffic tickets.

But the PST bill remains the most anticipated.

British Columbians voted to kill the harmonized sales tax last summer. The government was obliged under the referendum law to repeal the HST and reintroduce the PST with a bill this session.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said government staff have been working overtime to finish the bill, but it's extremely complicated to rebuild the old tax system.

He said the public is mainly concerned about whether previous exemptions will be reinstated under the new PST - Falcon said they will - and that the rest of the bill is just details, with more regulations to be added by cabinet later.

"Our goal is to get it in early enough now that we can have a fulsome debate on just the legislative piece," he said.

"There will then be all the regulations that will have to follow, obviously."

rfshaw@timescolonist.com

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