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Editorial: B.C. legislature sitting needed

Sep 20 2012

Premier Christy Clark says she tries to stay away from Victoria because it has "a sick culture" and no real people.

P Before take a deep breath and realize she doesn't mean everyone in Victoria. we Victorians get all huffy, we have to

In the comments she made to a National Post reporter in May and which were reprinted this week, she clearly meant that politicians, civil servants and reporters are not real people.

The clue was her lament about the unhealthy "insidethe-beltway debate." In other words, she was talking about the legislature and everyone who hovers around it.

It's clear that the warm feelings she once had for the big house on Belleville Street have cooled dramatically.

Liberal house leader Mike de Jong said last week the legislature won't be recalled this fall. Instead, he said, Clark's new cabinet members will be crunching numbers for their ministry budgets and taking to the streets to consult ordinary British Columbians.

Both those are important tasks. But so is standing up and being accountable in the house for the policies of the government, even if you don't like the sick culture.

The house sat for 47 days this year, which leaves a lot of time for consulting with voters, but not much time for answering questions. In all, the house has sat for 75 days since Clark took her seat on May 30, 2011.

In 2010, before Clark became premier, the government also skipped the fall sitting. MLAs were out of their seats from June 3, 2010 until Feb. 14, 2011.

Voters know that their elected representatives have more responsibilities than their work in the legislature, but the assembly is where the government lays out its plans for the province and where the opposition can challenge those plans and spell out its alternatives. For all the drama, it's more than just theatre. Clark, for one, seemed to say so in the past.

When she was running for the leadership of her party, she was excited about bringing new respect to the legislature. She said she loved question period and the debates in the house. She wanted to bolster legislature committees and she wanted to find co-operative ways to help ensure that more private members' bills were passed.

What a difference a year makes. Since Clark took her seat on May 30, 2011, private members have brought 24 bills to first reading. How many of them have passed? None.

While the premier is right to push her new ministers to get a grip on their departments and put their budgets in order, voters can be forgiven for thinking that a major reason for avoiding the house is to keep the government away from too much examination in the run-up to next spring's election. The sick culture and beltway debate sound a lot like people asking questions she doesn't appreciate.

No one wants our legislators hanging around making laws just to keep busy. But when government legislation is not getting the serious examination it deserves, MLAs are letting down the voters.

Since February, the government introduced 35 bills, including 14 in the final month of the sitting. As the clock wound down in the last days of May, MLAs passed important bills with less than an hour of debate. That's not scrutiny; it's lip service.

Answering questions from MLAs, voters and reporters is not yielding to a sick culture, it is part of the premier's job.

Clark says she wants to stay away from Victoria. If she continues to disdain the people's business, the voters of B.C. are likely to grant her wish.

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