The B.C. Green party is challenging other political parties to make the legislature more accountable to the people of B.C. We also ask them to run campaigns during the provincial election that reflect that commitment. Greens believe British Columbians are tired of the hyper-partisanship that seems to have replaced a commitment to effective governance.
Premier Christy Clark recently called the culture in the legislature “sick”. Many were shocked by her admission. Others have acknowledged that the legislature, the place that is supposed to be the best expression of our representative democracy has stopped functioning as a house of thoughtful, respectful debate, if it ever did.
Question period is the most visible illustration of what’s wrong. This daily opportunity for the official Opposition to ask questions of the government has the positive intent of allowing the Opposition to hold the government to account. But the two sides often speak to each other with barely concealed venom. Each seems intent on getting an evening television sound bite. Instead of being meaningful, it becomes an exercise is gamesmanship.
The government rarely answers the questions and often shows disrespect for the role of the Opposition in their answers. Meanwhile, the Opposition, a willing participant in the unhealthy dance, asks the same question repeatedly and disguises criticism of the government as a question.
Both NDP Leader Adrian Dix and Clark say politics and the legislature need to change. The B.C. Greens’ challenge and suggested solutions provide an invitation to them to commit to reform and to making the role of the individual member of the legislative assembly (MLA) more meaningful.
During the election, B.C. Greens challenge the other parties to:
• Commit to running positive, issues-based campaigns;
• Promise to have their candidates attend debates (B.C. Liberal candidates were often no-shows in the 2009 campaign); and,
• Require that candidates sign a code of representative conduct similar to that of the Green Party of B.C.
Once the election is over, B.C. Greens suggest parties reform the functioning of the legislature and the role of MLAs with the following improvements:
• Abide by the legislative calendar (mid February to the end of May and the beginning of October to the end of November). This means the governing party will not to cancel the fall session;
• Allow adequate time for full debate or delay legislation to the next sitting;
• Abide by the code of representative conduct (one specific to MLAs could be developed);
• Use existing rules designed to make the legislature function effectively, such as the provision to use a secret ballot for the election of the Speaker;
• Implement the recommendations contained in the 2000 report Towards Greater Efficacy for the Private Member: Possibilities for the Reform of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly commissioned by Jack Weisgerber and written by Jay Schlosar, available in the legislative library; and,
• Commit to finding mechanisms to engage citizens and to consider and act on their wishes.
Jane Sterk is the leader of the Green Party of B.C.