Hints are building up that Premier David Eby’s dismissive, indifferent attitude toward the B.C. legislature is going to be a feature of his government’s term.
The latest one came Thursday — in comic form — when his legislative agenda stalled out just two weeks into the sitting. The house adjourned four hours early because the NDP literally ran out of things to do. There was some surreal floundering as the government side treaded water and tried to run out the clock.
In normal times MLAs fill about a week debating the throne speech, which means just reciting generalities and party talking points for hours on end. Then the budget is introduced and the real work begins.
But this year the NDP set budget day (Feb. 28) more than three weeks after the speech on opening day. That is a lot more time to fill than usual. They’ve managed to introduce seven bills so far, but on Thursday the government got caught in a bind. They were prepared to spend the afternoon talking about a procedural change that’s been in the works. But they didn’t get the unanimous consent that was needed.
So they put the bill making National Indigenous Reconciliation Day a statutory holiday up for debate, only to find the Opposition backs the move and doesn’t have much more to say than that.
With nothing else ready to go, that meant backbench NDP MLAs were rounded up and ordered to start grilling cabinet ministers about the bill.
As Green Party MLA Adam Olsen put it: “This never happens.”
NDP backbencher Megan Dykeman set the tone: “We need to have a really fulsome discussion. … This is a great opportunity to have a long discussion. … I probably could drone on for another hour — I have at least ten other questions.”
Two more bills were put on the agenda later, but only to fill up the time next week, since they can’t be debated the same day they are introduced.
After a few arguments about the novelty of the NDP filibustering its own bill, the government gave up and adjourned the house four hours early. It’s a new version of “quiet quitting.”
(When a government can’t find anything to do and goes home, it’s strategic parliamentary management. When I do it, it’s called goofing off.)
Part of the afternoon derailment may have been due to rookie NDP house leader Ravi Kahlon being caught off-guard. But there is more to it than that.
Another clue about Eby’s attitude to the legislature dropped earlier, when the calendar was posted. It showed the session is only going to run until May 11, a few weeks shorter than usual.
That follows the approach set during the fall session, when a week of it was cancelled to give the government time to plan his swearing-in as premier.
One of the notable aspects of that brief sitting was how two major housing bills with huge ramifications for condo owners and municipalities were forced through the legislature by cutting off debate. The same move was made on the big overhaul of health professions oversight. Debate was cut off with hundreds of questions left unanswered. That was barely a week into his term as premier.
Eby’s approach is to minimize his government’s exposure to daily accountability. When they do have to subject themselves to it, the NDP cuts it off when it suits their purpose.
It’s reminiscent of former premier Christy Clark’s approach. She confided to a reporter in 2012 that she thought the legislature had “a sick culture.” “I try never to go over there. … All they can think about is government.”
She was from the same riding Eby now represents. There’s something about Vancouver-Point Grey.
There might be personal reasons for the shortened calendar. Eby has a young family in Vancouver and wants to maximize time with them. But there’s no ready explanation for curtailing scrutiny when the house does sit, or adjourning it just for lack of anything to do.
Other than the obvious point that it’s easier and more enjoyable to spend money at photo ops than explain yourself to suspicious critics on the other side of the house.