Today, just because they had to, MLAs gathered in Victoria and the government delivered its throne speech. Turns out all Gordon Campbell’s government had to say was that it thinks its done a great job over the last 10 years and by the way, weren’t those Olympics fantastic? I guess there’s a law against actually governing during a leadership race.
I got into a twitter exchange about the legislature with @StrategicThghts today and he had this insight: Role of leg is to hold gov accountable which is why gov doesn’t let it sit much
And that got me to thinking about whether the leg performs its function well, even when it is allowed to sit. I’m not so sure. I attended question period a couple years ago and wrote a column about it for the Capital News. It left me with a rather unflattering view of our elected officials. Here it is.
May 7, 2009
MLAs hone their skill at accomplishing nothing
I spent the last few days in Victoria as a tourist and, like so many visitors to our province’s capital, I thought I’d drop in on the legislature and watch our elected representatives at work during question period.
In theory, question period is the time when the opposition is supposed to ask questions of the government in order to shed light on what it is doing in our name and with our money.
In reality, it’s a staged conflict that makes your average fight between hockey enforcers seem genuinely spontaneous. In fact, a newly released government memo from January 2007 instructs B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers on how to avoid answering the questions by attacking
the opposition instead. “It’s Question Period, not Answer Period,” it reads, according to columnist Bill Tieleman, who broke the story.
The document was obviously meant to be kept confidential but it was ordered released, along with 8,000 other documents, by the judge in a criminal trial against two former government aides accused of corruption in the 2003 sale of BC Rail.
Whether the document reflects official policy or not, it was clearly being followed in the question period I witnessed. The main topic was a report by the auditor general which found the government has no clear strategy when it comes to reducing and preventing
NDP MLAs indignantly demanded to know from Housing and Social Development Minister RichColeman, whether he would now commit to coming up with such a plan.
Coleman never answered that question in the half-dozen times he spoke, instead throwing out statistics connected to various projects the government has undertaken, reading quotes from individuals who have been helped off the street by a government program and pointing out the failures of the previous NDP government in this area.
Not that the NDP would have been able to hear an answer to their questions, had answers been more forthcoming. They were too busy catcalling and thumping their desks while Coleman spoke.
Question period ended after half an hour. And then a funny thing happened—most of the MLAs left the legislative assembly leaving a handful of members from both parties.
An NDP’er stood up and started talking, on and on. When he was done another NDP’er got up and started blabbing. The few other MLAs in the room seemed more concerned with their BlackBerries and laptops than with what was being said.
It took me awhile to figure out what was happening but they were discussing an interim supply bill.
It turns out the government is not passing the budget it delivered a couple of weeks ago. Instead this bill will allow it to spend almost $14 billion over the next five months without saying what it will use the money for.
What I was witnessing was the debate on this important measure. But what it really looked like was a farce.