Mr. Speaker: Member for Saanich North and the Islands. Thank you Mr. Speaker. It is very interesting to be in this place,
hearing the conspiracy theories, the rewrite of history and the reduction of our citizens
to simple taxpayers. I respect the contribution that every citizen makes to our society, in
both the casting the ballot and participating in our democracy. But I would never reduce
the citizens to simply just taxpayers, as we continue to hear over and over and over
in this place. I’m pleased to be speaking today in support
of the Constitution Amendment Act. This bill makes important changes that I feel are necessary
and overdue to strengthen and update that very democracy which we all hold so dearly.
First, I’d like to say I welcome the change of the fixed election date from May to October.
This is an important and long-overdue change that all members of this House should be able
to get behind. The B.C. Greens campaigned on changing the
fixed election date to October in order to separate it from the February budget process.
Separating the election date from the budget will result in significant changes in how
our province is run — important changes. It will end the practise of government creating
these pre-election budgets where financial goodies are trotted out and handed out to
segments of the population in order to secure votes, since the May election date is only
a few months before the February budget. It will also stop the budget debate from sounding
like campaign stump speeches, than the recent debate on the provincial books.
I hope that this will enable more substantive engagement from all members of this House
on future budgets and more nuanced and honest conversation about what aspects of the budget
members support, what they don’t support and why. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of
having the February budget closely followed by a May election is that the budget cannot
be passed before the election and that the Auditor General’s audit of the public books
doesn’t come out before July. So it just ends up turning into theatre. The budget often
gets substantially edited or rewritten even after the election, and it often bears little
relation to what was promised in February. This, I believe, misleads British Columbians,
or it leaves them vulnerable to being misled. It also creates a situation where the new
government, after an election, is under significant pressure to reconvene parliament and pass
a new budget. I believe that we felt that this summer, the pressure that that creates,
and that the government is also under pressure in their budget update to make significant
changes and fulfil campaign promises. Of course, we know that in a transition of government,
it takes time. And the new ministers take time to fully understand their portfolio and
to understand what might be behind the walls as you tear the drywall off and find out that
there might be some dry rot and some things that need to be fixed. But this is without
the time that’s needed to do the policy work and the consultations necessary to marshal
the evidence. I find it quite interesting that we keep hearing
about the consultations like it’s like a dirty word. The fact of the matter is, that we do
need to be connecting with the various stakeholders. In fact, when the government is not connecting
with the stakeholders, then we hear about how they didn’t connect with the stakeholders.
So I think that it’s important that we do commit to connecting with the citizens of
our province and the stakeholders to ensure that the work that we’re doing in this place
is informed, it’s based on evidence, and that’s the commitment that the government makes.
The way it is now, it wastes resources and the time and energy of the Finance Minister
and the public service. Most importantly, it undermines the public trust in government
as British Columbians have rightly become deeply distrustful of this whole process as
the budget is being put forward and then substantially rewritten after the election. Moving the election
date to October will eliminate these problems, and it will create less partisan budgeting
process in the future. In my view, most decisions in politics are
difficult, and it requires tough trade-offs and the weighing of benefits and drawbacks
to any policy change. I’m certain that anybody who has been a minister in this House, whether
current or former, can attest to the difficulty of the decisions that are in front of them.
This change, though, is an exception. I think that this change should have been made years
ago, and it will create less partisan budgeting process, improve public transparency and eliminate
wasted time, energy and resources in government. Most importantly, it is a step government
can take to improve public confidence and trust in government.
I would also like to touch briefly on the second change this bill makes, extending official
party status to any group of MLAs elected under a party banner, whether it be two or
22. Of course, today this change affects me and
my colleagues in the B.C. Green caucus, the MLAs from Cowichan Valley and Oak Bay–Gordon
Head. We’re, of course, thrilled that our caucus will be represented under one party
banner, and the little banner that’s going to be right under my name here that says “Independent”
will be changed to the party that I ran under, the Green Party, and the values that we ran
under. But this principle of this change goes far
beyond us and far beyond the Green Party. It’s the right that any group of MLAs who
campaign together under a party banner and who are united by a set of values and shared
platform commitments should be officially represented in our Legislature as an official
caucus, a united caucus. This is a principle of fair recognition of
all parties who participate in our democracy and elect voices to sit together and work
together in the Legislature with all of our colleagues in this place. It’s important that
we remember that these and other changes that we pass in the House today affect not only
us but all future members of the House as well.
In sum, I’d like to restate my support for this bill. It takes important steps to update
and modernize our democracy. Extending party status to parties with two seats or more in
this House and changing the fixed election date are common sense and overdue changes that
I hope members on all sides of this House will join me in supporting. HÍSWḴE SIÁM.