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April 24, 2011

Christy Clark - Premier or Dictator

On Wednesday April 27th the BC Legislature will sit; something that has happened for only four days in the past ten months. It is likely that NDP leader Adrian Dix will be the first to stand in question period, but he would be well advised to keep his best shots until later in the short session since next week will provide a background of hockey playoffs, an exciting conclusion to the federal election, a by-election campaign for the Premier and the Royal Wedding – not a good time to compete for news.

It is unlikely that the Clark government will have much by way of a legislative agenda but it must pass either a budget or another supply bill, and it must pass legislation to invalidate the required September initiative vote on the HST, replacing it with the postal referendum ballot beginning in mid-June.

The budget that former Finance Minister, now Clark campaign manager, Colin Hansen introduced in February was recognized as a “placeholder”, something not to be taken seriously because it was merely satisfying legal requirements while a new premier was chosen. Nevertheless, Clark has said that she will proceed with that budget with no changes, demonstrating contempt for the legislative process. The budget that was tabled in February doesn't match the reorganization that Clark introduced with her new cabinet; it is based on different ministries with different responsibilities. The February budget froze or reduced the budgets for every part of government except health and education, while putting almost $1 billion in slush funds: $600 million in contingency and $350 million in a forecast allowance.

A major difference between a dictatorship and a parliamentary democracy is that in a democracy the government is accountable to the legislature. One of the primary ways the government is held to account is during the debate over approval of its spending plans, but the Clark government is essentially saying that its plans are none of the public's business. Using its majority to force approval, probably with the use of closure, of a billion dollar slush fund with no indication of how cash-starved services will be handled shows arrogance and lack of accountability.

Clark could be cut some slack if she were to say that she will call the legislature in September for the presentation of a new budget based on her reorganization, economic events since February and her priorities, but she declined to take that opportunity. She's keeping her option open for an early election based on whether or not opinion polls show her capable of winning, rather than respecting or at least amending the provision in the BC Constitution Act for an election in May 2013. Calling an election without revising the placeholder budget is an insult to British Columbians. If Clark proceeds along that line she might as well declare that she's running as dictator, not premier.