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September 14, 2012

No Fix for Flawed PST Legislation this Fall

How far will the BC Liberals go with their contempt of the legislature? Premier Christy Clark has picked up where Premier Gordon Campbell left off. Rather than calling a fall session of the legislature, it looks like Premier Clark's Liberals are planning on introducing legislation in February to fix errors in their PST legislation and then using closure to cut-off debate and force passage before adjourning prior to the election writs.

In response to cries from the Opposition over government House Leader Mike de Jong's revelation that there will be no fall sitting of the legislature, CKNW's Bill Good gave an editorial statement on September 9th saying the fall hockey season will be more missed. He's probably correct on that point, but if the public is not alerted to abuse of the legislative process, much will be lost. Former government House Leader Rich Coleman Tweeted that the NDP rarely held fall legislative sessions. Good seemed to be echoing Coleman, but a little history lesson is in order.

In the 90s the NDP followed the former Social Credit government's example of letting the legislature sit until MLAs were ready to adjourn, a method some called legislation by exhaustion. Time allocation (closure) for debates was rarely used; in the NDP's case the only time closure was invoked was on the Nisga'a Treaty in the face of a filibuster by Campbell's Liberals. Sometimes called legislation by exhaustion, the method followed in the BC Legislature until Gordon Campbell came to power was to occasionally have all night sessions and to sit into the summer, but only on the rarest of occasions to invoke time allocation. Campbell changed that with the introduction of a legislative calendar. The promise was to introduce Bills in the spring, and when necessary to put debate on them over to a fall legislative session. When the calendar was introduced the Standing Orders, the rules that govern how the legislature operates, were also changed. A new Standing Order authorized the government to serve notice on what government business had to be completed before the end of the sitting; it permitted the government to declare that a list of Bills would be deemed to be completed by a specified date. Before long the government fell into the habit of introducing Bills late in the sitting, serving notice and making them law with virtually no legislative debate. Falls sittings were no longer necessary for the government, except when budget estimates were not passed in the spring due to elections or leadership conventions. Some dictators have less power! Most MLAs would not want to go back to legislation by exhaustion, but neither should any support the routine use of closure, especially on Bills introduced late in the sitting. A reasonable approach is to honour the original promise by introducing some Bills in the spring and debating them in the fall.

House Leader de Jong's revelation that there would be no fall sitting of the legislature in 2012 came during a media scrum on the release of the government's First Quarter Financial Report. Former Finance Minister Kevin Falcon promised to provide updates on the transition from the HST to the PST with the release of each quarterly report. The last paragraph in the news backgrounder accompanying the First Quarter Report said:
"Businesses will need to adapt their systems for the implementation of the PST on Apr. 1, 2013. Initially outreach will focus on the general tax application of the PST Act, with more detailed information being released as the regulations and legislative amendments are announced."

"The Ministry of Finance continues to work on developing the regulations, and transitional and consequential amendments to other acts to support the provisions in the legislation introduced on May 14, 2012. Government plans to publicly release a final proposed version of the legislation in December."
To the best of my knowledge, the "mainstream media (MSM)" failed to report on that amazing admission of incompetence by the BC Liberal government. It has been over a year since voters rejected the HST and demanded the return of the PST. Government should have started preparing for the PST long before the vote count was announced on August 25, 2011, but even if it waited until then, it is unconscionable for it to announce as an after-thought in a September 2012 news release that its legislation is flawed. BC should see a fall sitting of the legislature to fix that legislation, but the Clark government is saying it isn't ready. Meanwhile businesses can't start work on programming their cash registers or changing their systems. Her government has not only demonstrated its contempt for the legislature, but it has also shown that it is not truly business-friendly as tens of thousands are left in limbo waiting for amended legislation, regulations and procedures. That's one reason why a fall session of the legislature is needed to hold the government to account.