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Independent MLAs promote democratic reform agenda

Just over three months before the next provincial election, B.C.'s three independent MLAs have launched a proposed democratic reform package.

The MLAs -- Vicki Huntington, Bob Simpson, and John van Dongen -- are calling for six measures to improve the democratic process in B.C. As presented on Simpson's website, three measures involve election reform and three involve legislative reform:

Move the Fixed Election Date. The fixed spring election date interferes with budget analysis and encourages skepticism about election year budgets. Recommendation: Move the fixed election date to the first Tuesday of October, beginning in 2017.

Campaign Finance Reform. BC has no restrictions on political donations from corporations, unions, and non-residents. Stricter donation rules will reduce the possibilities for undue influence interfering with BC’s political process. Recommendation: Ban corporate and union donations and allow only BC residents to donate to political parties and candidates.

Elections BC Oversight. The leader of any political party can become BC's premier. We need assurances that the leadership process within political parties is conducted in a transparent and democratic manner. Recommendation: Party leadership contests should be run by Elections BC.

Election of Speaker by Secret Ballot. The Speaker has an important role that requires impartiality and the support of the entire Legislative Assembly. In practice, the Premier and party leadership often collaborate to select the Speaker. Recommendation: Enforce the existing rules for electing the Speaker by secret ballot to ensure all MLAs have a vote and that the Speaker's office is a function of the Legislative Assembly, not government.

Empower Legislative Committees. Legislative committees have limited powers and rarely meet. BC needs standing committees that allow MLAs to contribute more meaningfully to the governance of the province. Recommendation: Change the existing select standing committees to permanent standing committees that meet year-round and act independently. These committees should reflect all public policy fields. Establish terms of reference that successive governments cannot tamper with.

Free Votes in the Legislature. MLAs within a party caucus are pressured to put their party's policies ahead of their constituents' interests when casting votes in the Legislature. This practice undermines the role of individual MLAs. Recommendation: Relax party discipline so that MLAs can cast free votes in the Legislature on non-confidence matters, without fear of repercussions.

Simpson's website also offers details and a summary backgrounder on these proposals. So does Huntington's site. At publication time, John van Dongen's site had not yet been updated.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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