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Independents assert role in BC legislative proceedings

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson raised a point of order this morning asserting the role of independents in the legislature and drawing an apology from government house leader Rich Coleman.

"In order to make a change to the standing orders, it requires unanimous consent of the house," explained Simpson. The standing orders are the rules that govern how the legislature operates, including when it sits. "It can't be done just by the government house leader or the agreement of the two house leaders," he said.

Coleman last week reached an agreement with the NDP opposition to truncate the budget debate and add three days to the legislative calendar after the May long weekend. The standing orders say that week is to be a holiday for the legislature.

"This morning I rose on a point of order asking how the calendar could change without the house being notified or the consent of the two independents, which then of course caused a bit of a scramble on the part of the government house leader and speaker," said Simpson.

"It was more us asserting that we need to be conferred with by the government house leader before any of this activity occurs," he said.

Coleman acknowledged changing the schedule without consulting Simpson or Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington was a mistake. "It required unanimous consent or unanimous approval, and I wasn't aware of that at the time so I hadn't talked to them," he said.

When the issue was raised, he said, "I apologized to them."

Simpson and Huntington agreed to the schedule change once they were consulted.

Such situations give independents some power in the legislature, Simpson said.

"We can actually sit and look at on balance what the right thing is to do for British Columbians and we can either agree to it or stop it from happening," he said. "We're not constrained by political ideology or a whip."

Huntington was elected as an independent, and Simpson became one after he was ejected from the NDP caucus over differences with former leader Carole James.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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