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Oink, Oink…Uh, Oh!

James's backtrack on the pay raise pig-out.

David Schreck 21 Nov 2005TheTyee.ca
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It would appear that the honeymoon is over between the NDP and the Liberals in BC's Legislature, and not a moment too soon for the benefit of the citizens of the province. The adversarial system protects the public, collusion does not. Everyone wants to encourage more constructive debate in the legislature; adversarial doesn't have to mean rude and co-operation should never mean collusion to rob the public purse.

NDP Leader Carole James was the first off the mark with an amazingly frank confession:

"I entered public life to do politics differently, to help reestablish faith in our democratic institutions and to provide new leadership and a new tone to the public dialogue. The NDP Caucus takes full responsibility for failing to meet that standard on this issue."

That's an understatement, but at least James called for the government to withhold Royal Assent and Proclamation of Bill 17. Legal experts will have to determine the way out of the mess, but to the casual observer, there are three standard proclamation sections in any piece of legislation: 1) instant law when the Lieutenant Governor attends the House, 2) timed implementation in accordance with a provision in the bill, or 3) proclamation by a cabinet order (OIC). Bill 17 doesn't have an OIC proclamation provision, so it is probably necessary to kill the bill by introducing another bill that will repeal it -- another embarrassment for all MLAs.

Campbell annoyed

Premier Campbell was less than enthusiastic about James' about face; his news release said:

"The Leader of the Official Opposition has apparently now decided to withdraw her support for Bill 17 and that is her right. But it is disingenuous for Ms. James to intimate that her withdrawal of support is somehow the result of a revelation that the public would have 'serious concerns' about 'the process we took to arrive at the decision to increase MLA salaries, pensions and the resources to serve constituents.' That has always been understood by all members of the legislature. The bill was unanimously passed notwithstanding that consideration, as both parties maintained yesterday in their news release, because it was deemed to be fair, reasonable and sensible." (emphasis added)

In other words, both sides knew that stuff would hit the fan but agreed to proceed anyway and now Campbell is annoyed that James is backing out of the deal. At least he said that his caucus will meet on Monday, November 21, "to reflect on their initial position and support for Bill 17, in light of the Official Opposition's reversal of support." Anyone who is concerned about the incredible abuse of power that both sides of the legislature colluded in should immediately contact their MLA and demand that Bill 17 be repealed.

Bigshot-itis

If MLAs on both sides come to their senses and back away from what appears to be an exercise in collective stupidity, they would be well advised to reflect on what lessons were learned. The first lesson should not be to take revenge on each other for botching the attempted robbery of the public purse. They should try to walk in the shoes of the 50 percent of lone-parent families whose income is less than $29,400 per year, or in the shoes the hospital workers who took a 15 percent pay cut, ironically the same percentage as the minimum the MLAs gave themselves as an increase with Bill 17. "Big-shot-itis" is a fatal disease in politics; rather than thinking of themselves as chief executives or deputy ministers, MLAs should remember what life is like for the people they were elected to represent.

Even if the Liberal caucus feels the heat as James has done and backs off, neither side of the legislature is going to recover easily from an incredibly dumb political stunt. MLAs on both sides have an enormous amount of work to do to convince voters that all politicians aren't simply out to grab what they can for themselves. It will take a lot of good works before anyone can greet an MLA without saying "Oink, Oink".

Political analyst David Schreck publishes the online journal Strategic Thoughts where a version of this appeared.  [Tyee]

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