B.C. should overhaul the way the legislature works to remove the “trained-seal syndrome” and let politicians vote freely and contribute to legislation, says a group of Independent MLAs.
Independents Vicki Huntington, Bob Simpson and John van Dongen banded together Wednesday to announce a democratic reform package that they intend to introduce when the legislature resumes next week.
The “practical doable reforms” would “reinvigorate democracy in this province,” said Huntington, the MLA for Delta-South who in 2009 became the first Independent B.C. politician elected in more than 60 years.
Among the recommendations are free votes for MLAs, permanent standing for legislative committees to investigate key provincial issues, a ban on donations from unions and corporations, a return to secret ballots to elect the Speaker of the House and oversight by Elections B.C. on party leadership races.
The MLAs are also suggesting B.C. move its fixed election date from May to the fall. Critics have said May is too close to the February release of the annual provincial budget and leads to concerns that a government will fudge economic figures to help on the campaign trail.
“Voters can never be sure that a pre-election budget is actually real,” said Simpson, MLA for Cariboo North, citing the Liberal government’s 2009 budget, which called for a $495-million deficit that ballooned to $1.8 billion after the party was re-elected. NDP governments have also been chastised for so-called “fudge-it budgets.”
Van Dongen, a former solicitor general in the Liberal government, said MLAs need to have more power to represent constituents, rather than being forced by their parties to vote for laws into which they had no input.
“Party discipline taken to the extreme does undermine democracy, and it undermines the responsibility of that MLA to his or her constituents,” he said. “We believe the trained-seal syndrome is not necessary.”
The three MLAs called on all parties to support their proposals during the spring legislative session.
The B.C. NDP has already proposed banning union and corporate donations, as well as moving the fixed election date to the fall, said house leader John Horgan.
“We’ve had successive elections, I think from ’96 to present, all of them have been in May, and all of them have led to controversy around the [budget] numbers,” he said.
“I personally support that, and I’m fairly confident an NDP government would support legislation that would set the fixed election date to the fall.”
No one from the Liberal government was available for comment.
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