Les Leyne: MLAs struggle to fill up their time

Les Leyne mugshot genericThis is what you get for complaining when the government doesn’t hold a fall sitting.

You get a fall sitting that’s called mostly to avoid the criticism for not calling a fall sitting.

The 85 MLAs bustled back into the building this week after a 10-week adjournment, ready to adopt their accustomed roles. The tent was raised and the big show resumed its run. But after Day 4 it’s looking as if there’s almost nothing to do.

The first week looked like a play in which the actors are all on stage, but there’s no script. It’s a TV series in which the story line ended in July, but there are still six more weeks of airtime to fill.

The first clue came in the opening hours, when a motion was put up for debate recognizing the benefits of balanced budgets. Liberal MLA Dan Ashton gave a heartfelt rendition of why this concept is a good idea. Various MLAs responded, reading from well-thumbed fact boxes.

Read the debate for yourself, and try to imagine an hour of legislature time that could matter less to people.

Then came the first bills of the sitting. One tries again to get the office of the auditor general for local government office running smoothly. One of them brings the regulation of X-rated movies up to date (years after the last rental shop went out of business). It’s not exactly urgent, given that it’s just a reprise of something they tried to do in 2012 and didn’t get around to finishing.

To be fair, there was substantive debate later on a bill involving property tax on private schools. It was introduced this year, and finishing up passage of such bills is just the thing for which fall sessions were designed. Ditto for some adjustments to the family-maintenance enforcement program.

Another solid clue to the vastness of the voids in the legislative agenda followed. Energy Minister Bill Bennett served notice that he wanted to debate whether the Site C dam was a good idea.

“I have up to two hours to talk about this,” he warned the house sombrely. Hearts sank, until he said he could make his point in 30 minutes.

Actually, about 60 seconds would have been ample, given that the dam got the go-ahead 10 months ago and construction has already started.

Nonetheless, they ate four-and-a-half hours of clock time debating the merits of the project, going over arguments that have run off and on for 30 years.

The idea was to expose NDP waffling on the project. But there’s also the fact there was nothing else to do that day.

The smoking gun that there’s next to nothing going on this fall came when a new piece of legislation was introduced.

It’s “Bill 34 — Red Tape Reduction Day Act.”

It’s a marvel of emptiness, worth citing in its entirety: “Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia, enacts as follows: Red Tape Reduction Day.

1. The first Wednesday in March is Red Tape Reduction Day.

2  This Act comes into force on the date of Royal Assent.”

(There’s an explanatory note to make things perfectly clear: “This Bill establishes the first Wednesday in March as Red Tape Reduction Day in British Columbia.”)

This lame nonsense took up almost a full day this week.

Did you know the regulations about how many tadpoles you can bring to school have been abolished?

Did you know that if you stacked up all the paperwork involved in the red tape the government has eliminated over the years, it would be 19.8 metres high?

More pertinently, did you know that you paid the staff time for someone to figure that out?

Maybe some day, school choirs will sing proudly at Red Tape Reduction Day concerts. Maybe floats will roll down Government Street at the annual the Red Tape Reduction Day parade (“the running of the bureaucrats”).

But at this point, the idea looks like a marker pointing the legislature in the direction George Costanza wanted to go on Seinfeld years ago — “a show about nothing.”

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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