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Les Leyne: David Eby's delay is a disappointing dodge

When the lieutenant-governor asked David Eby on Oct. 26 if he was ready to take over as B.C. premier, he said yes. She should have pressed him: “When?”
Premier-designate David Eby leaves Government House in Victoria after meeting with Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin on Oct. 26, 2022. Eby will be sworn in as premier on Nov. 18. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

When word dropped that the NDP was cancelling a week of the legislature sitting to get ready for David Eby’s installation as premier, I was delighted. Because I love a parade.

Wiping a full week of the fall session off the calendar suggested that they were going to throw themselves into turning the boring old swearing-in ceremony into a full-scale pageant.

Eby has an indie rock background. It looked like he was taking this chance to go full Elton John with a spectacle for the ages.

Surely a full week of downtime meant the entire government was now devoted to event planning. That hinted that the Eby investiture would make King Charles’s coronation look like an elementary school awards ceremony.

Maybe they were rounding up dozens of marching bands and rehearsing the caucus baton-twirling team. Perhaps they were working on a series of inauguration balls than run until dawn, and countless after-parties.

Sadly, there’s no indication that any of that is happening. They curtailed the session because they couldn’t be bothered, and switching premiers is as good an excuse as any to blow off the opposition yet again.

When the lieutenant-governor asked him on Oct. 26 if he was ready to take over as premier, he said yes. She should have pressed him: “When?”

The parliamentary calendar already provided for an adjournment next week. Now the subsequent week is adjourned as well. That leaves Eby two full weeks of prep time and shrinks the fall sitting to five weeks from six.

He’ll likely spend the time grilling cabinet ministers on whether they are going to run for another term. Anyone who isn’t will be told not to expect their name to be called at the swearing-in. Then he’ll put backbenchers’ names and portfolio titles on fridge magnets and start shuffling them around.

The big reveal will come at the Nov. 18 swearing-in, which is not even a sitting day. So the NDP is cancelling four question periods, which saves them two full hours of being harangued about health system fall downs and the pervasive concern about street crime. More critically, it eliminates about 35 hours of debate, at a time when a number of bills are hanging in the balance.

NDP house leader Mike Farnworth announced the cancellation this week, saying it’s because of the unique situation of having a change in terms of the premier. This is the fifth time in 40 years. It’s not that unique.

Farnworth said: “This requires a certain amount of not just preparation, but realignments that may well take place.”

He said it’s not just a cabinet shuffle. Time is also needed to plan “any changes that they may make in the public service to be able to advance their agenda.”

Anticipating some opposition hostility, Farnworth defended the NDP record on running the legislature by saying they’ve held fall sessions regularly, where the previous B.C. Liberal government considered them optional. He said the chamber will be split into three committees, if need be, to create more time. That has been a standard move in recent years towards the end of any session. The idea of just adding an extra week at the end of the month didn’t come up.

There’s one example of the potential impact of the lost week. It’s the mammoth Health Professions and Occupations Act, a 645-clause bill designed to fix the slipshod governance of more than a dozen professional colleges sector that has been years in the making.

It was just introduced on Oct. 19, which didn’t leave much time for scrutiny. Now there’s even less.

MLAs dove deep into the details and, so far, the constructive debate has prompted three amendments. In short, the legislative process is working exactly the way it is supposed to work.

But the point is that the legislature has scrutinized about 74 clauses in the bill. With the NDP taking an extra week off, that means there are just four days left to examine the remaining 571 clauses.

It won’t get the attention it needs. Neither will a handful of other important bills.

Whatever tone Eby decides to set at his swearing-in, dodging accountability for reasons no one outside the NDP can fathom is a disappointing way to start his term.