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Editorial: Liberals escape NDP's grilling

The government's decision to bring an early end to the sitting of the legislature may be good news for Liberals looking to duck questions on the B.C.

The government's decision to bring an early end to the sitting of the legislature may be good news for Liberals looking to duck questions on the B.C. Rail affair, but it's bad news for British Columbians hoping for reforms in the province's police complaint process.

A bill covering those reforms was among three that died on the order paper this week after the legislature was adjourned, more than a week earlier than necessary. (The others were a bill to promote labour mobility between provinces and a bill to improve the dispute resolution process for strata corporations and owners.) The government claimed there was insufficient time for proper discussion of the bills before the election campaign formally begins April 14.

It's almost a plausible argument -- until you think back to last year. The 2008 spring session ended in a undemocratic charade that saw a rush of last-minute legislation, including seven bills rushed through the legislature on the last day of the session. (Those bills, passed without debate or questions, included the carbon tax legislation, by the way.)

So the Liberals aren't afraid to ram legislation through when it suits them. Likewise, when Attorney General Wally Oppal is under fire on a daily basis during question period over the sale of B.C. Rail, they aren't afraid to let legislation die to avoid ugly accusations in the lead-up to an election.

There was no fall sitting of the legislature -- with the exception of the five-day session in November to pass the economic stimulus package -- which Premier Gordon Campbell credited to a lack of legislation to present and debate. Only four months later, there are important pieces of legislation left to die on the order paper. It's another example of the often-cavalier attitude the Liberals exhibit toward democracy.

In any case, the legislature doesn't exist just to pass laws. It offers MLAs, both government and opposition, the chance to represent their constituents' interests -- to ask questions, raise concerns and hold cabinet ministers to account. It offers the government a chance to explain and defend its actions.

With an election a little over a month away, however, the prospect of daily grillings from the NDP clearly looked far less appealing than a chance to get an early start on election hustings. A barrage of funding announcements yesterday, ranging from school upgrades to housing programs and totalling millions of dollars, also shows the Liberals are wasting no time in spreading the good-news pre-election message -- at taxpayer expense, no less.

The legislature sat for just 52 days last year, one of the briefest sessions in a non-election year in decades. By ending this session early to avoid question-period embarrassment, the Liberals are on track to have another short year. It may suit their political purposes, but it betrays the people of B.C.