Wednesday, October 27, 2010

We waste our MLAs in this province

I am not an American and dislike much of their politics but there is some aspects of their government that they do better than we do in Canada.    Their strong division between the executive and legislative branches of government is something we would learn from.

We elected 85 MLAs in BC but our current rules of operation in the legislature mean that most of them have no function or role of any sort in governing.   The Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the cabinet have some real roles in governing but the rest of the MLAs are left out of real input in the creation of the laws of BC.  The rules we operate the legislature are just that, rules, they can be changed and should be changed

First off, all MLAs should get the same funding for staff and research and it is their business if they wish to consolidate this with other MLAs.   MLAs should have permanent offices, once you get it you keep it as long as you like.  MLAs have to have a sense of personal ownership of the resources of the legislature and not feel like another party vote.  All MLAs should earn the same amount, there is no reason for a salary bonus for being in cabinet or some other role.  

Next, committee assignments need to be divided up equally among MLAs that are not among the executive.   It is important that the members of the excutive not take part in the committees because the committees should naturally be the legislative arm of government holding the executive to account.  Ideally you would allow MLAs to choose their assignments based on their seniority in the legislature with ones that have the same tenure randomly being assigned when they get to choose.  

Typically this will mean the opposition party will have a majority on the committees.  This gives the government an incentive to have a smaller cabinet so that they can have more of their party members on committees.   With strong and active committees of the legislature the government will be held to account in a way that does not typically happen in Canada.   This sort of strong scrutiny will improve the executive arm of government as it will have to stay on its toes and answer questions.  It will also create some real business of governing for the majority of the MLAs.

Something like this fundamental change to how the government ministries are organized should have been open for the legislature to investigate and consider what makes sense.  Making fundamental changes to government should be not be primarily in the hands of one person and his advisors.

A bill is a bill is a bill.   They should all be given treatment that is reasonably consistent and each non executive member of the legislature should be able to propose bills.  The agenda of the executive can not be the primary legislative agenda as it is now.

Ahhh, I can hear you people out there asking "but Bernard, this will lead to gridlock and chaos if the Premier and the legislature are at odds over something".   The argument only makes sense if you do not believe that people can cooperate and compromise, frankly the MLAs are among the brightest and best in society and are all capable of acting as responsible adults.   Keep in mind that many MLAs have served on local government councils and have spent significant time working in an environment that allows for a real role in crafting legislation and forces people to cooperate and compromise.   It can be done.

We have 58 MLAs in BC who are skilled and intelligent, people like Ralph Sultan, Norm Macdonald or Vicki Huntingdon.   But all they are allowed to do at the moment is to either find ways to make the executive look bad or be a vote for the agenda of the executive.  They are given no effective role as legislators.  If you are not in the cabinet or leader of the opposition, you have less real power than the mayor of a small town like Lytton.    Think about this, we have 58 dedicated people wanting to serve the people of BC but effectively all they do is it around having to find ways to make any real difference.
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