Monday, July 25, 2011

Why not have the Legislature meet outside of Victoria?

Given all of our communications technology, there is no reason all the MLAs need to come to Victoria to conduct the business of the Legislature.    The time has come for the BC Legislature to meet outside of the Victoria on a regular basis.

Most of the work of the Legislature in BC tends to be done in the spring session, this means the fall session is normally shorter (or not held at all).   If the Legislature were to commit to holding a proper fall session each year and plan the dates ahead of time, it would be possible to have the MLAs meet elsewhere in the province.   Having a fall session is something the public wants - most people are truly surprised to hear for how few days the MLAs in BC meet each year.

There are no shortage of locations in BC where the Legislature could meet.   They would not be 19th century Francis Rattenbury architecture, but there are many locations would meet the needs of the Legislature.   A simple community centre gym would be enough to allow 85 MLAs to sit.

BC did hold one ceremonial session of the Legislature outside of Victoria, this was in New Westminster in 1967 (I think, but I could be off by a year or two).

The benefit of holding Legislature elsewhere is that the people would have a chance to see the MLAs in action, but at the same time the MLA would the sense of what life was like in part of the province they do not live in.   I am personally of the opinion one of the reasons rural BC suffers so much is that very few MLAs spend any extended periods there.

What towns would I have the Legislature meet in?   I would start with the small rural towns.   Places like Fort St James, Clearwater or Port Hardy.   These small resource based towns are the economic, historical and spiritual backbones of BC and for the last generation have been treated as after thoughts by all the governments since Bill Bennett.

Holding the Legislature in small resource towns would also show MLAs the simply reality that limited services and weather make on life in the towns that provide the province with the revenues needed to allow us to have a government that is not on the verge of bankruptcy.   One early winter snow storm stranding them all in town for a weekend would be good for all of them.

For the small towns, having 300 to 400 extra people come and be there for four to six weeks would make a huge difference to the community economic well being.   It also means the people in these towns would have a chance to meet MLAs from all over and make the idea of government not seem as distant and foreign as it often seems in rural BC.

Once again, this is one of my "out of the box" and I assume the MLAs, political staff and senior civil servants would not only not consider the idea, they would actively ignore the suggestion of it.


Ian said...

While an interesting idea (and one I'm not necessarily opposed to), I think there are a few negatives to this idea.

The first being cost. Unless the government will just demand space in the town of its choosing (something locals probably won't appreciate), the government would have to rent the facilities, plus hotels and amenities. This would be redundant with the stipends that MLAs are already given to establish a residence in Victoria.

Next, as MLAs have an established residence in Victoria, and offices and staff there, uprooting all of these people (and their families?) would be a very difficult sell. In some ways this could damage the local Victoria economy more than it improves a small towns.

I think there's still value in meeting face-to-face (especially in the discussions outside and around the legislature), so MLAs should generally all meet in the same location, but it may be possible to expand the ability to teleconference in once-in-a-while.

jpols said...

Years ago I floated this to the Premier in person and was flatly told it would be too expensive and too many support staff to have to bring along. Of course, cost doesn't have to be the only consideration. The Canucks host their training camps around the province; the legislature could pick one place a year for a few days, in like fashion? A traveling session would educate the public (and the MLAs!) about BC's political, social and economic diversity, I imagine...