10 May 2009

David Chudnovsky, NDP MLA: Last Speech in BC Legislature, March 2009

Excerpts below (emphases mine); full original text here.

... Madam Speaker, I've spent four years here, so it seems to me I have the right and, I think, the responsibility to say some things about this Legislature and how it works — or doesn't work. If the people of the province actually spent some of their time watching us here, they'd be appalled. Every one of us knows that. It's not just that we heckle and yell at one another. It's much more fundamental than that.

They sent us here to govern, and we don't. Everybody who works here knows that the real governing takes place in the Premier's office with a few handpicked friends and advisers. That's not just this government. I'm not talking about just this government.

We here in this chamber are a kind of sideshow — an important sideshow but a sideshow nonetheless. We're part of the show that results in the choice of the next Premier in whose office the small group of advisers will again make the important decisions.

Who's winning question period? What's the tone in the Legislature? Who's made the best quips this week? Add those questions to the results of the latest polling and the opinions of a few pundits, and presto, we have what passes for politics in British Columbia. Rather than substance, this chamber is filled with sound and sometimes fury, but it signifies not very much.

The people sent us here to listen to one another, but we don't. They sent us here to negotiate with one another, but we don't. They sent us here, every one of us, to advise government, to take the debate seriously and to be taken seriously, but we don't. That's mostly because the debate hardly matters.

The people expect that when the opposition asks a simple, straightforward question, the government will give a straightforward answer. But that's not the way it works. Here again, I'm not talking about this government. I'm talking about the government of the day. Instead, we've created a system where the questions become the politics of question period, because there are never any answers. How pathetic.

Solutions Chudnovsky proposes:

But it's not enough to bemoan what is. What could we do to make it better? Here are a few modest suggestions. The Legislature should have a committee structure that matters. All-party committees should study and make recommendations on emergent and ongoing issues. Consensus decisions should be required, and recommendations should lead directly to draft legislation, and then you can vote how you want to vote.

Party discipline should be enforced only on matters of confidence and on proposed legislation that was committed to specifically as part of the platform of a party during the previous election.

Question period rules should require a specific answer to a specific question, and the Speaker should enforce these rules strictly. When the Minister of Education, for instance…. Here I don't mean to centre out the Minister of Education. It's just that education is my stuff. It's what I care about the most. When the Minister of Education answers a detailed question about cuts to education service to children — our children — with her irrelevant dirge that more money is being spent than ever, she does the province no favours.

She could say: "That's all the money we have" or "That's all the money we choose to spend, because there are other priorities" or "That's as much as we think is necessary." Any of those answers would generate a real debate about education, and that would be good for our province.

It will take a Premier and a government with real courage to make such a change, but until it happens, question period will continue to be a poor excuse for a reality TV show rather than an opportunity to improve our province.

Every MLA should be required to hold three or four town hall meetings in his or her constituency each year. These should be widely advertised and should be part of the budget allocation for constituency offices.

We should institute a form of mixed-member proportional representation so that every vote is meaningful and every significant point of view is represented.

Learn more.

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