B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her decision to forgo a fall session of legislature is the target of a sharply worded open letter by Evan Solomon, host of The House on CBC Radio and Power & Politics on CBC News Network.
Solomon calls out the premier for not facing the electorate since she won a byelection in May 2011 and became premier. "And you do have an election scheduled for May 14, 2013," he points out.
"So, what's the message here?" Solomon wrote in a letter posted to the CBC website on Saturday. "That the government doesn't want to hear from opposition parties during a time of deep austerity and cuts? Or that the government does so little of consequence that there's no need to meet about its activites? Not a lot of good options."
This week, Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced a deep deficit due to declining natural gas revenues that will necessitate spending cuts.
"Your finance minister called it a time of deep austerity. Clearly, you're busy. But don't you think you might want to squeeze a little democracy in there too?" Solomon asked.
"I mean, you only sat for 48 days last year. That makes banker hours look good."
De Jong told reporters a legislative sitting will not resume this fall because the government would be "preoccupied" with budget deliberations and new cabinet ministers needed the time to get to know British Columbians.
Instead, MLAs will take a nine-month hiatus with the next sitting planned for February 2013.
Full text of Evan Solomon's letter:
Dear Premier Christy Clark,
On Monday, the House of Commons returns for a new sitting and I'm sure you, like all Canadians, are looking forward to the robust debate on the pressing issues facing the country.
With that in mind, I thought I'd write to you about your decision to cancel your provincial legislature's fall sitting.You were supposed to face opposition parties for seven weeks at Question Period and now — nothing.
I hear you won't be sitting again until February of next year, that'll make it almost nine months without a sitting!
Now, I realize that you're extremely busy these days.
Three of your top ministers recently announced they're leaving your government — that's not fun.
And then there's that massive provincial deficit.
You expect to cut spending by $241 million this year and $398 million next year to meet your objectives.
Your finance minister called it a time of deep austerity.
Clearly, you're busy.
But don't you think you might want to squeeze a little democracy in there too?
I mean, you only sat for 48 days last year. That makes banker hours look good.
I'm sure there are a lot of people who want to ask you about your planned wage freeze for public sector managers, including those at schools, universities and health organizations.
And what about those pipeline opponents and their planned mass sit-in at the B.C. legislature in October? Well, too bad the legislature won't be sitting then.
Your Finance Minister Mike de Jong explained the rationale:
"The government will be preoccupied over the next number of months in terms of the preparation of the budget blueprint, and continuing what began in the summer and reaching out to British Columbians. That will be the focus for the government."
The government is going to be preoccupied?
Is it really too much for citizens to want their leaders to focus on key issues and reaching out — whatever that means — while being held accountable in their own legistalure?
Am I quibbling here to think that's your job?
'Not all traditions are worth repeating'
I'm sure you've been watching the news recently. Unrest in countries like Libya and Egypt, places where people recently died to have their opposition voices heard and represented in their legistatures.
Oh, I forgot. You're in China right now on that trade mission, so you may not be getting all of the news... they don't give much space to opposition parties over there.
But that's not a 'Made in China' product we want to import, is it?
I get it.
This has happened before in B.C. under former premier Gordon Campbell. And other provinces also have long periods where their representative don't meet.
But not all traditions are worth repeating.
Your government hasn't faced the electorate since you won that byelection and became Premier and you do have an election scheduled for May 14, 2013.
So, what's the message here?
That the government doesn't want to hear from opposition parties during a time of deep austerity and cuts?
Or that the government does so little of consequence that there's no need to meet about its activites? Not a lot of good options.
So what is it?
I would love to sit down and have a long discussion with you about these issues and I bet a lot of other people would as well. I know just the place.
There's a beautiful old building in Victoria, B.C. and I hear there's a perfect room available too.
It's been vacant since Thursday, May 31, 2012. That's almost four months. And there are 85 empty chairs there just waiting to be filled.