What can one MLA do in the Legislature? As it turns out, quite a bit! As Elizabeth May has shown in Ottawa and Andrew Weaver in Victoria, MP’s and MLA’s have many levers at their disposal. May and Weaver do not have special powers, they understand the opportunities our democratic institutions offer them, and they use them.
During his opportunity to speak to the Throne Speech, Andrew Weaver moved the following amendment,
“And that the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, recognizes that climate change is one of the greatest issues facing our Province and that this government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is inconsistent with the current expansion of United States sourced thermal coal exports coming through British Columbia harbours, and therefore calls upon this government to follow the lead of our Pacific Coast Action Plan Partners, Washington, Oregon and California, and explore all means by which the government may halt the expansion of thermal coal exports in British Columbia.”
For some reason members of the Legislature have not used this opportunity in the recent past. In fact Hon. Bill Bennett noted,
“I would like to congratulate the member opposite for the innovation of his amendment. The fact that he has taken the time, made the effort to understand the rules of this place enough that he understands the opportunity to do what he’s done today, I think is admirable.”
Spencer Chandra Herbert, Environment Critic and the only BCNDP member to speak to the amendment, was critical, saying,
“I think that if we’re going to amend the throne speech, we need to amend it in such a way that we can support it, and amending this throne speech with this amendment will not make this throne speech supportable.”
Following the brief debate, featuring only Bennett, Chandra Herbert and Hon. Terry Lake, the Members were called back to the Legislature where the BCNDP and BC Liberals voted down Weaver’s amendment 73-1. Unfortunately 73 members of the Legislature voted in favour of increasing US thermal coal exports through Lower Mainland ports.
Why? Weaver’s request was quite reasonable; he simply asked the government to “explore all means by which the government may halt the expansion of thermal coal exports in British Columbia.”
How could all Members not support that request?
Maybe they don’t “recognize that climate change is one of the greatest issues facing our Province?” Or maybe they don’t agree that the “government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is inconsistent with the current expansion of United States sourced thermal coal exports coming through British Columbia harbours?”
The vote on Weaver’s amendment was separate from the vote on the Throne Speech. Therefore, Members could support his amendment and still vote against the Throne Speech. It wasn’t a vote of confidence, so it wasn’t going to bring the government down.
If the motion could have been broader, as has been suggested, there was plenty of opportunity to propose a sub-amendment and the potential for numerous other amendments to the Throne Speech. Instead the Opposition Members chose to use their time to criticize the government’s vision and offer no substantive action forward.
Weaver’s use of parliamentary procedure is what an active opposition can accomplish. This is what is gained when Members use the tools at their disposal to get the issues on the table, debated, voted on and in the public record.