About time for Liberals

Good to hear on Tuesday that the Liberal government is preparing to reconvene the legislature next month - it's about time.

British Columbians could be forgiven for thinking that Victoria has slid into the ocean or that their government is now in the hands of Premier Christy Clark's staff in Vancouver.

When Liberal, NDP and Green MLAs file in to the house in the second week of February, more than six months will have passed without the level of balance and transparency that parliamentary democracy is designed to provide.

A brief 17-day summer session was held in July in order to pass the provincial budget, after which the Clark cabinet pondered whether to recall the house in the fall.

When September rolled around, Clark announced that they would forgo what she termed an "optional" fall sitting in order to focus on priorities, including kick-starting a liquefied natural gas industry, balancing the budget, considering liquor-law reforms and fine-tuning new groundwater legislation.

Clark said she did not intend to close herself off in Victoria and impose laws without consultation.

"I'm not going to be that kind of premier," she declared, putting the best possible face on what amounts to an end-run around accountability.

The upshot was that the government sat for only 36 days last year, the fewest since 2001 when the Gordon Campbell Liberals first held office.

As former NDP house leader John Horgan noted: "We have sat for fewer days in calendar year 2013 than rained in the flood that had Noah in the ark. That seems to me to be an abdication of responsibility."

Tradition dictates that there are two sittings provincially, one in spring for passage of the budget and a second in fall to debate legislation. Legislation isn't debated for the purposes of partisan advantage, bullish confrontation or rhetorical jousting. Debate serves the public interest in balanced government by offering full representation of the electorate, encompassing the views of politicians on both sides of the house and ensuring that laws are not passed without comprehensive scrutiny.

What's particularly troublesome is that this snubbing of fundamental practice cropped up so early in the Clark government's mandate, leading people to wonder whether it represents a fresh take on leadership - as the premier suggests - or the arrogance that comes with unchecked power.

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