Fletcher: Chaos reigns in British Columbia in wake of HST

The old saying goes that if you like sausages and laws, you shouldn’t watch either one being made.

The old saying goes that if you like sausages and laws, you shouldn’t watch either one being made.

The legislature’s sausage factory worked overtime to crank out a pile of legislative change before the government choked off debate and shut it down for the summer. This is after a dozen complicated bills were stuffed into the hopper in the final month.

For the first time in B.C. history, debate was carried on in three separate chambers to try to get through it all. It created a chaotic scene, with politicians and reporters dashing around trying to create the impression they were on top of it all.

The NDP opposition screamed bloody murder about this travesty, especially as the clock ran down last week and bills were assigned a token 30 or 45 minutes to meet the B.C. Liberal government’s arbitrary deadline.

Alas, what little time was allowed for the opposition to question legislation was largely frittered away with the usual partisan sniping that substitutes for alternative ideas.

The good news is that this mad rush wasn’t a calculated scheme to ram through unpopular, unfair measures. Quite the contrary. The B.C. Liberal government’s back is to the wall, trying to do what the public and circumstances demand and save its own skin.

Here’s a partial list of the marching orders.

•  Get rid of the harmonized sales tax and bring back a computerized version of the old, inefficient provincial sales tax.

• Unclog the court system, which has become so constipated that a Stanley Cup riot fool can’t even plead guilty in a reasonable time.

• And, find a way to make our growing population of urban anarchists and assorted other deadbeats pay to ride transit.

The HST exercise continues to exact its cost. The unprecedented job of creating a modern system for the archaic sales tax was the main cause of the legislative logjam, tying up government lawyers and delaying drafting of other bills. Small businesses that paid $3,000 to convert to HST get to pay another $3,000 to go back, and we had all better hope the new computer software works.

Speaking of computers, one of the laws passed amid the shouting is one that establishes an online system for disputing traffic tickets. Police will print out tickets from their cars instead of hand-writing them, and drivers will have an alternative way to argue about whether they really ran that red light.

Fighting a ticket in court now takes seven to 18 months, tying up judges, court registry staff and police. An administrative system won’t keep them all out of court, but the government hopes to reduce the average resolution time to 90 days and save $8 million a year or more.

A similar administrative system is being established for small civil claims and strata property disputes.

Some legislation is to fix earlier screw-ups. A judge tossed out B.C.’s most heavy-handed administrative penalties for failing a roadside blood alcohol test, so the government brought in a new version that allows for another administrative appeal.

The mistake of making transit operate on a poorly policed “honour system” goes back to Social Credit days. There is finally a system to enforce collection of fines, on those rare occasions when someone is ticketed for taking a free ride.

Even with the last-minute rush, four bills couldn’t be rammed through. Since the legislature will almost certainly have to be recalled to impose a contract on teachers this fall, the government would do well to provide a couple of weeks for orderly debate at that time.