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Archive for February, 2012

I alluded to my excitement in a previous post, but today was the big day when the Legislative Assembly officially recieived it’s Black Rod. The new Usher of the Black Rod knocked three times on the door of the House, and the Black Rod entered the chamber for the first time. This actually answered one of the questions I had had about the House doors (because I am the kind of person who has questions about the House doors), namely, what are the small wooden squares that are placed around shoulder height above the handles?

It turns out that these are knocking spots. The Usher of the Black Rod slams the door with considerable force, enough that a metal lock inside the chamber actually fell off the door, and if this force were applied to the chamber doors on a regular basis, I would expect their deterioration to be significant. Instead, when the wooden knocking spots are worn out, they can be swapped out for new knocking spots. You can check out the video of the knocking here.

I think the creation of the Black Rod of BC is a wonderful way to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. The existence of the black rod symbolizes the responsibility that the Crown has to the Legislature, and by extension, the people. It is with the Black Rod that the sovereign’s representative is announced for the Throne Speech, and Royal Assent.

The Black Rod of BC has a uniquely Cascadian flavour. The provincial stone of BC has been incorporated into the rod – a small jade carving by a relation of the Lieutenant Governor sits with three rings and a gold coin of the sovereign. The rings, engraved with the mottos of Canada and British Columbia, when placed with the carving and the coin, represent the bond that ties the sovereign of our province with our citizenry.  Now they are together on the Black Rod.

The assembly of the Black Rod was appropriate as well. Our history as a colony and our growth into a mature self-governing province with an improving relationship with the First Nations was mirrored by the affixing of rings in the British House of Lords, the Canadian Senate, and in our very own Legislative Assembly.

It is not to be only a traditional icon, but looks to the future. Within the rod is a time capsule of messages not to be seen again for sixty years. Hopefully, when these messages are again seen, we will be able to look back on what is to be, for us now, the next sixty years, with a sense that the promise symbolized by the Black Rod of British Columbia has been realized. 

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I read in the Times Colonist today that the editorial board is rather miffed that the Premier is going to be announcing her agenda for the session via a radio address on CKNW, rather than write a Speech from the Throne. I also had the misfortune to listen to the normally rather level-headed Stephen Quinn of the CBC speak with Justine Hunter and Vaughn Palmer about the choice of media outlets.

I have long been a believer that the media is a vital part of the democratic process, and fully deserves its place as one of the estates – a veritable fourth branch of government. I also believe that the way in which our political discourse is reported upon demonstrates a dangerous abrogation of the responsibilities of the media to inform and educate the citizenry about the goings on of the government.

This was a prime example of that abrogation.

Not unlike focusing on the process stories of horserace polls, the whining about the way in which the announcement was made served only to distract from the actual substantive news going on during the week.

“The Premier is talking to someone else,” whined the media, while any speculation of what her address might actually contain was confined to the realms of the imagination.

To me, this reeks of sour grapes. I find it particularly ironic that the same media that had mocked Bill Good’s indignation over being left out of the “we’re not having an election” announcement have risen in such vociferous opposition to the Premier again choosing to speak through the media.

There are a number of reasons why the choice of a mass media outlet makes more sense than either holding a press conference in Victoria, or writing a Speech from the Throne. The reasons behind not having a Throne Speech are more technical, and I will cover them first.

Throne Speeches are only given at the beginning of a parliamentary session, and while the legislature has indeed been on break for some time, the parliamentary session did not end in November, but rather continued, dormant, ready to bloom again in spring. As such, the situation that would necessitate a Throne Speech did not exist. It could have been created, but this would cause other problems.

The fall session of the legislature went through this already. Normally, the fall session is a clean-up for leftover business from the spring session. However, as there was a new premier who was only in the House for the last few days of the Spring Session, it was deemed advantageous to lay out a fresh agenda for the new Clark Ministry when the legislature convened in the fall, clearing the decks, refreshing the committees, and freshening the air. To this end, the session that was still going when the Legislature reconvened last fall (held over from last spring) was only in session for a few hours last October before it was prorogued (rather than adjourned). In doing this, the order paper was reset, and the business of the government started anew.

Boy, did they get down to business. In the last legislative session, a whopping fourteen pieces of legislation were passed. Reform of family law, a new Teachers Act, an act to protect against metal theft, and the always popular Miscellaneous Statutes Amendments Act were all voted on and given Royal Assent last year.

However, not everything that was started was finished. There are currently six government bills (seven counting the Act to Ensure the Supremacy of Parliament, but it’s special and should be excluded) on the order paper, and they are important to the government’s agenda. Some of them have gone through second reading, others have merely been introduced. One way or the other, it would be frankly stupid to prorogue the Legislature and clear the decks.

The government would have to reintroduce these bills, and go through the rigmarole of having the Legislature redo work it has already done. There would have to be another State Opening of Parliament, and a new Throne Speech, one which would basically state almost exactly the same things that it had the previous October.

(For those of you disappointed that there is not going to be a State Opening of Parliament, fear not – a special ceremonial construction of British Columbia’s new Black Rod should tide you over.)

The second reason why I feel that all the fuss about the medium is so unfounded is more qualitative. Our leaders should speak to us, and they should do so in a way that best articulates what they are trying to say, the medium being the message and all that.

The style of Premier Campbell favoured television. He would buy up time, and speak unfiltered to the populace. He did not take questions. The other alternative is the press conference. The problem with the press conference is the ‘press’ part of it. Anything said in that conference is run through the great stained coffee filter that is our mediasphere, and what comes out may be what was intended, or it may not.

I think that the effort to speak directly to the electorate is one that should be lauded. While it can certainly be said that former talk-radio host Christy Clark may be more comfortable speaking in a talk-radio setting, there are real and valuable advantages to this format over the TV address.

The first of these advantages is the format – the Premier will be taking questions from real people. The television address does not have such an advantage. The second is reach. CKNW is the highest rated radio station in the largest population centre in the province. If the purpose it to talk to the people about what her agenda is, CKNW is objectively the best choice.

The facts are clear. Having a Throne Speech would be actively harmful to the operation of the government and the legislature, a press conference would be ineffective at getting the message out, and a television address does not allow for public interaction and scrutiny. The course of action charted by the Premier’s Office is not only acceptable, it is the best choice.

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