A New Government
Since my last column, there was an election. Somewhat to the surprise of many, the Liberals were not successful in forming a government, and the NDP, with the support of the Green Party, have formed a government. Legislation from the new government commenced with the sitting of the 41st Parliament of British Columbia on September 11, 2017.
This column is being written in mid-November, when not all of the legislation of the government has been introduced, and no legislation has been brought forward for debate on the issue of any potential product change concerning ICBC, a matter of some interest to members of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC. A number of committees have been established to look into the significant deficit that ICBC has developed, but none have reported-out as yet. The Executive of TLABC will be keeping all members notified of new developments as they occur.
There have been a number of bills that have been introduced which will be of interest to members of the TLABC.
The New Legislation Being Introduced
The Election Amendment Act, 2017 (Bill 3) is the first overhaul of the Election Act in over 20 years, and makes major changes to how elections are funded in British Columbia. Union and corporate donations will no longer be allowed, and donations by individuals are limited to $1,200 per year. Loans to political parties are restricted, and fundraising events are also significantly restricted. As a transition, the government will pay political parties a certain amount per vote as a subsidy for the next several years. These changes are dramatic and draconian, but based on the debate during and after the most recent provincial election, it became apparent that BC was the “Wild West” in terms of electoral financing, and that no other province had such massive political donations, particularly from corporate donors.
If you are advising the local constituency association of a political party, or potential candidates for a political party, you will need to read this new legislation very carefully, as breach of the fundraising rules can potentially result in the loss of a legislative member’s seat.
The government has also introduced the Local Elections Campaign Financing Amendment Act, 2017 (Bill 15) which makes very similar changes to campaign financing in local municipal elections. Only donations by individuals directly to campaigns are allowed. No corporate, union or indirect donations are allowed, and no long-term loans save and except by financial institutions, mirroring the new rules for provincial election campaign financing.
The Constitution Amendment Act, 2017 (Bill 5) changes the fixed date for elections to the fourth Saturday in October, four years after the last election. This change has been proposed for some years, because the annual accounts of the government are not approved until at least late summer each year. With Spring elections, the governing party could be potentially “wrong” about representations made to the electorate in the Spring, but by the late summer the state of the government accounts and budget will be accurately stated. Of course, the current government is a minority government, and under our parliamentary system, an election could be held at any time that the government loses the confidence of the legislature.
Further electoral and constitutional changes are considered in the context of the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act (Bill 6) which requires the government to hold a referendum on electing the legislature by some form of proportional representation by November 30, 2018. The specific wording of the legislation as to what will be binding on the government is as follows:
9 (1) The result of the referendum is binding on the government only if more than 50% of the validly cast ballots
(a) vote the same way on a question stated, if the question has the option of 2 answers, or
(b) are in favour of the same voting system, if a question has the option of more than 2 answers.
The form of the question has not been determined, but it is anticipated that there will be discussions around the province over the next year to assist the government in determining what the appropriate questions will be.
The Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017 (Bill 8) expands the definition of those public servants or politicians who cannot lobby the government for 2 years after leaving their position. The definition of such persons now includes all cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries, any individual who was employed in the member’s office, as well as all of the other people previously restricted from lobbying. The registrar may, on application, allow a person to lobby who is otherwise disallowed from lobbying.
The Provincial Court Amendment Act, 2017 extends the terms of sitting judicial justices to 12 years from the current 10 years. Almost 10 years ago, the government created and appointed a number of these judicial justices who have been assisting in Small Claims Court on cases involving smaller financial amounts. It appears that this program has been a success, and the government wishes to extend the terms while the program is reviewed further, particularly in the context of other changes that have recently occurred with the handling of smaller financial claims in Small Claims Court.
The Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2017 makes a number of changes to the powers of impounding vehicles by peace officers if the driver of a vehicle is subject to a driving prohibition, and also creates “E-tickets” for serving individuals. If you deal with criminal charges arising out of breaches under the Motor Vehicle Act or the Offence Act, you will want to look closely and carefully at the details of this new bill.
The Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017 (Bill 16) makes a number of changes to ensure that manufactured homes and float homes are covered by the tenancy legislation, and restricts the ability of landlords to evict tenants on the end of a written lease. Various administrative penalties are authorized, and generally there is an attempt to tighten-up the rules concerning landlord and tenant law in British Columbia.
There will likely be further legislation introduced in this Fall session of the legislature, and there will be a Spring session, in which even more legislation will be introduced. This government was elected on a number of promises, and is clearly of the view that they have a mandate (subject to their minority status) to deliver a number of changes to the laws of BC.
Article by Ian Aikenhead, Q.C.
Used with permission of the Trial Lawyers of British Columbia, as previously published in the Verdict.