British Columbia's NDP government is offering resources to help Opposition parties draft their own private members' bills, paving the way for new laws to be passed without the governing party's support.
Attorney-General David Eby said the step anticipates the "very realistic possibility" that the two opposition parties could join forces and pass legislation in this minority government.
BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver has promised to introduce a private member's bill this week to allow ride-hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber into the provincial market, after the government announced this week it will delay any change for another year. It will be his third time introducing the bill and typically such bills are destined to die without consideration by the legislature.
But Mr. Eby said his government, which depends on the BC Greens for support on matters of confidence, accepts that the legislature's tradition of disregarding initiatives from the opposition benches has to change.
"In a minority Parliament, no one party controls what gets passed in the House – it requires a coalition of parties to pass any one particular bill," Mr. Eby said in an interview. "It's reasonable to anticipate that there will be amendments or private members' bills that might not be supported by the government, but might be supported by the other two parties in the legislature."
The drafting services are being offered as a pilot project for the current sitting of the legislature, to test whether the government's legislative team can manage the additional workload.
"It's an art to draft effective legislation," Mr. Eby said, "and we want to make sure the other parties have access to the professionals, if they are putting forward amendments that might actually pass."
The Liberals have indicated they are open to supporting Mr. Weaver's bill on ride-hailing and together, the two opposition parties would have enough votes in the legislature to pass a bill.
However, the government still gets to decide if it will call the Green's ride-hailing bill for debate and then a vote. That's why most private members' bills fail to pass – they expire at the end of the legislative session, without ever being put to a vote.
Government House Leader Mike Farnworth said on Tuesday he won't speculate on whether that will happen with the Green's bill on ride-hailing. The NDP has just launched a consultation process to first modernize the taxi industry, delaying any change to allow new ride-hailing services until the fall of 2018.
"There is no bill right now, so it's hypothetical," Mr. Farnworth said.
The NDP intends to conduct a mail-in referendum on electoral reform next year and has promised to advocate for a new system of proportional representation which could result in minority governments becoming the norm in British Columbia.
The Greens welcomed the offer of technical help with drafting, saying it is a positive step that will help demonstrate that an electoral system based on proportional representation – where seats in the legislature are tied to the share of votes each party garners – can work in B.C.
"This is great. This is a step toward having a legislature where all 87 members have the capacity to contribute to policy making," said Sonia Furstenau, the Green's spokeswoman for electoral reform. "This is what democracy should look like."
Under the trial, the Office of Legislative Counsel will provide political parties with confidential drafting services if a party wants to propose amendments to legislation that is before the House this session. The government's lawyers will "help to accurately express policy objectives in a form that can give them the intended legal effect," but will not provide in-depth policy support or legal advice.
Andrew Wilkinson, the Liberal critic for the Attorney-General, said the offer is too limited in scope to be useful.
"It's a trap," he said. "It's designed to make the Greens feel they are involved in the legislative process. BC Liberals recognize this as a false promise." He noted that there is no guarantee, even if a proposed amendment meets the province's drafting standards, that it will be given a chance to be passed into law. "That's disappointing."