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gary mason

The BC Liberal party tried its darndest today to ensure that an actual debate failed to break out at a leadership forum today. And guess what? It succeeded.

It was the fifth so-called leadership debate that was governed or run by the party and each one has been a colossal dud - at least if you were a member of the audience looking for help in discerning differences among the candidates. On the other hand, I suppose a knock-down, drag-out fight among the candidates at an extraordinary meeting of the party Saturday might have seemed a little odd.

Kevin Falcon created what news there was by suggesting his government would sit down with the judiciary and try and figure out a way for the system to handle cases in a much quicker fashion. He cited the trial of Robert Pickton, which took years and cost $100-million to prosecute. He could have mentioned the Basi-Virk case which dragged on for six years and cost almost $20-million before concluding with guilty pleas.

But can the province really make inroads in this area without co-operation from the federal government?

I talked to Mike de Jong about this. He also supports the idea of making reforms to wrestle this problem to the ground. He is a lawyer and was the province's attorney general until he declared his candidacy for the leadership.

Mr. de Jong does think there are things that can be done on the "procedural side" of the court system. He mentioned reducing the number of appearances that a defendant has to make before a trial begins as perhaps one thing that could be done. He also concedes that the country's new disclosure laws are the biggest contributor to the delays. But those are federal laws that can't be changed without the co-operation of Ottawa.

I'm not sure there is going to be much progress in this area any time soon. It's complicated. But it's certainly a winning topic with the public. Mr. de Jong makes the valid point that taxpayers fund the judicial system so they should have some say in how it's run.

"Things should not be done on the whim of the judiciary," Mr. de Jong said. "It's a partnership."

A partnership with the public, I presume he meant. And the government, I suppose, which represents the public. But it gets tricky when government begins imposing its wishes on the judiciary.

Anyway, it was the only thing at the debate that even hinted at news, in my view. The big event of this mini-convention happened much earlier when Liberal party members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a weighted vote for the leadership convention. That should make Liberals in the hinterlands happy.

And George Abbott and Christy Clark too.