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Baldrey: A closer look at the tension rising in the B.C. legislature

"Screaming" may be an understatement of how some MLAs recently voiced their frustration. Good thing there's no chamber this week, columnist Keith Baldrey says.
b.c. leg
The B.C. legislature in Victoria.

The tension and animosity between three B.C. political parties were on full display in the legislature last week but you had to be there in person to appreciate the depth of feelings of those involved.

That is because the televised Hansard channel does not capture all the drama and theatre that takes place off-camera.

The explosive few minutes occurred near the end of last Thursday’s, April 11, Question Period, when B.C. Conservative MLA Bruce Banman, formerly of the B.C. United caucus, stood up and asked two lengthy and rambling questions about a laundry list of issues and controversies engulfing the NDP government.

He canvassed everything from decriminalization to government grant programs to preventing protests outside schools. But he offered more of a speech before he asked any questions and that enraged his former colleagues in the B.C. United caucus.

The furious B.C. United MLAs began screaming — and “screaming” is a bit of an understatement — at Speaker Raj Chouhan and the table officers to cut Banman off or expel him from the chamber. His long-winded bluster was eating into time allocated for them to ask questions at the end of the 30-minute QP.

An exasperated Chouhan reprimanded Banman six times (which may be some kind of record) and warned him if he tried a stunt like that in the future he would be banished from the chamber.

The molten fury aimed at their former colleague was a telling reminder that two political parties are jockeying for center-right voters as the fall election draws nearer, and any electoral success for one of them will come at the expense of the other.

When Banman finally asked his first question, a curious thing happened and, again, it was only observable by being in the chamber.

Banman’s question was directed at Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth, but Premier David Eby motioned for him to stay seated while he took on Banman. “Farny, I want this,” Eby quietly told him.

Eby used the opportunity to remind everyone that when Banman was mayor of Abbotsford city staff dumped chicken manure on a homeless camp and he criticized the B.C. Conservatives for supporting anti-SOGI protests at schools.

It may seem odd that a premier would respond to questions from a member (who is not even the leader) of the “fourth” party in the legislature, but Eby has done this during several times during question periods.

Earlier in this Question Period, B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon led things off by asking Eby some questions about drug use in hospitals, but Eby chose to ignore him while Health Minister Adrian Dix gave the government’s response.

At a media availability a short time later, Falcon began by expressing disappointment that Eby ignored his questions. When I asked Falcon whether that was because Eby considered the B.C. Conservatives his main political opponent and not his party, he dismissed the notion.

But when Eby left the chamber, Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer — who was the only other press gallery member in the chamber, along with me — casually asked him why he responded to Banman he replied: “They are polling second.”

The legislature sitting is taking this week off, which is just as well. Things are getting a little squirrely in the chamber with the fall election drawing ever nearer.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.