Who was it? And why doesn’t this happen more often? ‘Some Honourable Members’ gets rowdy.
By Tom Barrett
Editor’s note: This is the ninth in our “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.
One of B.C.’s more peculiar democratic traditions goes by the name of legislation by exhaustion.
From time to time, as opposition MLAs have became too disputatious, governments held all-night sittings, forcing their opponents to talk around the clock. As the sittings ground on, even the most forceful filibuster would eventually run out of gas, allowing the government’s agenda to limp into law.
Those all-night sittings produced some memorable confrontations between sleep-deprived members, who were often braced by the odd snort from a bottle of bottom-drawer scotch.
Although no booze was involved, one of the lowest moments came in October 1983, during debate on then-premier Bill Bennett’s restraint package. The package, a series of bills that slashed the civil service, suppressed union rights, cut social services, repealed human rights legislation and centralized power in Victoria, set off a backlash led by the B.C. labour movement.
When the New Democratic Party Opposition roused itself to fight the bills, Bennett opted for legislation by exhaustion. At around 4 a.m. on Oct. 6, with backbench MLA John Parks in the Speaker’s chair, the NDP moved for the house to adjourn. Parks refused the motion and soon found himself in a convoluted procedural exchange with Opposition leader Dave Barrett:
Parks: Would you be kind enough to take your place?
Barrett: No, because I’m asking you: is that a ruling?
Parks: Did you rise on a point of order?
Barrett: Yes, I’m on a point of order. Is that a ruling?
Parks: Have you made the point of order?
Barrett: Yes, I’m asking if you’re ruling that you have the right to rule without a ruling.
Parks: Having made the point of order, I’d advise that you take your seat.
Barrett: No, I want a ruling.
And so on.
Eventually, Parks ordered Barrett to leave the chamber. Barrett refused. Parks called on the sergeant-at-arms’s staff, a group of older gentlemen whose main tasks involved filling water glasses and carrying messages.
On Parks’s orders, three of the sergeant’s men grabbed Barrett’s chair and tried to lift it. The chair toppled and Barrett fell to floor. The three then dragged Barrett, his arms crossed, out of the house and dumped him on the floor of the hallway outside.
It was a historic moment, the first time an MLA had been thrown bodily from the B.C. legislature.
But no footage exists of the incident. Cameras were banned from the legislative chamber in those days. Outside the chamber, at least one TV cameraman was in position to film Barrett being given the bum’s rush. But as Barrett was being dumped on the red carpet of the corridor, Speaker Walter Davidson stood by, threatening to yank the credentials of anyone filming the scene.
Nor is there an official written record of the great heave-ho. Hansard records Parks’s instruction to the sergeant’s men, followed by one parenthetical word: “[Interruption.]”