The end of the Fall Session is fast approaching. It has been one of the most acrimonious in recent history. The government is threatening to end the session early, by invoking closure. It is doing so because it can no longer face opposition scrutiny of its actions. Indeed, the legislature has become dysfunctional. This is not because of “opposition antics” as some would suggest, but because the government has thwarted legitimate debate and questioning. It has raised avoiding accountability to a fine art.
Questions about illegal election donations are not answered, and when complaints are made to the Chief Electoral Officer, investigations are kept secret, along with any findings or penalties that might be imposed. The government’s so-called reforms will shroud any offenses more than three years old in permanent secrecy, including several high-profile cases. Questions about potential conflicts of interest have been ignored or prevented outright. The answers that are given contradict documentary evidence, with no repercussions.
Vital election finance legislation has been drafted with no input from the political parties directly affected, except of course the Progressive Conservatives. The Chief Electoral Officer provided advice directly to the government but not to opposition MLAs, despite his mandate as an officer of the Legislature.
The Whistleblower Protection Act does more to protect the government from whistleblowers than the other way around. All 29 opposition amendments to Bill 4 were defeated, many with no one from the government even getting up to speak. Opposition parties have so far presented 106 amendments to government legislation, and the government has voted down all but 2.
From the outset of the fall session, the government has pushed legislation through the assembly, regularly sitting past midnight. Finally, the government has put a motion forward to impose closure on Bill 7, a critically important piece of legislation affecting the financing of provincial and municipal elections. If the government limits debate to 2 hours in committee and 2 hours at third reading, they ensure that many opposition amendments cannot even be made, and that debate is severely limited.
The government’s arrogance and disdain for the democratic traditions of the Legislative Assembly have predictably generated much frustration on the part of opposition MLAs. This government has set the tone, but civility can be restored if the government begins to show more respect for the Assembly and the public it represents.