Now that summer has arrived and the legislative session has ended, I want to take this opportunity to share my reflections on the session with you.
Members of the Legislative Assembly have three roles: 1) to represent the interests of our constituents in the Legislature; 2) to create and amend laws; 3) to provide surveillance over how money is spent and raised. As Leader of the Third Party, I also have a responsibility to hold the government to account and propose solutions to the challenges facing our province.
The draining of power away from the Legislative Assembly and its members to the Executive Branch of government – the Premier, cabinet and their staff – has clearly compromised the ability of MLAs to do the job for which they are elected and paid. In fact, during a debate, one government member took me to task for introducing bills and for attempting to amend government bills! “You can’t just make amendments,” he said. “Everything would have to go back to the drafters before that could happen.”
Sadly, the government members have little freedom to do their jobs as members of the Legislative Assembly. They automatically vote in the direction predetermined by the Premier’s office. In debates, they must work from prepared texts given to them to reflect the government’s position. And on committees, they rarely ask questions. Prior to voting on department budgets, The Standing Committee on Estimates and Fiscal Policy spends 80 hours asking Ministers detailed questions about their budgets. Government members ask no questions, sitting at their seats for 80 hours to fulfill the role of automatically voting yay for each of the departmental budgets. While I don’t sit on this committee, as an MLA I have the right to participate and felt it was essential that I understand each of the Department’s budgets. I asked many questions to make their plans as transparent as possible.
I sit on the Economic Policy Committee, which examines many of the government bills following Second Reading. My motion for the committee to reserve the right to call witnesses from the public to provide input on bills was ruled out of order. I proposed amendments to improve Bills, which were automatically defeated by the government members of the committee.
I also sit on the Public Accounts and Crown Corporations Committee which meets to receive the Auditor General’s reports and examine the accounts of a few Crown Corporations. This committee will begin work in September to look at last year’s spending by departments and Crown Corporations.
A priority for me in the Legislature is to work to shift power back from the Executive Council to the Legislative Assembly and its members so that our legislative branch of government can resume its roles and responsibilities in a meaningful way. A first step will be to increase the effectiveness of the committees of which I am a member. While it may seem mundane, this is essential to improve politics and provide better government in our province.
As a party leader, I am provided with a budget to establish a Leader’s Office and employ staff, and, as is the case with all MLAs, I have a constituency budget to operate and staff my constituency office at 133 King Street. This support makes it possible for me to fulfill my dual role as the MLA for Fredericton South and as the Leader of the third party in the Legislative Assembly.
The tremendous support I received from my staff in the Legislative Assembly and the constituency office and from volunteers and interns helped me to fully engage in all aspects of the session. To all of them, a hearty thank you!
Best wishes for a great summer.