In a move that some opposition MLAs called a “gag order,” the Higgs government is seeking to restrict the time for debate so that it can pass its municipal reform bill by Christmas.
Bill Hogan, chair of the PC caucus, served notice in the legislature today that the government will move to impose a 56-hour time limit on debate and committee study of eight bills including the one on municipal reform.
The legislature is expected to debate his motion next week.
Local Green MLA Megan Mitton accused the government of rushing the municipal reform bill through.
“This is what’s so frustrating about our system in terms of majority governments being able to do whatever they want and to not have to listen to amendments, to not have to properly debate, to not allow the time that this type of municipal reform deserves,” Mitton told the legislature.
“It’s really unfortunate to have debate shut down in this way,” she said.
Mitton, who represents the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar, countered with a proposal to send the bill to the legislature’s law amendments committee.
That would allow members of the public, municipal representatives, academic experts and others to appear before the committee to comment on the bill and suggest changes.
Greens & Liberals disagree
“It seems to me that the only way to move forward on this is to hear from people,” said Green leader David Coon who spoke in favour of Mitton’s proposal.
“This is all about trying to come up with appropriate amendments to improve the bill,” Coon added.
“I don’t know why the minister would be reluctant to see the bill improved.”
It soon became clear, however, that the Liberals would not support sending the municipal reform bill to the law amendments committee.
Keith Chiasson, the member for Tracadie-Sheila, said Liberals want to debate the bill in the legislature and not delay that debate for six months by sending it to committee.
“We’re legislators, we should be debating,” he said, “and we’ve got the other side [the Conservatives] who don’t want to debate at all.”
Chiasson said it appears the Liberals are alone in wanting to do the work of legislators.
“We’re the only ones that are actually ready to get up and debate, especially on this debate, the most important one in the last 50 years.”
Earlier during her remarks on Bill 82, Mitton expressed support for giving democratic representation to residents of local service districts in her riding where quarry blasting cracks house foundations, damages wells and creates dust and noise.
But she criticized the government’s plan to create 12 huge rural districts across the province where 61,000 residents would be denied the democratic representation she said is needed to protect themselves from the environmental effects of resource extraction and industrial development.
Mitton said the reforms are vague about the powers of the Regional Service Commissions and people are worried about the effect on their tax rates.
“There’s concern in my hometown of Sackville, there’s concern because people in the municipality were under the impression that there wouldn’t be forced amalgamation,” Mitton said.
“This was not what they thought was going to happen,” she added.
She said that Sackville remains opposed to amalgamation and that she hoped the government would be willing to listen and make changes.
“Maybe the wrong boundaries were drawn, maybe the wrong decision was made,” she said.
This forced amalgamation, and the Conservative government’s continued attack on our local hospital, is exactly why we need to replace our ‘first past the post’ electoral system with some form of proportional representation system, in which the percentage of the overall votes that a party wins is closely reflected in the number of seats it obtains in the legislature. This would prevent a situation like the one in which we currently find ourselves, where in the 2020 provincial election the Conservative Party formed a majority government with 55.1% of the seats in the legislature after winning only 39.3 % of the popular vote. The ‘first past the post’ electoral system only works fairly when there are just two political parties fielding candidates in an election.
Proportional representation electoral systems result in more minority governments in which the parties have to work together to pass legislation and govern the province or the country. This has been a topic of discussion for roughly 100 years now but the two major political parties throughout the years, the Conservatives and the Liberals, although making promises to adopt a proportional representation electoral system, have instead fought against this change precisely because of the impact a fair voting system would have on their ability to gain majority governments.
The non-profit organization Fair Vote Canada (https://www.fairvote.ca) provides a wealth of information on the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of electoral systems. It is well past time for voters in both our provincial and federal elections to do some research, check out the available information, and then support groups like Fair Vote Canada that are pushing for electoral reform.