Confederation building. — Telegram file photo
After a marathon overnight debate in the House of Assembly, the government's amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act passed a key vote this morning.
The legislation passed second reading in the House with a vote of 18 PC Party members voting in favour, and the 11 members of the Liberals and the NDP voting against.
Politicians are still talking in the House of Assembly, though.
After second reading, the House resolves itself into a committee of the whole House. During that stage of debate, each MHA can only speak for 10 minutes at a time. However, opposition MHAs are allowed to speak as many times as they want, meaning they can effectively draw out debate indefinitely.
Liberal and NDP politicians are indicating that they do not plan on stopping debate and any point in the foreseeable future.
The only option for the PC government is to move a “closure motion” which would effectively shut down debate.
It appears likely that the filibuster will pre-empt today's normal question period in the House, and could disrupt other legislative activities scheduled for this week, such as the House of Assembly management commission meeting on Wednesday evening.
The live proceedings of the House of Assembly can be viewed via streaming video here.
There were plenty of ragged faces and bleary eyes at Confederation Building this morning, after an all-night sitting in the province's legislature.
And as of this morning, there are no signs that things will be stopping any time soon.
Members of the House of Assembly have effectively been debating continuously for more than 18 hours.
“It's been extremely long,” Progressive Conservative MHA Sandy Collins said. “Hopefully, I'll get to go home soon. I've been here since 1:30 yesterday (afternoon.)”
Opposition politicians have vowed to fight the government's amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The legislation would move to make many large categories of government documents secret, including any deliberations by government employees, any documents used to inform cabinet decisions and any access-to-information requests which a government minister deems to be “frivolous or vexatious.”
During the course of debate, Liberal House Leader Yvonne Jones called the legislation “draconian.”
She said the law would make it extremely difficult for opposition politicians, the public or the media to scrutinize government decisions.
“Basically our issue is that we feel that this is going to shroud a lot of what government does in terms of documentation and the material they use to make decisions in secrecy,” Jones told The Telegram outside the House early this morning. “We will do whatever it takes to ensure that there is openness and transparency and people have the ability to access the information that they want.”
In formally announcing the legislative changes yesterday, Justice Minister Felix Collins argued that it strikes a balance between the public's right to know and “good stewardship” which requires the government to keep some information secret.
At this point, it's unclear how much longer debate can last.
The legislation is still in the second reading phase of debate; the opposition parties have a limited number of procedural manoeuvres they can use at that point in the process. At this point, it seems unlikely that the second reading phase will go much past lunch time today.
However, if the bill goes into the committee stage of debate, the opportunities for the opposition to talk and stall the bill are effectively unlimited. At that point, the entire House of Assembly resolves itself into a committee of the whole House; MHAs are allowed to speak as many times as they want, and they can propose specific amendments to the bill.
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said if the government decides to push straight through into the committee stage, MHAs could be facing another all-nighter.
“If we finish second reading some time today, I can't imagine it's going into tonight. But if government goes into committee of the whole, that's a different story,” Michael said. “If we in committee of the whole, yeah, I imagine it would.”
There is a procedural provision that would allow the government to shut down debate whenever they want, however, Sandy Collins said he hasn't heard any talk of that yet in the PC ranks.
“They may determine how long this goes,” he said. “We've been sitting patiently tonight, and I'm sure we're going to do it throughout the day.”
Michael was still in relatively good spirits as the sun rose on Confederation Building, saying that it doesn't seem like they've been debating for that long at all.
“This is the second time I've had an all-nighter like this, and the time flies,” she said. “All of a sudden you realize the sun is coming up.”
Michael said it's not so much about the specific arguments that are being made in the House of Assembly debate right now; the opposition parties are making their point by keeping things going as long as possible.
“The longer we're here the more attention it's going to get, and the more people will check in to see what it's about,” she said. “We want people to know we're willing to fight for this bill because it's so bad.”
Collins said from what he's hearing, things are getting pretty repetitive.
“The same members are getting up two, three, four times and basically repeating what they said the last time,” he said. “I guess that's essentially what a filibuster is, so they're doing a good job of it.”
Clearly, the hours were taking the toll on MHAs, though.
Around 7:30 a.m. New Democrat Dale Kirby introduced an amendment to the bill — a tactic that, if successful, would buy opposition politicians an extra three hours and 40 minutes of debate.
After taking a brief break to review the amendment, Deputy Speaker Wade Verge ruled that it was out of order — and he also noted that the amendment was identical to a Liberal amendment which was ruled out of order several hours earlier.
Kirby said he mixed up the papers on his desk, and accidentally read the wrong amendment.
More coverage later on The Telegram website, and in Wednesday’s print edition.