Record sitting?

Dave Bartlett
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Is the House of Assembly open long enough?

Telegram file photo

Some have called this past session of the House of Assembly a marathon sitting for the current provincial government.
On Thursday of last week, the House adjourned for the summer after 43 sitting days.
That number ties with the very first spring session of the Danny Williams administration as the longest single sitting of the last decade.
An analysis of the numbers from the year 2000 onward - and based on the number of days as posted on the House's website - shows on average the House has sat for 33 days in the spring and 12 days in the fall over that period.
The average number of days the House sat in a calendar year between 2000 and 2009 works out to be 43 days.
But if you go back to the first two years of the online archive, 1991 and 1992, you find the House used to sit for considerably longer.
See BOTTOM, page A2
In 1991, the spring session last for 60 days and the fall session was 29 for a total of 89 sitting days. The following year the spring session was 54 days and the fall sitting 36 for a total of 90 days - more than double the average sitting over the last decade.
At that time the House also sat on Fridays, which it no longer does.
A federal government website which tracks sitting days of legislatures allows a comparison of all the province's and territories in Canada.
Over the last three full calendar years, Newfoundland and Labrador is in the bottom half, coming second last in 2007.
In that year, New Brunswick led the country with 114 sitting days, with Ontario coming second at 98. Only Prince Edward Island was behind this province's 34 days, with a mere 27 sitting days.
In 2008, the House of Assembly sat for 52 days putting it in the middle of the pack.
In 2009, this province's government sat for 45 days, more than only P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Nunavut.
When the House closed Thursday, Government House leader Joan Burke was asked why this session went as long as it did.
"I think there's a couple of reasons and one certainly is the legislation we brought in," she told reporters. "We may sometimes bring in more legislation, but it doesn't necessarily mean more debate."
Burke noted this past session saw significant debate on at least three bills - the Children and Youth Care and Protection Act, the Health and Protection of Animals Act and the Human Rights Act, which replaced the existing Human Rights Code.
She also said many MHAs wanted to speak on the budget as well as those new bills, which stretched out some debates.
Opposition House leader Kelvin Parsons noted it was a long session, but when asked by The Telegram if the House sits long enough, his answer was "absolutely not."
He said the current calendar of the House states it is to open the second week of March for the spring session and the fall session shall begin after Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
Those start dates have been routinely ignored.
But Parsons wants even earlier openings then those on the books.
"I see no reason why our House of Assembly can't be open in February month," he told The Telegram. "That's what the (House of Commons in Ottawa does). You get more work done, you have more time to do it. We'd have time for legislative committees for example."
But Parsons said the government has rejected the idea of committees who could "tear apart" legislation properly.
NDP?Leader Lorraine Michael also picked up on Burke's comments that more MHAs wanted to speak to the budget and bills this session.
She suggested many government MHAs used their time to be cheerleaders of government instead of actually speaking to the bill being debated.
Michael said in her opinion this session, as long as it was, didn't accomplish any more than usual.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Government House, House of Commons

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick Ontario Nova Scotia Nunavut Ottawa

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