Muskrat Falls is a done deal. Is anyone surprised? The government reiterated its support for the controversial hydroelectric project Wednesday through an unprecedented private member’s bill put forth by the premier herself, thereby forcing a vote after a mere two hours of debate.
Set aside, for now, other hurdles facing the project — Nova Scotia has not yet sanctioned its part of the deal, and there are a couple of court challenges to be resolved.
Ignore, for now, the numerous concerns raised by critics of the project — cost overruns, lack of regulator oversight and high power rates.
Don’t even consider, for the moment, that the whole purpose of private member’s bills is to allow ordinary back-benchers to take a shot at legislation. Canadian parliamentary rules clearly state private member’s bills refer to “public bills dealing with a matter of public policy introduced by members who are not ministers.”
Instead, let’s compare the way Wednesday’s bill was treated by the Speaker of the House, Ross Wiseman, with the treatment of another bill tabled two years ago by the NDP.
When his time came to speak Wednesday, Liberal Opposition Leader Dwight Ball proposed an amendment. To the end of the bill that resolved to support Muskrat Falls, he wanted to add, “subject to a clear endorsement of the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities after a complete and unrestricted review, unlimited by arbitrary constraints of time and scope.”
The Speaker called a short recess, and came back with an answer: “The Chair has ruled that it is not in order.”
No explanation was given.
Ball then requested another amendment, with slightly different wording.
Before the Speaker could call another recess, Liberal House Leader Yvonne Jones requested a point of order.
She said members should be allowed to debate the amendment before any decision is made. Wiseman said he must rule first. And he did. The amendment was rejected.
But Jones figured out a way to make a point. She proposed wording that simply acknowledged that a full review by the regulator was not obtained. The Speaker allowed it.
Rewind to May 2010.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael proposed a private member’s bill that urged the government to take more action to curb VLT addiction.
Where Michael’s bill called for the government to “increase funding,” Finance Minister Tom Marshall replaced it with “continue enhanced programming.” Where the bill called for a faster reduction in VLTs, Marshall changed it to call for a plan to address gambling addiction in general.
These amendments were ruled in order. Michael was furious.
“The amendment, basically, has totally … changed the focus of the (motion) I put on the floor,” she said.
In the end, she voted against her own bill.
So, what’s the difference? It’s hard to say.
Perhaps the best person to answer that is Ross Wiseman.