Tories target Bill 1

Opposition plans to submit amendments to bill creating independent appointments commission

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on March 25, 2016
Steve Kent
Telegram file photo

The Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly is on Easter break for two weeks, but when MHAs return, Premier Dwight Ball can look forward to some suggestions on how to improve Bill 1.

Bill 1 is the new Liberal government’s signature transparency and accountability policy — an independent appointments commission which Ball has promised will “take the politics out of government appointments.”

Neither the Tories nor the New Democrats think Bill 1 lives up to the hype, but Tory MHA Steve Kent said the Opposition is going a step further — preparing a suite of amendments to the bill to fix some of its most glaring problems.

For starters, while the legislation calls on the appointments commission to submit three names to cabinet for final approval, Kent says the Tories will submit an amendment to rank those three names.

“If you truly want the best person for the job, then you should put a process in place that identifies the best person for the job. If you’re selecting the next CEO of Nalcor, submitting three names without ranking and letting cabinet pick doesn’t seem like a logical process at all,” he said.

“Odds are, they won’t in every case be three equally qualified people. Of course not.”

The Tories also want to see an annual review of the independent commission to ensure it is respecting merit principles for its selection process, and they want to make sure the five-year review of the legislation is made public.

“Bill 1 calls for a review of the act every five years that would only be sent to cabinet,” Kent said “So in the interest of openness and accountability, an amendment needs to be made so that the review will go not to cabinet, but to the speaker of the House for public release.”

This will be an early test of how the Liberals conduct themselves in the House of Assembly.

Under the previous Tory government, accepting opposition amendments to legislation was a rarity, especially on significant matters of government policy.

In the first couple of weeks of Liberal control in the legislature, though, there have been signs that the current crowd plans to do things a bit differently.

And when Kent raised the possibility of proposing amendments to Bill 1 in question period earlier this week, Ball didn’t exactly slam the door shut.

“We look forward to the debate on the independent appointments commission,” Ball said. “We will certainly be entertaining — as we would completely expect that the members opposite would come with ways to improve that bill. If we see that during a good, robust debate there are ways to bring improvements to any piece of legislation, of course we'd consider all those things.”

Kent said that even if the Liberals do entertain amendments, he’s not optimistic about the appointments commission.

“Overall, it’s ironic that this new entity is being named the independent appointments commission, because first of all, there’s nothing independent about it, and secondly, it is not empowered to make appointments whatsoever,” he said.

“I feel like in some ways, we’ll be trying to put lipstick on a pig. This is flawed, poorly thought-out legislation, and it’s simply window-dressing.

“It’s simply about the Liberals trying to make good on an election promise that wasn’t well thought-out.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames