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Parsons says N.L. democratic reform committee coming — eventually

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.

Government House Leader Andrew Parsons says plans to strike an all-party committee on democratic reform this fall are “aspirational,” but he’ll definitely get the ball rolling before next spring at the latest.

Parsons was responding to the latest call in the province for an end to corporate and union donations this week from Tim Buckle, the former president of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association.

Buckle said that when the police union gave thousands of dollars to political parties and attended fundraising events, there was a clear expectation it would lead to more favourable decisions when it came to government funding for police.

Parsons acknowledged that some of the big corporations that give the Liberals donations of more than $10,000 probably have similar expectations.

“They probably believe that it’s going to allow them to have influence or to be able to talk, I don’t know,” Parsons said.

“All I can say is, if somebody spends money and thinks they’re going to get something out of it, that doesn’t fly with me.”

During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to strike an all-party committee to study democratic reform issues. November will mark two years since the election, and nothing has been done yet.

Parsons said Wednesday that when the committee is struck, he’s not sure it will even deliver its final report before the 2019 election.

Parsons wouldn’t commit to enacting any changes before the 2019 election, although he committed that if the committee recommends ending corporate and union donations, the Liberal government would make it happen.

“I’m going to strike a committee to look into it. And that all-party committee made up of legislators of all stripes will look at it, and if the committee thinks it’s the right thing to do, then it’s something we will be doing,” Parsons said.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy said it looks like the Liberals are just trying to soak up as much money as possible from corporate donors ahead of the 2019 election.

“It’s my view all along that they were really ragging the puck here and trying to get through this current term of office without implementing any changes that would have any meaningful impact in the next election,” he said.

McCurdy said the NDP would like the all-party committee to take a serious look at proportional representation when it eventually gets down to work.

Both the NDP and the Tories support a ban on corporate and union donations. Parsons said he needs more information before he can come to an opinion.

Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis said the Liberals have talked about action after a series of embarrassing stories last spring about big-money corporate donors getting favourable treatment from the government — first when they gave a government loan to Canada Fluorspar Inc. for their St. Lawrence mine, and then when the government approved a restructuring deal for the Corner Brook paper mill.

“People have come to a point in time where they don’t like the corporate donations, and some of the same corporations doing big business with government,” Davis said.

Parsons said the current Liberal government is going to do something about this, by striking the committee, and it’s more than any previous government has done.

“The previous administration had a lot of time to do this. The administration before that had a lot of chances to do this, and nobody’s ever done anything,” Parsons said. “We’re going to do it, and I’m willing to make whatever changes necessary in the best interest of this province.”

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