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Opposition puts brakes on Newfoundland Elections Act changes

Opposition Leader Paul Davis speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly Tuesday. The Tories and the NDP are slowing down debate on changes to the province’s Elections Act because of concerns that the government is rigging the system to its benefit.
Opposition Leader Paul Davis speaks to reporters outside the House of Assembly Tuesday. The Tories and the NDP are slowing down debate on changes to the province’s Elections Act because of concerns that the government is rigging the system to its benefit.

It’s not a filibuster, exactly, but for a second day, the House of Assembly met mostly as a formality, jumping through the necessary procedural hoops to start debate on changes to the Elections Act.

Normally those procedural niceties wouldn’t be an obstacle, but the opposition parties say they have concerns about the proposed changes the Liberal government wants to make.

“I have serious concerns about this,” Opposition Leader Paul Davis said.

“It very obviously benefits the governing party. They can pull the strings and manipulate the process any way they want to their benefit, under what’s in this bill.”

Davis has been demanding a meeting with Government House Leader Andrew Parsons to discuss those concerns and potentially make changes,

Parsons said he’s happy to listen to any concerns coming from the opposition, but that should happen in the House of Assembly.
“Let’s discuss it in the House during debate. That’s proper,” Parsons said.

“Right now, I think we have a piece of legislation that works. I understand your concerns, but I still don’t think they’re any reason to hold up debate in the House of Assembly.”

The current situation was provoked when a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court justice struck down the special ballot provisions of the Elections Act, saying the way they are worded is unconstitutional.

Until the government passes new special-ballot provisions, the province can’t hold elections because it’s also unconstitutional to run an election without some sort of special-ballot measure.

Meanwhile, Mount Pearl North MHA Steve Kent resigned earlier this month, meaning the government has to imminently call a byelection.

Parsons has presented a draft bill that would lengthen the minimum campaign period in the province to 26 days, and require all parties to have accredited candidates in place within the first five days of the election campaign.

But the Tories and the NDP have raised concerns that this could lead to some skullduggery, with a government calling a snap election and having all its candidates ready to go, while leaving the opposition scrambling to come up with a slate of 40 candidates in just five days.

Parsons scoffed at that idea.

“What I would say to that is that’s an extremely, extremely unlikely proposition,” he said. “I mean, if people are worried about that, then I think we’re getting into issues that I don’t think are quite relevant.”

Both opposition parties are skeptical that the government will seriously consider any changes to the proposed legislation.

“I actually have an amendment that I want to make, but my experience is that amendments just get voted down by governments,” NDP interim-leader Lorraine Michael said.

Whether the opposition parties want it or not, debate on the legislation will begin Wednesday. Unless they all agree to expedite the process, it will continue into next week.

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