Wasting away in Yukon Partyville

Speaker Ted Staffen summed up the Legislative spring sitting before all the political parties had a chance.

Speaker Ted Staffen summed up the Legislative spring sitting before all the political parties had a chance.

At the end of every spring and fall session, the three party leaders gather reporters and give them a post-mortem of everything that happened in the House for the past 30-odd days.

Generally predictable and rarely insightful, the face-to-faces do provide a concise overview.

But Staffen said it all first at the end of Question Period on Thursday, the last day of the spring session.

He admonished Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang for needless repetition in his lengthy speech on Wednesday about net metering (another filibuster from the government that left even less time for debate on budget or legislation).

Lang used the same material for three different speeches on net metering in three attempts at filibustering or severing debate on Liberal MLA Gary McRobb’s net-metering bill that would allow homeowners to sell electricity back to their provider.

In November 2007, Lang used the sentence, “People wishing to become net metering clients of Nova Scotia Power must file an application with their address and installation and wiring drawings of their plant.”

“The minister used the same sentence — verbatim — during debate on April 16, 2008, and again with only slight modification during debate yesterday,” said Staffen.

One sentence does not make a waste of time, but the words were surrounded by information that was quit similar in all three speeches, added Staffen.

Then he told MLAs to contemplate what they just heard.

The House has a limited number of sitting days, thanks to a “guillotine clause” introduced years ago by the Liberals.

The clause shuts down the legislature on an agreed upon date, automatically passing any introduced legislation or budget bill even the items haven’t been debated.

“The House now has a finite amount of time to deal with the business placed before it,” said Staffen.

“This makes it increasingly important that members do their utmost to adhere to the rules regarding repetition — as well as the rules regarding relevance — so the House may use its time as efficiently as possible.”

How did the House use its time?

Several major pieces of legislation were passed, including the massive Child and Family Services Act that revamps the way Social Services handles cases of abuse and neglect.

Anti-smoking legislation, first suggested by the NDP, passed with the help of the Yukon Party government, almost unheard of for an opposition private members bill.

The new Workers’ Compensation Act passed.

The new Liquor Act passed, but without full debate and opposition scrutiny thanks to the guillotine clause — the NDP had several issues with the act’s proposed amendments that further liberalize drinking in a territory with a distressingly high rate of drinking.

In his end-of-session wrap, NDP Leader Todd Hardy admonished the government for wasting enough time in the House that the budget passed without debate on a half-dozen departments and hundreds of millions of dollars.

The budget was called up for debate 19 days into the sitting.

At the end of Thursday, the government had yet to bring forward the Economic Development, Tourism and Culture, and the Liquor Corporation — representing about $36,000,000 — for debate.

And Justice and Highway and Public Works had yet to be “cleared,” or finished.

On its opposition day, the NDP brought forward a motion demanding the government put a moratorium on uranium exploration and future mining; the government talked it out until the clock ran out, ending the debate without a vote.

It meant the government didn’t have to vote for or against the motion and take a stance.

The legislative assembly needs reform, said Hardy.

“Unfortunately, the government refuses to do this,” he said.

“When you come into government, you don’t want to change the rules that got you there.”

There is a special standing committee that reviews and suggests changes to the rules and procedures of the Legislature, but it rarely meets.

“If we can’t discipline ourselves, then we better have some changes in the legislative assembly that ensures we have to behave,” said Hardy.

The NDP would like to see changes that would allow witnesses to appear in the legislature and limited debate times.

All three party leaders blamed one another for wasting time with filibusters and useless debates.

But procedure doesn’t interest Premier Dennis Fentie.

“The Yukon Party government puts procedural issues second and puts first and foremost the priorities of Yukoners, and that is building our economy, protecting our environment, improving education and health care, building our infrastructure,” said Fentie.

“These are the things this government places a priority on, not rearranging deck chairs.”

He later told reporters there has been co-operation between the government and NDP, but the Liberals proved more difficult.

The opposition shouldn’t have to accept, as fact, the government will take every opportunity to filibuster and talk out the clock, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“You’re accepting as a given the government’s goal is to waste time and rag the puck, so why should we have to accept when the government stands up every day and says it’s looking for good, constructive ideas from the opposition?” said Mitchell.

“Why do we have to accept the government will be on its worst behaviour? I refuse to say we have to accept the responsibility for anticipating their bad behaviour. ”