‘Biased’ house speaker protecting government, says NDP

Speaker Ted Staffen is protecting the Yukon Party government from opposition scrutiny with illogical and biased decisions made to curtail debate,…

Speaker Ted Staffen is protecting the Yukon Party government from opposition scrutiny with illogical and biased decisions made to curtail debate, says NDP Leader Todd Hardy.

He attempted to extend the legislative spring sitting through an emergency motion on Monday.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in department budgets and legislation, like the Liquor Act, have yet to be debated and, with only two days left, all will pass automatically with little or no scrutiny.

The motion to extend the session needed unanimous consent for discussion.

But it never came to a vote.

Staffen, a Yukon Party MLA, blocked Hardy from speaking to his motion, ruling he was skirting House rules.

In essence, Hardy jumped the gun.

He started to debate the motion rather than explaining his unconventional motion, said Staffen in a statement to the house.

“The chair must ensure that the member does not, in effect, debate an issue that other members will not have an opportunity to debate if unanimous consent is not granted,” said Staffen.

Hardy’s comments would have been more appropriate for the subsequent debate, said Staffen.

Last week, MLAs consented to a Liberal-initiated emergency debate on sending aid to Burma after Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell explained his rationale for the move.

Staffen ruled differently on two similar urgent issues, said Hardy in a letter to Staffen.

“Your interjection was not only unwarranted, it was unfair, illogical and inconsistent with the position you took just last Thursday,” wrote Hardy.

“You were telling me that I could say why the matter was one of urgent and pressing necessity, as long as I didn’t say why it was matter of urgent and pressing necessity.”

Hardy questioned Staffen’s impartiality and independence.

“I can only hope (the ruling) resulted from a momentary lapse of judgment (or attention), and not from a bias in favour of the government party, as some have suggested about both this and previous rulings you have made that have seemed capricious, ill-advised, mean-spirited or biased.”

The motion is the result of numerous attempts, dating back to April 21, by the NDP to extend the session.

A “guillotine clause” cuts off all house business at an agreed-upon date for the sitting’s end.

If the parties don’t agree on the session length, the sitting is automatically 30 days.

“You have this hammer over you and you’re forced to try and get a few more days for the spring sitting because we’re talking about a $900-million budget,” said Hardy in an interview.

“We weren’t aware of the legislation the government planned on bringing forward.

“We are running out of time and will still have $360 million and 11 departments to debate.”

All parties agreed on a 32-day sitting and the opposition should adhere to that, said Premier Dennis Fentie.

He agreed with Hardy’s assessment there is still much work to do.

“There’s lots of business,” said Fentie.

“The opposition could have been more constructive in their debate, they have not been and they therefore find themselves in this predicament.”

Opposition MLAs have criticized the government for wasting days with three-hour speeches on uranium and laundry lists of accomplishments rather than debating the budgets.

The government hasn’t wasted any days, said Fentie.

“You’re suggesting that unanimous decisions by the house on such matters as a GST option for the price of fuel in the transportation of essential goods is a waste of time, or a unanimous initiative on reviewing human rights legislation in this territory is a waste of time?” said Fentie.

“When all is said and done, when it comes to the opposition, there’s been more said than done.”

Fentie always omits the fact that he controls what is brought forward, said Hardy.

“The opposition has no control over what departments are brought forward or when,” he said.

“That’s totally in the Yukon Party’s power.

“Ultimately they set the agenda and the responsibility lies with them.”