Everyone agrees Yukon’s legislature has seen better days.
Premier Dennis Fentie treats question period as an athletic event in which ministers compete to see who can skate the furthest off topic.
The Liberal opposition, meanwhile, seems incapable of making a statement without having Speaker Ted Staffen cry foul.
Debates have taken on a shrill tone.
The NDP’s Todd Hardy says he has a fix. It’s his party’s long-delayed Legislative Renewal Act, which proposes to tweak how the legislature runs.
On Wednesday, MLAs agreed to strike a select committee that would tour the Yukon and talk over which changes to pursue. The committee will make recommendations by the autumn of 2011.
“It has become very obvious that the people do not have much faith in any of us, really, and all that we do,” Hardy said while introducing the motion. “We live in a house that has a lot of leaks.”
It’s a fitting turn of phrase for a carpenter like Hardy. But is the current acrimony really the product of the legislature’s structure? Or does the real problem lie with the people who sit inside it?
Both, Hardy said in an interview.
But he’s convinced that a long list of changes, from introducing a code of ethics for MLAs to empowering independent members, would make the legislature work better than it does now.
He faults the Liberals for taking every dig they can at the Yukon Party government, then acting injured when Fentie’s team retaliates with measures such as last week’s shutting down of debate on a bill that would prohibit the privatization of Yukon Energy.
By contrast, Hardy points to how the NDP has won government support for several of its initiatives, namely Yukon’s anti-smoking law and the controversial Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which allows for the eviction of suspected drug dealers.
“We changed the way the government works,” said Hardy.
But isn’t the Yukon Party using its support for Hardy’s initiative as a cover to appear open and transparent, while Fentie refuses to answer questions about his role in the ATCO scandal and how he expects to pay for the Mayo B hydro expansion?
Of course, said Hardy.
“We’re not stupid,” he said.
“I guess that’s the cost we’ll have to pay for change.”
One of the more interesting ideas touched on by Hardy during his introduction of Wednesday’s bill is to empower the speaker to compel a minister to answer a question. This has been done in Ireland, said Hardy.
And perhaps MLAs who jump ship from a party ought to be forced to sit as an independent until the next election, said Hardy. That would ensure defectors have a clear mandate to switch teams from their constituents.
Such a rule would have prevented John Edzerza, who started his term as a New Democrat, from joining the Yukon Party in September. This propped up the government after it had lost its majority with the resignation of Brad Cathers, who left over the ATCO scandal in August.
Maybe independents also need more power, said Hardy.
Limits on debating times, meanwhile could limit filibustering, the government’s practice of defeating opposition bills by talking them out.
Hardy also continued to call for an end of the legislature’s so-called guillotine clause, which forces a vote on all tabled bills at the fixed end-date of a session. This encourages the government to “rag the puck” to push through controversial bills without debate, he said.
And perhaps the public would tune into legislative happenings more frequently if some sittings were held during evenings, as is done in some provinces.
“What direction have we been going in?” asked Hardy. “Less work, more pay—not very impressive.”
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