Smoking bill burns out

The Yukon Party and Liberal MLAs blocked an NDP attempt to pass anti-smoking legislation yesterday, paving the way for a similar government bill next…

The Yukon Party and Liberal MLAs blocked an NDP attempt to pass anti-smoking legislation yesterday, paving the way for a similar government bill next year.

On Wednesday, NDP leader Todd Hardy introduced Bill 104, the Smoke-free Places Act, for a final reading.

Debate of the private member’s bill was adjourned, effectively killing it.

Once a new piece of legislation is introduced in the spring, Bill 104 will be redundant and removed from government business and disappear.

A third reading would have approved the bill for legislation.

“Both the Liberals and the Yukon Party made it clear they do not want Bill 104 to proceed,” said Hardy.

“Their arguments were weak and not well thought out.”

With the death of Bill 104, the three parties lost momentum in improving non-partisan politics and the growing role of the public in shaping legislation, said Hardy.

“Maybe we were heading into an area of politics of re-engaging the public in policy debates,” he added.

For the first time in 15 years, the three parties came together to sit on a select committee on anti-smoking legislation.

They toured the Yukon together and gathered public input on Bill 104, which included a territory-wide smoking ban.

The committee tabled its report in the legislature last week.

It called for a ban on smoking and tobacco advertising in the Yukon, similar to Bill 104 provisions.

Having members from each party on a committee should happen more often, said Hardy.

“A select committee removes the politics from policy debates — it’s the will of the people,” he added.

The government doesn’t care who gets credit for passing the anti-smoking legislation, said Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers.

“We’d stick (Hardy’s) picture on the legislation if we could,” he said.

“This isn’t a question of principals or politics, it’s a question of doing this right.”

Amendments aren’t made on the fly, said Cathers.

By the time Bill 104 was introduced for a third reading last week, time ran out to add carefully crafted amendments, he added.

It’s easier to draft, pass and amend government legislation than it is a private members bill, he said.

“It’s simpler to have a clean piece of legislation presented to the house.”

Any problems MLAs had with the proposed bill could have been fixed before the end of the fall sitting, said Hardy.

If the goal was to institute a smoking ban as soon as possible, it could have been done, he added.

“The government had six months to look at the bill — the Justice department did look at it, but now they say they need to go over it with a fine-tooth comb,” said Hardy.

The government plans to introduce legislation based on recommendations from the all-party committee.

Because the deadline to table new legislation in the house this sitting has passed, it will be spring before any debate takes place.

That could delay a smoking ban until the fall.

The government will draft and table legislation that reflects the basic spirit and intent of Bill 104 and will include recommendations from the report, said Cathers.

“Hopefully we see a stronger piece of legislation,” said Hardy.

“If the government waters it down, I’ll be bringing forward amendments.”

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