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Talk trumps action on renewal: Cathers

Forget legislative renewal, says Brad Cathers. If MLAs are serious about improving how Yukon's legislature works, he said, they should make some simple changes soon.

Forget legislative renewal, says Brad Cathers.

If MLAs are serious about improving how Yukon’s legislature works, he said, they should make some simple changes soon, rather than spending the next two years holding lengthy public meetings and preparing reports, as is planned under the current renewal plan floated by the NDP and supported by the Yukon Party government.

For starters, MLAs could rein in their fellow windbags. Currently, members may speak for up to 20 minutes at a time in a Committee of the Whole. Cathers proposes cutting this time to 10 minutes to prevent MLAs from playing for time through lengthy speeches.

Both the government and opposition alike are guilty of “reading what are effectively political speeches” in the committee, rather than asking and answering questions, said Cathers.

This could be easily changed through the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges.

But the committee hasn’t met in at least two years.

Cathers noted this on Tuesday, shortly before being voted off the committee. His membership on the committee dated back to when he sat with the government. He quit cabinet and caucus in late August to protest Premier Dennis Fentie’s handling of the ATCO affair, so he was turfed from the committee to make room for John Edzerza.

Cathers ridiculed his removal as simply being “an exchange of hats.” He cannot recall when the committee last met.

The NDP’s Steve Cardiff, who sits on the committee, says it last met in December of 2007.

Cathers also made the pitch that independents - which, at this point, only includes himself - should be able to call motions, bills and debates.

But he didn’t appear to win support from any corners with his proposals.

Cardiff, unsurprisingly, supports his party’s renewal initiative as the best way to improve the legislature’s operations.

And he doesn’t have much sympathy for Cathers’ finding himself out in the cold with little power currently. He could support giving more power to a member elected as an independent, said Cardiff, “but switching seats without a mandate is when you get into trouble,” he said in an interview.

He conceded Cathers makes some valid points. MLAs do play for time with long speeches, said Cardiff. Cutting speeches shorter in a Committee of the Whole would allow for more questions, and more answers.

And while the NDP believes the renewal drive will create substantial changes, for now it remains unclear which reforms the government will support. Cathers worries the renewal efforts won’t amount to much more than window dressing.

But it’s important to hold public meetings about legislative renewal, said Cardiff. After all, he’s heard many complaints from constituents about how they’re unhappy with the shrill, confrontational tone in the House.

“As a legislature, we need to listen to what they have to say,” said Cardiff.

Cathers disagrees. “We the members know what occurs, what rules are abused, misused or lead to unproductive debate,” he said in the legislature. “Many of those changes should simply be worked on, agreed to and made, rather than spending another two years talking about making substantive change.”

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