Say that outside the rail

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Say that outside the rail.

When all else failed many a politician has turned to that tried and tested line of defence, just like Transportation Minister Robert Vessey did recently when the opposition questioned work done to demolish the old high school in Montague.

If Opposition Leader Steven Myers had accusations to make about the company that did the work he should take them “outside the rail”, Vessey said.

But what does that mean?

MLAs are protected by parliamentary privilege, which means they can stand up on the floor of the house and say pretty much anything whether it’s true or not.

It also means reporters are free to report those things without fear of legal repercussions.

MLAs still have to maintain a certain decorum in the house and what they say can be ruled unparliamentary, like calling another member a liar, but from a legal perspective they can get away with saying any number of things.

The same rules apply to MPs.

In Province House there is a physical railing around the legislature floor and once an MLA steps beyond it they have to tread carefully and often won’t repeat what they said inside the rail.

They have to decide if scoring a few political points is worth a potentially hefty legal bill.

Chances are it’s not.

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  • Dan Aiken
    December 04, 2013 - 19:23

    It's true that elected officials are more brazen inside the legislative body to which they were elected but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Speaker can take any necessary action against a member who crosses the line while preserving our democratic system. If our elected officials were not immune they would be subject to frivolous lawsuits and punished with the process of civil proceedings. Without parliamentary immunity our democracy could be easily stymied by even one wealthy litigator who could hold up our MLAs in court for undemocratic purposes. With respect to Myers' comments, he was speaking about a public health issue and he didn't accuse the private contractor of any misdeed nor did he name the contractor. He was accusing the Environment Department of taking insufficient precaution to protect Islanders from a harmful substance. Even if he weren't protected by parliamentary privilege, Myers would have nothing to fear from his comments. Courts don't punish people for relatively tame comments.