In a sign that the spirit of collaboration may be starting to fray, the Opposition Greens found their efforts to bring forward two bills for debate were stymied on Tuesday night by the Liberal Third Party.
One of the bills would have changed the Audit Act to allow the province’s auditor general to audit private companies that have accepted government funds. Another bill would have amended the Employment Standards Act to extend whistleblower protection to employees in the private sector.
Both of these bills were introduced for first reading on Tuesday evening, but did not reach the floor for second reading, the stage where debate generally occurs. Green MLA Hannah Bell asked for a procedural rule requiring bills receive separate readings on separate days be waived, which would have required unanimous consent from all 27 MLAs.
This procedural exception is often allowed in the legislature. But some Liberal MLAs declined to give consent to this, essentially stopping the evening’s business in its tracks.
Another government motion asking for a report tabled by Finance Minister Darlene Compton, detailing government spending on COVID-19 relief programs, to be given unanimous consent was also declined, with an answer of “no” from the Liberal bench.
Liberal interim leader Sonny Gallant said several members of his caucus had just obtained the Green bills the previous evening and had not had enough time to review them. A report detailing government COVID-19 spending had also not been received until that day.
"We felt we wanted a little more time to look at them. We did have some briefings on some of the bills, but we thought we needed a little bit more time," Gallant said.
Gallant also said the Liberal Third Party had expected more time Tuesday evening to debate a motion, introduced last fall by the Liberals, related to improving health-care services in the province. In the end, this time was not granted for the Third Party.
"Things are just a little different than they normally are and things just didn't go as planned tonight," Gallant said.
The Greens managed to bring one bill for debate on Tuesday night. The bill would have amended the Rental of Residential Property Act to allow an Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) director to have more powers to set aside eviction notices, or to alter appeal timelines, during a state of emergency or a state of public health emergency. The bill would have also allowed landlords to restrict tenant access in common areas, in order to enforce social distancing.
The Green bill encountered some skepticism from government and Liberal MLAs. Education Minister Brad Trivers, whose portfolio includes IRAC, said he disagreed with granting more powers related to evictions and appeal timelines to IRAC’s director of rental residential properties. Trivers said this director is not an elected official.
“If anyone’s going to issue an order suspending evictions, it should either be the lieutenant governor in council or the Chief Public Health Office,” Trivers said.
“When I talked to the director, that’s what she expressed to me as well.”
Bell, who introduced the bill, expressed some frustration that Trivers had consulted with IRAC’s director of rental residential properties related to the bill. Bell said she had reached out to the director but had not received a response.
“You have me at a disadvantage. You have consulted – you have her feedback and I don’t,” Bell said.
“It is really unfortunate that we’ve landed on the floor with this without having that information ahead of time. In the spirit of collaboration – not so much.”
Bell suggested the bill be tabled for continued debate at a later time.
The legislature adjourned around 8 p.m. Tuesday, one hour earlier than usual.
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