At Province House – it’s time to stop wringing hands and ringing bells

Left to right: Premier Tim Houston (CBC News), Liberal Leader Zach Churchill (Radio-Canada), NDP Leader Claudia Chender (Global News)

Everybody talks about reform of the legislative process at Province House in Nova Scotia, but only NDP Leader Claudia Chender proposes to do something real about it. Good for her. Ms. Chender’s call for commonsense reform at Province House, with fixed hours during scheduled fall and spring sessions of the legislature, was renewed following the acrimonious 19-day session that ended Nov. 9.

During the session itself, the Liberals under Leader Zach Churchill dragged out debates by calling for recorded voters on motions tabled in the House. As a result, bells rang late into the evening, summoning MLAs to the legislative chamber to belatedly cast their votes. (The traditional “bells”, alas, now sound more like an annoying buzz.)

The Liberal ploy was a waste of time, and hardly represented the sort of practice that will attract bright young women to politics – the very people all parties should be welcoming into the fold. Midnight is not the best time to summon a single Mom, or Dad, to an unneeded recorded vote in an unwatched provincial legislature.

The government should also enter a guilty plea for its conduct of the fall session. In all, 12 bills were passed during the 19-day sessions, a fast-track record that suggests sloppiness not efficiency. Two controversial acts affecting the province’s two largest cities – the Halifax Regional Municipality and Cape Breton Regional Municipality – were put through the legislative sausage grinder before anyone could figure out whether the meat was rotten.

Not surprisingly, both the Liberals and the Conservatives sounded a little contrite about their behaviour once the legislative sessions had ended, but they seemed to be wringing their hands over their bad manners when they should have been worried about bad governance instead. We CrowsNest watchers, traditionalists to the core, hold to the belief that it is the job of the legislature to thoroughly review important legislation, to welcome rather than limit debate in the chamber and in legislative committees, and to vote in favor of amendments which improve the laws of the province.

Thankfully, Ms. Chender’s proposed reforms get to the heart of the real issue – getting MLAs to fulfill their two fundamental roles (passing laws and managing public finances). Scheduled sessions, and other reforms that compel governments to welcome legislative oversight rather than frustrate it, are badly needed in Nova Scotia. Similar measures have been adopted in other provinces, and in the House of Commons, and guess what, the nation is better off without all the noisome bell ringing and all the irksome hang wringing.