By David Coon
February 16, 2015
February 16th marks the 133rd birthday of the New Brunswick Legislature. Andrew Blair was Premier, best known for his success in abolishing the unelected Legislative Council to fully realize responsible government in New Brunswick.
History is represented everywhere in the chamber. Gigantic portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte hang on either side of the throne (yes, like all parliaments there is a Throne for the Queen should she visit, though it is generally occupied by the Speaker). It was King George III who severed Sunbury County from Nova Scotia to create the colony of New Brunswick, which explains the prominence of their portraits.
Looking around the Legislative chamber today, the thing that strikes me is the preponderance of men. There are only 8 women MLAs between the government and opposition sides of the House. The other thing that stands out is the amount of time cabinet ministers spend in the House. Not counting the Speaker, the Liberals have 25 seats, the Tories 22, and I hold the other. That means the government holds only 2 seats more than the opposition parties, so they are careful to ensure everyone is in their seat for every vote.
Each day, I have the opportunity to make a member's statement, speak in response to statements made by Ministers, table petitions, participate in debates on bills and issues brought forward for debate by motion, propose amendments to those bills and motions, and of course, stand to give messages of congratulations, condolences, and to welcome guests sitting in the gallery or floor of the chamber. The Speaker has ruled that I can ask questions during Question Period on a maximum of three out of four days each week.
Last week, I asked the Minister of Natural Resources what he intends to do about the unfair and unsustainable forestry contracts on Crown land. I asked the Minister of Energy to reverse the regulatory changes to the Petroleum Products Pricing Act made last August since they have created the highest priced heating oil in Atlantic Canada. And I questioned the Minister of Justice about why New Brunswick has yet to prohibit the insanely high interest rates charged by payday loan companies.
I was excited to introduce my bill last week to create a Local Food Security Act. If passed, it will accelerate the growth of the provincial food economy, create green jobs, support local farmers and provide sustainable business opportunities from marketing and distribution to retail.
I participated in debates on the government bills to establish the shale gas moratorium, to make the prescription drug plan voluntary, and to dismantle Efficiency New Brunswick. I also debated an opposition motion on the Energy East pipeline and a government motion to change the way we do business in the Legislature. I was successful in having the proposed rule changes amended to ensure all MLAs would retain the right to make substantive amendments to any bill in the future. This was going to be eliminated in the original proposal.
The first bill I introduced to extend the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds will soon come up for Second Reading. I am looking forward to the debate and the vote. It will be the first legislative test of the Premier's public commitment to create a more collaborative Legislature. Private member's bills have traditionally been defeated, no matter their merit, just because they have come from the Opposition side of the House. Stay tuned.