by David Coon
March 27, 2015
My bill to ensure 16 and 17 year olds have the right to vote passed second reading on March 12, which was quite a moment. However, the bill now sits in some kind of legislative limbo, known as, "referred to Committee of the Whole". There it waits for the government to schedule it for examination by Committee of the Whole, a committee constituted by all MLAs. The governing Liberals argued it needed more study during the debate at Second Reading. An amendment by the Official Opposition to send it to the Law Amendments Committee for public hearings, so it could be examined in detail was defeated by the Liberals. The pressure on government members and the Premier to adopt the bill continues from student groups such as La Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick.
An Act to Dissolve the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency of New Brunswick made its way through the house and is now awaiting Royal assent. Relentless pressure from NB Power and the Liberals' determination to dump the politically appointed Margaret Ann Blaney as CEO of the Crown Corporation convinced the powers that be to destroy Efficiency New Brunswick and hand over a truncated version of its mandate to the people's power company. It is indefensible to dismantle a key agency of community economic development that was creating green jobs and shrinking our carbon footprint while saving people and businesses money on their heating costs. I proposed a series of amendments that would have established energy efficiency targets for NB Power, and that would have required the utility to report on how it was meeting the energy efficiency needs of households and businesses heating with oil, gas, propane and wood. These were defeated.
With the Auditor General's report on the Atcon scandal, the effectiveness of the watchdog committees charged with ensuring her recommendations comes into question. I sit on both the Public Accounts Committee and the Crown Corporations Committee to which the Auditor General reports. Thus far we have never met to develop a game plan for any of our work, so rather than functioning as a committee, it is really just the three parties showing up to pitch questions to the officials from government departments and Crown Corporations to no end in particular. No one can remember the last time either of these committees actually produced a report to the Legislative Assembly. I have been pushing for this to change, beginning with the creation of a steering committee made up of the three parties to carry out some strategic planning for the larger committee, and culminating in actually reporting on our findings and making recommendations to the Legislature. We can do this.
According to the Government of New Brunswick website there are three branches of government: the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. It describes the main function of the Legislative Branch as to enact laws and to exercise control over government action. We have a ways to go. Over the years the Premier's office has concentrated power in ways that had never been contemplated for our Westminster system of government, eroding the power the Legislative Assembly and its members. The way back requires a willingness to work together to put the Legislative Branch of Government back on the rails. I am committed to doing this and I know I am not alone.