Green leader says MLAs need more power in legislative committees to handle important issues

10 NOVEMBER 2015

David Coon says language flap worsened by dysfunctional committee
CBC News 
Posted: Nov 09, 2015

The Legislative Assembly's dysfunctional committee system must accept part of the blame for the ongoing controversy surrounding the province's official languages commissioner, says Green Party Leader David Coon.

Katherine d'Entremont spoke to the media on Friday in an attempt to explain how she handled an investigation into the provision of bilingual services at government buildings.

Her letter to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, which was prompted by her own conversation with a commissioner, led to an employee's hours being reduced.

Coon said d'Entremont, like all of the province's independent officers, is accountable to the legislature.

The Fredericton South MLA said the Standing Committee on Procedure, Privileges and Legislative Officers should have immediately called a meeting to discuss the questions surrounding d'Entremont's actions and then filed a report, possibly with recommendations, to the legislature.

He said the committee would allow MLAs to "clear the air" on the controversy.

"That is the process. It upsets me that what we've got developing here is on one hand a sort of lynch mob gathering online and on the other hand others are circling wagons around the official languages commissioner, come high or hell water," Coon said on Monday.

"We need to step back from that and do what should be done, follow the process."

Coon would not say whether he agrees with comments made by People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin that d'Entremont should be removed from her job. He said the committee needs to meet so MLAs can question the commissioner.

As an independent officer, d'Entremont can only be removed through a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

Officers meet MLAs this week

The Standing Committee on Procedure, Privileges and Legislative Officers is scheduled to meet on Nov. 12. This is the first meeting of the committee since May 2012.

The only agenda item listed is "meeting with the legislative officers."

Coon said he is not on the committee, but he has been fighting for access since he was elected.

The Green MLA said that is just more evidence of why the committee system needs to be overhauled.

He said the Office of the Premier has too much clout over who sits on committees, the questions asked and the outcome of reports.

"This clearly illustrates the need for the premier to give up some of the authority that his office over the years, through multiple governments, has usurped from the Legislative Assembly, so he frees up his members who have important jobs in committees to do their jobs," he said.

Coon, who is the lone Green MLA in the legislature, said he would like to see MLAs elect committee chairs by a secret ballot.

He also said committee membership should be determined by MLAs — not the Office of the Premier — and they should have the authority to set their own meeting schedules and agendas.

Those changes would loosen the grip that party leaders have over MLAs.