One of the most telling indicators of what government does is how much legislation they put in front of the legislature for approval. After all government can only do what it is allowed to do by the House of Assembly.
Active governments that are doing lots of work usually have lots of new laws or amendments to existing ones. They are called bills until they are approved by the members of the legislature.
Compare Newfoundland and Labrador with Nova Scotia and you can get a striking contrast between two neighbouring provinces
The legislature is not the government, although people in Newfoundland and Labrador routinely confuse the two. Your humble e-scribbler would venture that the level of ignorance is pretty high through the province on how our political system works.
Civics knowledge is low anyway in North America but odds are it is even lower in a province where even the people in the legislature often don’t know what they are supposed to be up to.
As of May 10, 2012, the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador had been in its current sitting since March 5, 2012. They took a couple of weeks off at Easter.
This is the first session since last October’s general election in which the winning party made a ton of promises. That doesn’t include what they had promised since they were first elected in 2003 but still hadn’t delivered.
You’d expect that the order paper – the legislature’s Things To Do list – would be filled with new laws and amendments to old ones.
You’d expect that.
And you’d be dead wrong.
There are 18 bills listed. That includes the budget, shown as the Supply Act, 2012, a vote of money to cover the end of the old year and the approval of the new budget, and a new version of the law that controls how government buys stuff (Procurement by Public Bodies).
Fourteen of the bills are minor amendments to existing laws. That’s 77%. With the exception of the budget bills that come routinely every year, there is one one new bill.
And that basically traces its roots back to a promise the ruling Conservatives made in 2003 to overhaul the government procurement system.
The provincial government has some bills on the way, apparently. There are conflicting stories about some amendments to the provincial government’s access to information law. Amendments are overdue from a review done a couple of years ago. There could be some very controversial amendments people concerned about civil liberties are watching the bill closely.
While people are expecting them, there is a possibility they won’t bring them to the House this session.
Other than that, natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy warned some time ago that he had to bring some unspecified bills to the House to pave the way for Muskrat Falls.
But beyond those there isn’t much more either coming or rumoured to be on the way.
When you have absorbed all that, go look at Nova Scotia’s list of bills from the current session. The Nova Scotia legislature opened on March 29, almost one full month after its Newfoundland and Labrador namesake.
There are 93 bills listed. Allowing for the different acts that make amendments to the same law, the Nova Scotians have around four times as many bills underway in the legislature as they do in Newfoundland and Labrador. They also have a healthy balance between amendments and new laws. Remember that only one of the bills in Newfoundland and Labrador in this session so far is a new piece of legislation; just one.
You have to keep that perspective in mind when you listen to any news from the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly these days. You should really keep it in mind when you hear government backbenchers and parliamentary secretaries carrying on about Twitter or on the social medium itself pushing out all manner of cram.
They clearly have too much time on their hands.
And they clearly have their priorities seriously frigged up.
- srbp -