26 June 2006

The Commission of Internal Economy - background

Like all legislatures that follow the parliamentary tradition, the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador uses a committee of members to manage the operations of the legislature.

The Internal Economy Commission Act establishes the membership and powers of the commission. House of Assembly operations include television broadcast of the legislature, production of a record of debates known as Hansard and maintenance of a legislative library to support the Speaker and the members in their duties.

The Act also provides other powers, such as the mechanism for reviewing members' salaries, allowances and other benefits.

Prior to 2000, money for House operations was maintained in accounts run by the legislature itself. Budget allocations were made each year but the House of Assembly maintained its own accounts as it had done since 1855. The Auditor general had full access to the accounts and supporting documents for expenditures.

In 2000, the House of Assembly approved amendments to the IEC Act that provided, among other things:

- money for House operations would come from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, maintained by the finance department through the Comptroller General, thereby eliminating the requirement for the House to maintain its own accounts;
- power for the IEC to determine who would audit the House accounts; and,
- power for the IEC to determine what, if any, documentation/information would be provided to the Comptroller General to support requests for funds in order to make payments.

The amendments bill went through all three legislative stages in a single day - May 11, 2000 - without amendment. There were surprisingly few comments by members.

Beaton Tulk, then government House leader said this - and only this - on second reading:
Mr. Speaker, I don'’t intend to belabour the points in this bill much except to say that some of the language that we see in laws governing the Internal Economy Commission Act dates back to responsible government days. What this bill clearly does is set out the duties of the IEC and the kind of duties that the IEC should carry out. They are more clearly defined in this bill. I would ask my colleagues to quickly move on passing the bill.
His Opposition counterpart, Loyola Sullivan said merely the following:
I have just a few brief comments because it is pretty straightforward and pretty routine. It does include that the accounts here shall be audited annually. I think as members of the House we have no problems with being subject to an annual audit here, and as elected representatives I guess we should be accountable there. We certainly endorse that increased accountability of Members of the House of Assembly, and we support that.
The longest comment came from Jack Harris:
I think it is symbolic in a way that the funds of this House were looked after by this House, that whatever was voted for the House was looked after internally by the House of Assembly, and that was recognized by the provision that had the Clerk physically handle the funds of the House. That is obviously being changed to bring it into line with the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the normal handling of accounts by government, with provisions to ensure that the Internal Economy Commission and the House retains its autonomy.

Similarly, we have a new provision which requires an annual audit of the accounts of the House of Assembly which I think is appropriate; that there be accountability through an annual audit. We are satisfied to support this bill and that the Internal Economy Commission should ensure that this annual audit is done, and that the auditor be appointed by the Commission as is provided for in the legislation.
In the controversy over the Auditor General's access to the house accounts in 2002, Sullivan reportedly sided with his fellow members of the IEC and backed keeping Elizabeth Marshall from her investigations. He now denies this, although there does not appear to be any public record of his objections anywhere.

At no point has anyone asked the former members of the IEC why they decided no documents needed to be sent to the Comptroller General, a practice which apparently remained in place until 2004 or may have remained in place until very recently. Itt was this decision which frustrated the checks and balances built into standard government administrative practices. As much as anything else, this decision facilitated any misappropriation of funds that may have taken place.

Since a number of people have been curious, following is a list of members of the IEC in 2000, 2002 and 2004. This list was compiled based on the official record of the House of Assembly.

Internal Economy Commission, 2000

Chairman: Speaker of the House of Assembly Lloyd Snow

Members: Doug Oldford, Deputy Speaker
Beaton Tulk, Government House Leader
Paul Dicks, Minister of Finance and Justice
Kevin Aylward, Minister of Forestry and Agriculture
Loyola Sullivan, Opposition House Leader
Tom Rideout, Opposition member

Secretary: Clerk of the House John Noel

Internal Economy Commission, 2002

Chair: Lloyd Snow


Bob Mercer, Deputy Speaker
Tom Lush, Government House Leader
Joan Marie Aylward, Minister of Finance
Ed Byrne, Opposition House Leader
Loyola Sullivan, Opposition member

Internal Economy Commission, 2004

Chairman: Speaker Harvey Hodder


Roger Fitzgerald, Deputy Speaker
Ed Byrne, Government House Leader
Loyola Sullivan, Minister of Finance
Elizabeth Marshall, Minister of Health and Community Services
(replaced Nov 04 by Tom Marshall, Minister of Justice)
Kelvin Parsons, Opposition House Leader
Percy Barrett, Opposition member