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Reflections on the one-day Manitoba Legislative sitting on April 15th

Yesterday, all parties convened in the Manitoba Legislature to pass legislation important to address the Covid-19 pandemic which is causing so much havoc to so many.  It was a time to reflect on the suffering and distress so many are experiencing and to recognize the heroic efforts of so many to help address the needs.  It was also a time to focus on bringing forth bills which could address these needs. And this, we did our best to do.

But, underneath the outward appearance of a relatively smooth one-day sitting of the Legislature was a level of disorganization which largely blocked the normal public participation in the legislative process.  It is worth reflecting on this so we can do better in the future.

During the planning stages, as House Leader for the Manitoba Liberal Party, I argued for a two-day session.  This was so that bills could be introduced at first reading and then debated at second reading before going, in the evening, to a committee stage where there was an opportunity, in some form, for public input and for reflection on the legislation overnight. 

The NDP and the Conservative Parties were insistent on only holding a one day session.   As a compromise what was offered was a briefing on the bills to opposition parties early in the morning from 8 to 10 AM before the session started at 10 AM.  In addition we were assured that there would be written presentations from the public.  I asked for the opportunity for such presentations, when provided by 2 pm that day, to be made available to MLAs, so that before we went into committee stage there would be some possibility of public input. 

These plans were rapidly derailed when Wab Kinew and the NDP leaked part of a confidential and privileged communication to the media.  It was very clear that Wab Kinew and the NDP could not be trusted and the government response was immediate – the briefing from 8 to 10 AM the next morning was cancelled.   This immediately put both opposition parties at a disadvantage because we now would not have access to the bills until they were tabled in the Legislature after 10:00 am, and therefore we would not be able to get clarification from the government on issues arising in the bills during the briefing.

Shortly after 10 AM the bills were tabled in the Legislature.   However, critically, the bills were not made available online until 12:30 PM, two and a half hours later.   Until the bills were available on line it was not possible to let the public know the details of the bills so they could comment.  Colin Roy, head of communications for our caucus, made sure that information was available to as many people as possible so they could look at the details.  However, the possibility of public input before 2:00 PM was virtually nil.  Further as a result of Wab Kinew’s efforts most of the public were concerned about bills which we and the NDP did not give the government the leave to be considered during the day.  They were not even debated during the session.

What was more problematic was that the public was told that their input was not needed until 4:30 PM on April 16th, the day after we had completed the session – so they would have little relevance to our actual considerations.


Dougald Lamont, Cindy Lamoureux and I did our best to review the paper copies of the bills which had been tabled in the Legislative Chamber. Dougald and Cindy did well speaking in the Legislative chamber on the bills (with the Covid-19 precautions in place we were only allowed two who could speak, with only one of our members in the chamber at any given time).   Dougald and Cindy spoke passionately on the need to address issues with regard to small businesses, those who are homeless, seniors, and those in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. Cindy was particularly forceful on a government bill which discriminated against those who had come to Manitoba from outside of Canada and the United States. Dougald talked of many other issues needing attention including the extra costs in time and money for people having to fill three prescriptions in three months rather than one.

In the end, the bills passed with some amendments.  But what suffered was the democratic process in Manitoba and the ability for important and helpful public input on bills being debated.  We hope that in the future, such sittings will be held over a two-day span so that there is a much better ability to allow public input and to consider government bills in a manner which is less rushed.  Our goal, in the end, is that all Manitobans will better benefit from the decisions made. 

Comments

  1. I agree that Manitoba is doing well but we need to ensure that our meat processing workers in places such as Brandon, Transcona, Neepawa and Bloomenort are safe.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your comments. You are correct we need to ensure there are good practices being followed in meat packing plants in Manitoba. I raised this point in a letter to the Ministers of the Pallister government a number of days ago.

    ReplyDelete
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