Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Day two in the legislature

For those not familiar with the legislative process, not much happens on the first few days of the legislature. No business is considered on day one except for the throne speech. Motions require two days notice and bills aren't debated until the day after they're introduced. So, this is how it works.

Day 1 - Throne Speech (no other business)
Day 2 - First Question Period (bills may be introduced and notices given for motions)
Day 3 - Opposition Reply to Throne Speech (no other business)
Day 4 - Debate of any bills that were introduced, then throne speech
Day 5 - see day 4
Day 6 - Premier's Reply to Throne Speech
Day 7 - normal business begins

So today we had the first Question Period which, as per tradition, was 45 minutes long as opposed to the usual 30 minutes. I must admit I was a bit impressed with Volpé's performance; he is a better opposition questioner than a government answerer. That said, I thought the substance of a lot of his questions were poor, but towards the end when they started bringing back some of Shawn Graham's words from opposition which seem inconsistent with his actions in government, they may be able to get some traction.

I was disappointed that Volpé asked every question and they were mostly in French while Graham answered every question and they were mostly in English.

Eight bills were introduced. Bill 4 and 5, courtesy of Justice Minister T. J. Burke, are warm and fuzzy. They change the terms "warehousemen" and "woodsmen" to "storers" and "woodsworkers" out of respect for women. Three other government bills cover giving the Minister of Tourism & Parks control over some more provincial parks (from the Minister of Natural Resources) and giving the province more leeway in creating and managing provincial parks; a bill to retroactively change a user fee in place for liquor purchasers from 1998 to 2004 to a tax as the Supreme Court recently ruled that it was illegal to have collected the money as a user fee; and a bill to prevent companies from using leased crown land as a security on loans and giving the province more control over roads through leased crown land.

Relatively boring stuff from the government.

The opposition introduced three bills.

One would amend the Fiscal Responsibility and Balanced Budget Act to cause ministers to get a pay cut if they don't balance the books, this is similar to a provision that exists in BC. This is theoretically, a clever bill for the opposition to introduce because it is difficult for government to vote against it without looking like they are not going to be good stewards of the public purse. However, it is a bit rich to see this coming, introduced by Jeannot Volpé, when Volpé authored the original legislation he is trying to now amend, without this provision, about 13 months ago and it only came into effect in September.

Another would set up the Rural Economic Development Fund the Tories promised during the campaign. It was this fund, when panned by Donald Savoie, that prompted Bernard Lord to claim that Savoie, a respected international scholar, should not make policy pronouncements because he organized Louis Robichaud's funeral and was therefore biased in favour of the Liberals.

The third would cap assesment increases of owner occupied properties at 3% per year also promised by the Tories in the election.

I was also pleased to see that a prediction made on this blog sometime ago by an anonymous commentor has turned out not to be true. The cynical commenter noted that the new government had promptly removed all of the blue logos from the government website that had been added by the Tories and predicted they would soon replace them with red. This government instead has kept partisan subliminal advertising out of government publications by using neutral colours as demonstrated by the backdrop used during the unveiling of the Throne Speech promised.


Jason Hickman said...

... a bill to retroactively change a user fee in place for liquor purchasers from 1998 to 2004 to a tax as the Supreme Court recently ruled that it was illegal to have collected the money as a user fee ...

You call this boring? 'Cos (as I go into in more depth at my own blog - sorry to plug my own spot here ;) ) I think it's awful. It does an end run around the values that the S.C.C. went on at great length about.

Anonymous said...

Other not so boring points.

Who would have thought that the province would need a bill to 'get more control over roads on crown land'. That shows just perfectly who is calling the natural resources in the province.

Also, nice to see that companies could use leased government land to get loans. That's why there is so much poverty- when people lease an apartment they should be allowed to use it as collateral for a loan!

I doubt anybody suspected the province was that bad. Excellent coverage of the business of the House though, kudos for doing what nobody else in the province is.

nbpolitico said...

Anon - I agree it is a shame that government need to change laws to make this happen, I am glad that they are though.

The lease thing, though I think the government is doing a good thing changing, it is a bit different. Most of these leases are for 50 or 99 years and in cases of some old ones from the 1800s they are 999 year leases so the companies would have been putting the lease up as collatoral, not the land itself.

Jason - I am not a lawyer and don't know all of the particulars, but the province was collecting what was meant to be a tax, set by regulation. The court has ruled that that was improper so the province is fixing its mistake. I don't think it makes sense for the province to hand over a big wad of cash that was paid under a policy I don't think people disagreed with but one which in retrospect has been shown to have been implemented poorly.

Anonymous said...

A lease for land is only worth what the land is worth-if the company goes bankrupt, the bank gets the lease, meaning the land, which it will then resell. If you have a lease on an apartment you can likewise put up the 'lease' as collateral (in our hypothetical case), but the value and usefulness of the lease is dependant on the value (and existence) of the apartment. In other words, both are identical.