Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday in the legislature

(click here for my guide to the daily proceedings of the House)

Statements by Ministers

Premier Graham (L-Kent) - Going to Bangor later today to sign MOUs on energy and education. Said in their 5 months in office the government had been working on its three Es - education, energy and the economy. Said he had also spoken with NL Premier Williams about hydro projects; and that New Brunswick being a geographic centre between Quebec, PEI, NS and the U.S. makes New Brunswick a great potential to be an energy hub. There will be progress with Newfoundland for an agreement on this hydro project. He said he was the incoming chair of the Council of the Federation and would be hosting the premiers in New Brunswick in August, he has set environment and energy as the subject. He also said he would be meeting the Prime Minister tomorrow at the World Pond Hockey Championship in Plaster Rock and they would have a formal meeting beforehand to discuss the fiscal imbalance.

Opposition Leader Volpé (PC Madawasaka les Lacs) - Glad the premier is meeting, said he "hope that he will be as knowledgable and as successful as the former premier." Volpé said the energy hub was Bernard Lord's idea and began in 2002 and said "thank you for keeping on building on his initiatives that he put in place years ago". He then went on for sometime about the record of Bernard Lord in forming strong relationships particularly with Quebec.

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Natural Resources Minister Arseneault (L Dalhouse-Restigouche East) - Talked about cooperation between New Brunswick, Quebec and the federal government to combat poaching in the northern New Brunswick which was successful because the poachers were crossing the Quebec border where New Brunswick game officers have no authority. Arseneault said that this had been going on for two years and involved hunting with lights, unauthorized weapons and even running down deer with trucks.

Keith Ashfield (PC New Maryland-Sunbury West) - I agree, this is inexcusable and I hope those involved suffer the most severe concequences under the law. Complimented the qualifications of the staff of the Department of Natural Resources.

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Energy Minister Keir (L Fundy-River Valley) - Gas regulation changes. Wanted to point out to the House that the government had fufilled that commitment and explained the changes. I will link to these here.

Bruce Northrup (PC Kings East) - Before September 18, the Liberals said they were going to scrap this and everybody knows that is the truth. Unfortunately for consumers, the price went up 4¢ today due to the weekly regulation. The government is in bed with the industry and the consumers are going to be hurt. [I would note that this was the first time Northrup spoke in the House and he spoke very well, I think he will be a strong MLA].

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Labour Minister Doherty (L Saint John Harbour) - Unmployment numbers out, they've dropped to 8.1% from 8.9% the same time last year. With this government on the road to self-sufficiency it will remain in the 8% range. This government will focus on long-term planning for economic growth, recruitment and repatriation of people and went on for sometime on some other initiatives related to job creation.

Jody Carr (PC Oromocto) - Congratulate the minister on his new role, mocked a misspeaking by Doherty about achieving self-sufficiency by 2005. Carr said that low unemployment was all thanks to Bernard Lord and lower taxes. Said immigration and repatriation was a PC idea, then said other ideas, including newly announced ones, were in fact crafted by the Tories and "all ready to go" when the Liberals took office.

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A lot of heckling began and the Speaker stood quite angrily and scolded the members restoring decorum more successfully than I have seen in sometime.

Question Period

Question Period

Volpe - For the Minister of Justice: On Wednesday the minister said that Volpé was incorrect in his statement about the Insurance Board. Is the Minister the same person today as on Wednesday or has he changed like his leader.

Burke - I am not sure if the opposition leader wants me to submit to a DNA test [as Volpe suggested of Graham on Wednesday]. Burke said he didn't say that Volpe was wrong, but that he didn't understand the file. And he then explained that many people were off of the facilities association, and that instead of a 5% decrease in rates, as forcasted, New Brunswickers will have a 13.5% decrease not an increase as the happened for years under the Tories.

Volpe - Says in a Sep 6/06 news release that there will be 11% decrease

Speaker - You must withdraw and should know you cannot call a member a liar.

Volpe - Started to say he would only withdraw his remarks if Burke apologized but when the speaker began to rise again he withdrew them. He said the Burke was implying that rates were going up under the Tories and that that is not true.

Burke - Unfortunate he would not have respect for the House and call a member a liar, that is why they are in opposition. The government done a lot of work to reduce rates.

Volpe - The minister of justice speaks about respect for the House, he is misleading the house, are you doing that for fun or because you don't know your file.

Burke - I am having fun representing all of the people of New Brunswick as their minister of justice. If Volpe would check with the consumer advocate - who they appointed - the advocate had criticized the Tory plan and says that the Liberal plan is better for New Brunswickers. Says the Liberal changes were good for consumers and were not forthcoming

Speaker - There will be times when debate will be heated, but I am asking you all to cool it down just a bit. There were intemperate remarks made. I am going this House a message, the leader of the opposition and all members, I do not want have to rise all the time and ask people to rephrase their remarks and come to order. We are here to do the work of the people of New Brunswick, I will not muzzle debate but you will have to be temperate in your remarks.

Volpe - Question for premier. I want to know if the premier is the same today because he does change on a daily basis. On Wednesday, he asked me "is he the same person who handed New Brunswickers a $400 million deficit and didn't mention it once during the election."

Graham - I am sorry the leader is having such a hard time and has already be chastized twice. I am not sure what his question is, but I am the same person.

Volpe - The premier keeps refering to the Grant Thorton report and this $400 million deficit. Has he read the report.

Graham - "Yes."

Volpe - Where in there does it say that in the report?

Boudreau - It does not say there was a deficit, but there will be a deficit unless changes are made. Quotes Volpe from shortly after the election when he said "we know things they don't, there will be a deficit".

Volpe - Yes former ministers on this side know more the government and we will for years. Is the minister aware that Health costs go up 7-10% per year.

Boudreau - Yes, that is on page 10 of the report. Whether you call it "financial pressure" or a "potential deficit it is the same thing. Has the former minister of finance read the report?

Volpe - Maybe the premier will answer - is someone over there aware that health costs go up 7 to 10%.

Graham - I am glad to answer because my ministers have confidence in me and I have confidence in them while it seems to be a one man show on the other side. Yes, I am aware of the challenges in the health care system. Did that minister not get the same briefing we got the day we took office that there was a potential deficit. If he did, why did he not mention it during the 2006 election.

Volpe - Your report only says health will go up $70-$100 million. Are you aware of these costs?

Murphy - We know that health costs are going up fast and that is not sustainable. We have unleashed innovative thinkers in the department of health since we took office and will be unveilling changes to make sure that we have the best health care system in Canada.

Volpe - See there is another minister who admits it. I wasn't hiding anything, they knew these costs were going up. They also forcast increased costs due to negotiations with labour, did they not know that wages go up?

Boudreau - I can see that we know what all of the leaders questions are going to be - from page 10 of the report. Yes we were aware that these costs are going up, but we assumed that there was some plan to combat increased costs, this government is working to address the shortfalls.

(I am going to stop trying to do this roughly verbatim - I am not getting any work done)

To sum up, Volpe says that everyone knew costs were going up, so it he was not hiding anything as the government claims. The government then responds with Volpe's quote that he "knew things that they don't" so he was hiding anything, the government also starts listing their accomplishments since taking office and indicate the Tories accomplished little. Volpe says that they have admitted that he wasn't hiding anything.

Paul Robichaud began asking questions about past statements of Francis McGuire which he implied were unfavourable to the north, and asked if the government would accept his report.

Graham stood to answer and asked how much time was left in question period, the opposition went crazy and the speaker stood saying "Now, boys and girls. I want order in this House. I heard the comment from a member that the premier was leading the speaker. The premier was not, he asked a question and I have checked with the clerk, there is time for one answer. Order. Thank you."

Graham answered the question fairly passionately, in one of the best I've seen him off of the cuff, in both languages, that there was a unique chance for transforming the province and that they had to do it for New Brunswickers to succeed and he called on all members of the house and all New Brunswickers to particpate in that process.

Opposition House Leader and former Speaker Bev Harrison - your rulings during QP should not subtract from the 30 minutes. Government House Leader said it was opposition heckling that prompted the rulings. Speaker asked for unanimous consent to continue question period, there was none.

New Business

Wayne Steeves (PC Albert) introduced a bill that would create a tax break for volunteer fire fighters of $250 for 75+ hours, $500 for 150+ hours.

Bev Harrison (PC Hampton-Kings) introduced a bill that would set fixed election dates starting Oct 18, 2010.

Jody Carr (PC Oromocto) asked for permission to amend his motion he'd given notice for on Wednesday because it contained unparliamentary language and would be ruled out of order when it came up for debate. Here is the original motion with parts Carr had successfully removed struck through:

Motion 3 by Mr. Carr, seconded by Mr. C. LeBlanc to propose the following resolution
on Tuesday, February 13, 2007:

WHEREAS the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick unanimously passed the Estimates of the Department of Finance for the fiscal year of 2006/2007 including the estimates allocated for the necessary $45 million for a full rebate of the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax paid on home heating costs; and

WHEREAS during the provincial election of 2006, the Liberal Leader promised to return the 8% Harmonized Sales Tax to the taxpayers of New Brunswick; and

WHEREAS the same Liberal Leader and current premier has now reneged on his election promise and created an atmosphere of distrust and marred the good name of all accountable and responsible members of this Legislature; and

WHEREAS the current Government’s new energy relief program only helps a small fraction of New Brunswickers at a cost of less than $10 million dollars; and

WHEREAS the remaining $35 million dollars of the budget for the Department of Finance is now being used to fund other poorly planned promises of the Liberal Party; and

WHEREAS the current government has shown little concern for those families and individuals who had budgeted on this rebate to help them through the cold winter months; therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that this Legislative Assembly call upon the government to be truthful with New Brunswickers and further call upon the government to reinstate the HST Rebate Program and return the tax dollars to their rightful recipients, the taxpayers of New Brunswick.
Several tabling motions were also introduced.

Government Motions for the Ordering of the Business of the House

Government House Leader Stuart Jamieson (L Saint John-Fundy) moved a motion, and got unanimous consent to do so without notice, establishing the committees of the House. The committees on Health Care and Education were not appointed, not sure why.

Jamieson then moved, and got unanimous conssent to do so without notice, establishing the Legislative Administrative Committee (which runs the house - i.e. sets its budget, hires and fires, etc), the membership is:

Speaker Eugene McGuinley (L Grand Lake-Gagetown), Chair
Roy Boudreau (L Campbellton-Restigouche Centre)
Finance Minister Victor Boudreau (L Shediac-Cap-Pelé)
Jody Carr (PC Oromocto)
Opposition House Leader Bev Harrison (PC Hampton-Kings)
Government House Leader Stuart Jamieson (L Saint John-Fundy)
Dr. Larry Kennedy (L Victoria-Tobique)
Brian Kenny (L Bathurst)
Cy LeBlanc (PC Dieppe Centre-Lewisville)
Rick Miles (L Fredericton-Silverwood)

Business will move through second reading of bills and then to the throne speech if time was left.

Old Business

Bill 2 (power of tourism minister with respect to parks) - Both sides agree it is a housekeeping matter. No objection from opposition, but the now premier and then opposition opposed a similar bill because it took some power away from cabinet and give it to the minister individually. It passes second reading on a voice vote.

Bill 3 (changing old liquor user fee to a tax retroactively) - Public Safety Minister John Foran (L Miramichi Centre), says that this is the responsible for thing to do as the Supreme Court said directly that they could and then that the bar owners passed on the cost of this to their customers and that it is not a new tax and therefore doesn't violate the Taxpayer Protection Act. Wayne Steeves (PC Albert) and Jeannot Volpé (PC Madawaska les Lacs) oppose it. Volpe's argument is that this is not "standing up for people" as the Liberals ran on in 2003 and, typical to Liberals, the first thing they do is introduce a "new tax". Says that the Liberals have changed their mind when they moved to the government side of the house, unlike the "great leader that we had". "This group here will vote against any new tax." It passes second reading on a voice vote.

[The House adjourned for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30].

Bill 4 & 5 (gender neutrality to titles of bills) - The opposition criticized the government on both of these bills for them having been introduced under the previous government and not bassed due to "opposition obstruction". On Bill 5, Justice Minsiter T. J. Burke (L Fredericton-Nashwaaksis), responded to these criticisms saying that he wished that the opposition wouldn't play politics with routine business. Bruce Fitch (PC Riverview) then said that the government had been having a grand old time "cutting our ribbons", introducing old PC bills, cutting the HST rebate and letting Francis McGuire "drain the life out of the north of the province". Both passed on voice vote.

Bill 6 (giving government more power over leased crown land) - The opposition critic Keith Ashfield (PC New Maryland-Sunbury West) said they were not opposed to the bill, but had some questions for clarification to ask in committee. Then he took a dig at the Liberals by saying the Tories would scrutinize the legislation and be an effective oppositon asking substantive questions as seems to be their favourite pattern of attack. Volpe then stood to speak on some of the details of the bill which was rather mundane. It passed on a voice vote.

I stepped into a meeting and missed the debate on opposition Bills 7, 8 and 9. The house record shows all three had the debate adjourned.

I got back in time for the vote on Bill 9, which was 26-24. Missing from the vote were Premier Graham (off signing his deal with Maine one presumes), Agriculture Minister Ouellette and Tory MLA Margaret-Ann Blaney.

I am a little miffed about this as the Liberals often complained during the past sittings of the House that the Tories always adjourned the debate on their bills preventing them from having to vote and take a stand on the issue. I would hope that the Liberals would have the decency to at least a lot votes. I'll give them some grace as maybe it is their intention to bring these bills back for debate as opposed to leave them in limbo as the Tories used to do.

I guess the debate was quite heated as Education Minister Kelly Lamrock (L Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak) rose after the vote on Bill 9 to withdraw some of the remarks he made during the debate on Bill 7. He had called Jeannot Volpé a "shallow imposter", in reference to the fact he was trying to amend a Bill which he had introduced only 6 months before and, as Lamrock said in retracting the statement, he meant to imply that Jeannot was a different person now than he was then as he had been accussing the Liberals. He also withdrew the term "intellectual dishonesty" and replaced it with "intellectual delusion".

As per the comments section, the summaries to future debates will not be as substantive both to make it easier for me to keep up with my day job and easier for you folks to read.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you get any work done during the session? It would be extrememly time consumming to try to take everything verbatim and get it posted as quickly as you did. Why not just get on the mailing list for Question Period transcriptions which comes out in the afternoon?

I personally rather read your comments to the proceedings than a play-by-play of the goings on. I always find your insights and opinions interesting and miss them in this post.

nbpolitico said...

Noted - this was kind of an experiement in any event and I was actually going to post a survey this weekend to see.

Thanks for the compliment. I can indeed request Question Period transcripts and will, but I find that something is missed in the transcript that you hear in the actual speaking. It usually doesn't distract too much from work because I only listen in the background. Today I let it get a bit out of hand.

mike said...

I sort of kind of agree. There's a reason the media is way too selective in covering politics. Most people find it way too dry. But also find it way too long.

Since this is such a valuable service I would say whichever is easierfor you. However, I think SOME editing is necessary as people really don't have this kind of time to read even the shortened pieces you offer.

There really should be a way to categorize this stuff. I'm currently working on a website to do that, and I'll post when it's ready. We're going to use Charles idea of www.archive.com to host some audio and we're currently looking for volunteers to actually read this stuff and be the first province with audio digitally saved from the legislature for posterity. It would be great if government did it, but what can you do?

This way, it'll at least all be ready for the next election and people will have some idea of what is going on. Perhaps some New Brunswickers will actually start paying attention to what is going on in 'their' legislature.

Anonymous said...

listening to the today's proceedings in the background and I have to wonder if this is cooperation what kind of zoo would it be like if they said they wouldn't cooperate. The amount of pontificating from both sides of the House is a complete waste of time.

Spinks said...

Good gravy man, we need to find you a girlfriend. LOL!

nbpolitico said...

Go easy there Spinks, the girlfriend might get mad if she reads that!

This got way too long, I will have a shorter method. I do want to report on what bills were introduced and passed, but there will be no more verbatim.

Spinks said...

Kudos to Miss. NBPolitico for incredible patience. We should get her and Mrs. S together. Between the two of them they can figure out what makes us tick and how to get us the help we sorely need. It's going to be a loooonggg session.

Charles LeBlanc said...

You know what? Ever since I got banned from the Leg?

I can't be bothered watching questions period.

I haven't watch once.

I lost faith in our political system.

Maybe once I get back? My attitude will change?

Who knows????

Anonymous said...

That's depressing news Charles. Within the political arena is the only place you had an effect before, and its the only place that change can take place. By cutting off avenues of change people just create more problems.

People need to get MORE involved in the political process, not less. But people need to be smart. For example, there is no doubt that committee's and studies are often wastes of time. That is true, but not reason enough not to cover them or talk about them.

There does need to be a political option, that's true, and right now it seems pretty dry out there. But there's a saying that life can change on a dime.

However, it is true that the only reason I'd think its of any interest to watch the legislature is to see just how little actually gets done there.