Liberal leader snubs idea of continuing all-party COVID committee format for other issues

·3 min read
Liberal Opposition Leader Roger Melanson said going forward he wants issues to be debated in public in the legislature and
Liberal Opposition Leader Roger Melanson said going forward he wants issues to be debated in public in the legislature and

The leader of New Brunswick's Liberals is rebuffing the idea that parties continue using the same format as the all-party COVID committee for other issues once the pandemic is over.

Living in a democracy, issues need to be debated and discussed in public in the legislature, said Roger Melanson, speaking on CBC's Political Panel.

"I think that's one of the most fundamental principles of democracy, which is having debates in public, in an open, transparent way, and … being an official opposition doesn't always mean that you criticize or oppose. You can be constructive.

"So the legislative assembly is where those conversations need to occur and continue, not behind closed doors, and so we can have real debates."

Melanson was responding to the question of whether there's an opportunity to take the model used for the all-party COVID committee and use it to solve problems concerning the economy or health care.

Since March 2020, leaders from the province's four parties have worked together as part of the COVID committee, which is aimed at coming up with strategies to fight the pandemic and keep case numbers down.

The committee is unique in Canada, and its legal status is itself an innovation. While the three opposition party leaders are not ministers, they swore oaths to respect cabinet confidentiality.

With more and more New Brunswickers getting vaccinated and the pandemic expected to end, party leaders have hinted the committee could be disbanded with the end of the state of emergency, which could happen in the next few months, according to Premier Blaine Higgs.

Speaking on the panel, Higgs said there could be room for a similar style of collaboration for other issues after the pandemic, but added it would have to be very focused.

Premier Blaine Higgs said he can see a similar format for collaboration used, but added it would have to be very focused.
Premier Blaine Higgs said he can see a similar format for collaboration used, but added it would have to be very focused.(Government of New Brunswick)

"I do think it's [worthwhile], given the success we've had to date and hoping it continues," Higgs said.

"And then as the emergency's over and we're able to stand down and go back to life as normal, are there some particular topics that we could pick and how would we identify those topics and then have a very rational protocol in how we're going to analyze what the challenges and opportunities are for the province?

"I think that's the way it could possibly work, but very focused on a particular item, so it just doesn't turn into … going back and forth."

David Coon, the leader of the Green Party, said his response would be to see that the parliamentary committee system be fixed across Canada to improve non-partisan collaboration within committees of the legislature.

Green Party Leader David Coon says he wants to see changes made to the legislature committee system to improve the quality of non-partisan co-operation.
Green Party Leader David Coon says he wants to see changes made to the legislature committee system to improve the quality of non-partisan co-operation.(CBC)

"That is where that co-operation, collaboration should be occurring, but New Brunswick's legislature has been an outlier in Canada in terms of the hyper-partisanship at the committee stage," Coon said.

"And so there's a responsibility on the part of the leaders of each of the political parties in the legislature to tackle that. The partisanship is poisoning our committees and making that kind of co-operation and collaboration impossible."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the Higgs government was forced to collaborate with the other parties when it was a minority government between 2018 and 2020.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin says there was lots of collaboration among parties back when there was a minority government between 2018 and 2020.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin says there was lots of collaboration among parties back when there was a minority government between 2018 and 2020.(CBC News)

Austin said the parties worked well together for two years.

"And that's why I've … pushed hard in the past for the minority situations because that is the foolproof way of ensuring that all parties work together, because you have no choice."

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