Opposition lobbies for independent election review as House opens for business

·4 min read
Confederation Building in St. John's was filled with elected officials Monday as the 50th general assembly began regular business. (CBC - image credit)
Confederation Building in St. John's was filled with elected officials Monday as the 50th general assembly began regular business. (CBC - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's 50th general assembly hunkered down for regular business Monday, with the opposition parties pressing the Liberals on how the party intends to overhaul elections legislation.

On Thursday, the House of Assembly introduced its first bill of the new session, an Act to Amend the Elections Act, characterized by Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote as a means to "develop modern legislation that ensures voting is as accessible as possible for the people of our province."

The bill, which passed its first reading, comes after an onslaught of criticism over accessibility in the last election, marred by delays and language barriers. Premier Andrew Furey told reporters last month that the overhaul will involve translation into Indigenous languages, and could include ways to allow voting from home, Justice Minister John Hogan told reporters Monday.

But Furey's Liberals would not commit to an all-party committee to review the Elections Act, nor would the party promise an independent analysis of the election, saying the issue was currently before the courts.

"We're not going to wait for their findings," Furey said during question period, referring to the Elections Act as a "living document" that should be continuously updated.

Justice Minister John Hogan will lead the charge on Elections Act reform.
Justice Minister John Hogan will lead the charge on Elections Act reform.(CBC)

Newcomer Hogan is leading the party on its elections reform file, and did not provide a date when amendments would be introduced.

"We're not going to shortcut anything. We're going to make sure we do an in-depth analysis," he said.

Opposition leader David Brazil applauded the bill, but expressed concern about the level of co-ordination on developing it.

"Because of the shambles … with this past election, what an opportunity to really review what happened and really put in place legislation that would address that," Brazil said.

Brazil pushed, however, for an all-party committee to lead that review. "It's baffling and it's disappointing that they didn't automatically say, look, we're in favour of this."

Immediately after question period, PC MHA Barry Petten spent several minutes detailing what he framed as mistakes throughout the election and introduced a non-binding private member's bill attempting to secure an all-party committee and an independent analysis, as well as to suspend chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk. The bill is scheduled for debate on Wednesday.

"At this point we're considering everything, but I'm not willing to come down one way or the other just yet," Furey told reporters. "It was a fairly lengthy motion, and I haven't read it in detail just yet."

Interim Opposition leader David Brazil is lobbying the Liberals to strike an all-party committee to look at elections reform.
Interim Opposition leader David Brazil is lobbying the Liberals to strike an all-party committee to look at elections reform.(CBC)

Greene report due by end of month

The House sat three days after Foote delivered a throne speech outlining the severe economic hurdles facing the government. Recommendations for tackling those challenges are expected in a report from Furey's recovery task force, chaired by Moya Greene.

Monday's session saw a majority Liberal government fend off repeated accusations that the party was not releasing information on the Greene report. Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said she did not have a draft copy of the interim report, but expected it before the end of April, at which point she would release it.

The Liberals hold 22 of the legislature's 40 seats, with the Progressive Conservatives holding 13 and the New Democratic Party holding two. Three Independents were also re-elected.

The PCs and NDP begin the assembly without permanent leaders on the House floor, after the Tories' Ches Crosbie and NDP's Alison Coffin both lost their seats. Crosbie stepped down as party leader soon after, with Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil taking over as interim opposition leader.

Coffin, meanwhile, has filed two court challenges after losing by 53 votes in the St. John's East-Quidi Vidi district. One is a recount request, while the other seeks to prove that a number of alleged irregularities throughout the election disqualify the results.

She also spoke in favour Monday of an independent review of the election.

"The right way, the most comprehensive way, to ensure that nothing [like this] happens again would be that independent review," Coffin told reporters.

The House continues to sit this week and adjourns Friday, and is scheduled to resume May 31 and sit for a month before breaking for the summer.

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