Cape Breton-Richmond MLA, NDP criticize government opposition to fixed election dates

HALIFAX: Despite introducing similar legislation in 2013 as part of the official Opposition, earlier this month, the Stephen McNeil-led Liberal party nixed two separate fixed-date amendments to the province’s Elections Act.

Independent Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon introduced legislation requiring provincial general elections every four years on the second Tuesday in October, eliminating irregular snap elections that promote what she calls a “power imbalance” that unfairly favours majority governments.

Paon suggested her legislation, Bill 239, to amend Nova Scotia’s Elections Act, would promote fairer, more equitable and lower-cost elections that “level the playing field.”

She criticized the Liberal’s defeat of a similar proposal in the Legislature’s Law Amendments Committee.

“Defeating the amendment to the Elections Act, mirroring Bill 239 that I tabled on a 5-2 vote without discussion, did not promote democracy,” Paon stated. “Nova Scotia is the only province that has not adopted a fixed election schedule.”

NDP House Leader, Claudia Chender said it was disappointing Liberal MLAs on the Law Amendments Committee voted against adding fixed election dates to the Elections Act.

“Once again, they are voting in a way that is politically advantageous for themselves,” she said. “This allows elections to be used as a political tool of the government. Not knowing when there will be an election puts the people of the province at a disadvantage.”

The NDP are pushing for numerous democratic renewal policies including fixed election dates, lowering the voting age to 16, and switching to a voting system of proportional representation.

Paon applauded her NDP and Conservative colleagues for following her lead on introducing fixed-date election amendments in Committee of the Whole House.

Premier Stephen McNeil and independent MLA Hugh MacKay were absent for the March 3 vote that recorded 22 in favour of fixed-date elections and 23 against.

Rather than accepting The Reporter’s request for a three-question interview, the premier’s communication staff provided a brief written statement instead.

“In principle, fixed election dates sound reasonable, but they have not been followed by governments numerous times in recent years.”

Then on March 10, Paon introduced Bill 257, which she said was a progressive reform of the House of Assembly that would loosen the “stranglehold” of political parties, improve the ability of MLAs to vote their conscience, and increase transparency in the spending of tax funds by political party caucuses.

The MLA introduced “An Act to Ensure Equity Among Members of the House of Assembly,” which she said would help legislators vote more consistently in the interests of their constituents rather than with their political party.

Short-titled the “Member Equity Act,” Bill 257 contains more than a dozen reforms to the way the House of Assembly and House of Assembly Management Commission operate.

One provision would require the publication of tax-paid expenses by political caucuses in the same way MLAs publish their constituency expenses.

Paon said the proposed legislation would also: write equal parliamentary privileges for all MLAs into law; provide independent MLAs proportional access to resources that party MLAs enjoy; codify a proportionally equal right for all MLAs to pose questions during Question Period and provincial budgeting sessions; provide a remedy for parties and MLAs who exceed their time during Question Period; require that all MLAs have the same access to information, professional education and privileges, such as professional conferences, education and research resources; provide all MLAs with adequate office space near Province House, and give independent MLAs control over their own office budget; require the province to provide MLAs with a copy of leases the province engages on their behalf; and allow MLAs year-round access to the translation services the province provides during legislative sittings.