While members of the 19th Legislative Assembly are about a third of the way through their term, one MLA is concerned that they haven’t passed any “substantive” legislation yet.
In the previous assembly, many pieces of legislation were left to the last minute. Members voted on a whopping 16 bills in the final sitting of Bob McLeod’s government.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said while this government is “not quite as bad as the last cabinet,” he’s worried about another “legislative landslide.”
So far, the 19th Legislative Assembly has passed 24 bills, twice as many as the previous assembly in the same period. O’Reilly said, however, that almost half of those bills have been appropriations – standard bills handling financial affairs – while the rest “deal with pithy matters.”
“We have yet to get anything substantive from cabinet. We are supposed to be a legislative assembly, not a debating club,” he said, adding cabinet was displaying “legislative inertia and lethargy.”
“This less-than-ambitious legislative agenda has not put our committees to work or delivered on the promises in the mandate and the needs of our citizens,” O’Reilly continued.
“I’m concerned that, like the last assembly, we will have an avalanche of bills in the last few months of our term, which doesn’t allow for good public input or careful consideration of improvements.”
Government House Leader RJ Simpson admitted there had been “some slippage” as departments have been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. He noted the territory has still managed to pass a number of bills and hopes to introduce two more in this sitting.
“Whether or not they’re substantive according to the member’s definition, I’m not sure, but we hope to have some work for them,” he said, adding those bills still have to go through cabinet.
Pointing back to the end of the last government, O’Reilly referenced a clause-by-clause review of a bill that stretched past midnight. He questioned how this government would “prevent a repeat performance.”
“I remember all of the member’s amendments that made it stretch out until past midnight,” Simpson quipped in response. “But we did learn from the last assembly.”
The House leader said the territorial government had asked departments to provide more realistic timelines for legislation and would use technology to better track legislation.
“I want to thank the government House leader for giving me credit on the the clause-by-clause review of that faulty legislation in the last assembly,” O’Reilly fired back.
He questioned if, given the pandemic, the government had enough resources to “turn the legislative taps on.”
Simpson concluded the heated exchange by noting that some legislation takes a lot of work and consultation before it can become a bill, but that the government had the capacity to do the work.
“I would just ask that the member keep down the number of additional requests he’s making of the government so that we can prioritize our legislation,” he said in a final shot at O’Reilly.
The Frame Lake MLA could be heard responding in the background, “I’m hardly the worst.”
The war of words prompted Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson to remind members to be respectful to one another.
“Just hearing that debate, you know, you’ve got to remember we work for the people of the Northwest Territories, and we’ve got to respect everybody in the House in regards to working together,” Jacobson said.