Stricter spending rules will be in place for the campaign leading up to this October's general election in Newfoundland and Labrador.
'When we go into an election, there should be a level playing field for all candidates,' says speaker Harvey Hodder.
Among other things, the members of a newly formed oversight commission want politicians' government-paid cellphones to be disabled the instant a writ is dropped next month, signalling the official start of the election campaign.
Members of the house of assembly management commission, which held its first meeting on Wednesday, say that rules proposed in a recent report by Justice Derek Green are fine, but not actually strict enough to balance a challenger's chances of fighting an incumbent.
For instance, Green — the chief justice of the Newfoundland Supreme Court's trials division — recommended that incumbent members of the house should be able to use government money to do their constituency work after the writ is dropped.
Speaker Harvey Hodder thinks this new rule is problematic.
"I believe that when we go into an election, there should be a level playing field for all candidates," said Hodder, who is not running in the Oct. 9 election.
"If members who are incumbents can access their constituency funds during the election period, that in my mind does not facilitate a level playing field for all candidates."
Commission members (from left) Kelvin Parsons, Gerry Reid, Elizabeth Marshall, Tom Marshall and Lorraine Michael listen during Wednesday's proceedings.
Green, whose wide-ranging report was released in June, recommended an overhaul of procedures at the house of assembly, particularly on financial controls. Premier Danny Williams recruited him to review legislature practices after Auditor General John Noseworthy began releasing reports in June 2006 on millions of dollars in overpayments and questionable spending.
Members of the commission, which includes representatives of the three political parties, were unanimous in prohibiting use of constituency allowances during a formal campaign.
"I don't think that we should be permitted to do that during an election," said Liberal Leader Gerry Reid, adding he respects Green's advice, but that Green is not familiar with the kind of spending that goes on during an election.
"I would prefer if [using constituency allowances] wasn't legal, because I think that this would cause a lot of confusion and there would be a lot of risk for — I don't want to say corruption — but who knows."
As well, the commission voted to have MHA cellphones disabled during the campaign. Any calls that politicians make must be paid through personal or campaign funds.
Williams is expected to ask Lt.-Gov. Ed Roberts to drop the writ for the election in mid-September. Under fixed-date legislation, voters will head to the polls on Oct. 9.
The house of assembly management commission was created to replace the commission of internal economy, a bipartisan oversight committee that came in for criticism during revelations in Noseworthy's audits.
The commission's meetings are open to the public — although no one sat in the gallery during Wednesday's proceedings — and are televised. Minutes will also be published in Hansard, the official record of the legislature.
Elizabeth Marshall, the Tory MHA for Topsail and a member of the commission, said the new body should help restore public confidence in legislative affairs.
Marshall had been the auditor general in 2000, when the members of the internal economy commission of the day barred her from reviewing the house's finances.
"I sort of feel like I've been [there] at the beginning, and I feel it's something that I would like to see through to the end," she said.
"I think by this time next year we'll have a year under our belt and there will be confidence in the system."
|Last Update:October 9, 10:58:12 PM NDT|
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