Alberta legislature ethics committee may need more than a year to review laws

Members of an all-party committee tasked with toughening up Alberta’s ethics, whistleblower and elections laws say they may not get their work done within their one-year mandate.

'We haven't done any substantive work yet,' says Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark is among those members who are concerned about the committee's schedule.

Members of an all-party committee tasked with toughening up Alberta's ethics, whistleblower and elections laws say they may not finish their work within their one-year mandate.

Since it started in September, the Select Special Ethics and Accountability committee has met five times, with the most recent meeting on Feb. 11. The committee didn't meet in March and no future meetings are on the schedule.

Wildrose accountability critic and committee member Jason Nixon is concerned there may be a rush to meet the September deadline. 

"I'm a little concerned about the possibility of accelerating, and I think that it's important for the government to indicate that the committee will be given enough time to do all the work," he said.

Nixon said work was proceeding quickly at the start, but a number of factors, including a change in committee chair, slowed things down.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, another committee member, is also concerned about the schedule.

"We've received reports, very thoughtful reports, but we haven't done any substantive work yet," Clark said. "So it's going to be difficult to deliver anything meaningful."

Clark said it is unlikely the committee will meet next month, because the legislature will be considering government estimates after the budget is released April 14. 

Extension needed?

Jessica Littlewood, the NDP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, became a member of the committee when she was appointed to replace Christina Gray as chair.

Gray became minister of labour and minister of democratic reform last month.

Littlewood said public consultations closed on Feb. 26. She said the submissions are now being reviewed by the legislative assembly staff, which will take at least three weeks.

"Right now, we're waiting for a review of those submissions, so that we can actually get to really putting together the next meeting dates," Littlewood said.

Given the amount of work, PC MLA Richard Starke suggested extending the deadline past September.

"I don't necessarily feel we should be held to that. I think the work of this committee is extremely important," Starke said. "So I'm quite comfortable with extending beyond the one year."

Nixon said the Wildrose caucus would have no problem with extending the deadline, as long as the committee meets regularly and makes progress.

"Certainly we would be against accelerating through the last portion of the process without doing the job right for Albertans."

The committee was originally supposed to review the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure Act, otherwise known as the whistleblower act. 

It is also looking at a private member's bill introduced last fall by Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, which would prohibit governments from making funding announcements during elections. 

In the throne speech delivered March 8, the government indicated it plans to present legislation based on committee's recommendations this fall.


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