Edmonton

NDP seeking legal advice over government plan to limit legislature debate

The NDP Official Opposition will be seeking legal advice on changes to the rules of the Alberta legislature that could limit debate on bills to 20 hours. 

'It’s a heavy-handed effort to limit debate, limit democracy, undermine accountability'

NDP Leader Rachel Notley says rules to limit debate in the Alberta legislature will undermine democracy and accountability. (Gabrielle Brown/Radio-Canada)

The NDP Official Opposition will be seeking legal advice on changes to the rules of the Alberta legislature that could limit debate on bills to 20 hours. 

On Monday, UCP government House leader Jason Nixon said changes to the standing orders, which dictate how the government conducts business, are coming.

"It's a heavy-handed effort to limit debate, limit democracy, undermine accountability and move back to the old Tory handbook of secrecy, secrecy, secrecy," NDP Leader Rachel Notley told reporters at the legislature Tuesday. 

"There is a limit on the degree to which they can exercise the right of the majority at the expense of the minority within parliamentary democracy, " she added. 

"We have to look at whether there's grounds to say they've overstepped what the traditions of our parliamentary democracy suggest we need to respect."

The changes are in response to the spring session when the NDP forced three overnight filibusters, the longest lasting 46 hours and 20 minutes, to delay the passage of three pieces of legislation they were most opposed to. 

Nixon expressed concern about the costs of lengthy debates, saying the NDP were engaging in "outright taxpayer abuse" by keeping the legislature open all night. 

Notley said her caucus is happy to have these discussions during the day. It was the government that wanted contentious issues discussed while Albertans were asleep in their beds. 

The text of the proposed changes hasn't yet been released. 

Notley called a move to more explicitly limit the hours of debate "cynical politics" as the government already has that power within the existing rules. 

"It's called time allocation," Notley said. "It's been in place for at least a decade, probably two, in this province." 

Nixon said the changes could be modelled on how the Saskatchewan legislature deals with proposed legislation it calls specified bills. 

The limit for debate is 20 hours, but very few bills are ever discussed for that amount of time, according to a spokesperson for Saskatchewan's executive council. 

On rare occasions, bills considered to be controversial are not voted on immediately. 

Instead, they are debated for a number of hours agreed to by the government and opposition. 

Once debate is concluded, bills stay on the order paper at whatever stage they were in until the second-to-last day of the spring session. The bills are then put back on the agenda for the legislature to vote on. 

Notley suggested the UCP may try to cherry-pick from Saskatchewan's standing orders to give Alberta the least democratic rules in the country.