Gallant government backs down on controversial bills
Sends bills to committee, and may let them die: 'This is not a priority of ours.'
The Gallant government gave in to pressure Tuesday and announced it will send two controversial bills to a legislative committee, where they could be watered down or allowed to die altogether.
Attorney General Serge Rousselle said Bill 26 and Bill 27, which affect the Inquiries Act and the powers of some independent watchdogs, will be sent to the legislature's law amendments committee.
And Premier Brian Gallant even opened the door to letting the bills die there, depending on what witnesses tell the committee during its hearings.
"Nothing is moving forward. We'll send it to law amendments," Gallant said during a heated question period. "If they're not comfortable with it, we won't move forward with it."
Bills 'not a priority'
A few minutes earlier, Gallant speculated that "maybe the bill won't go anywhere. … This is not a priority of ours."
Bill 26 and Bill 27 were introduced last week.
The first bill will replace the existing law on public commissions of inquiry, the Inquiries Act, with a completely new law.
The second amends several dozen other provincial laws which give some independent watchdogs, commissions, and boards the same powers as a commission under the Inquiries Act.
That includes the power to subpoena witnesses and to hear testimony under oath.
On Monday, Auditor General Kim MacPherson said she objected to the parts of Bill 27 that amend the Auditor General Act.
It would repeal Section 12(2), which gives the auditor general the powers of a commissioner of inquiry in audits requested by the government.
"If she wants to keep it, we have nothing against that," he said.
But he said she apparently didn't get the voicemail.
MacPherson wouldn't comment on the voicemail Tuesday but said she was encouraged by the government's move.
"My understanding is they're agreeable to not repealing that Section 12(2) ... which was my major concern," she said.
She said she looks forward to appearing before the committee to ask that Section 12(2) be expanded to allow the auditor general to use inquiry powers in any audit.
Rousselle told reporters that the civil service has been working on updating the act for more than a decade and recently sent the bills to cabinet to be introduced in the legislature.
'No emergency' to change legislation
"But there was no emergency, and there's still no emergency," he said. "It's not an act we use very often."
He said better bills may emerge from the law amendments committee, or the government may drop the two pieces of legislation altogether.
"We'll hear what people have to say and hopefully we'll arrive to something we can agree on, and that will be perfect," Rousselle said. "If not, we've survived for one hundred and so many years with the old one, so we'll just continue with it."