Cyclists mark passage of Ellen's Law as legislature session ends
MLAs return for fourth session of Gallant government's mandate in October
The New Brunswick legislature adjourned Friday on an unusual note: a celebration of non-partisan co-operation to pass a bill to protect the safety of cyclists.
MLAs from all parties joined a few dozen cyclists in front of the legislature to mark third reading and final approval of Ellen's Law, which will require drivers of cars and trucks to give cyclists a metre of clearance.
"They all worked together in getting this law through really quickly," said Wayne Arrowsmith, a cyclist who lobbied for the law. "We're very appreciative of that.
"Once it came to the house, I think everyone recognized that this was just something that had to be done."
The bill was drafted and introduced in short order after the death of Ellen Watters, who was struck by a car while on a training ride in Sussex last December.
Premier Brian Gallant, several Liberal and Progressive Conservative MLAs, and Green Leader David Coon all gathered with the cyclists, shortly before Lieutenant-Governor Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau arrived to give royal assent to Ellen's Law and other bills passed during the session.
Tax assessment scandal
But the harmonious tone out front was a contrast to the proceedings inside earlier in the morning, where PC Leader Blaine Higgs used the final question period of the session to to press Gallant on his role in the property assessment fiasco.
The issue dominated question period for weeks, with Higgs calling on Gallant to resign over suggestions the premier pushed Service New Brunswick to rush a new assessment system in place, causing more than 2,000 people to receive falsely inflated tax bills.
"Does the premier believe he has taken responsibility for his actions? Is he proud of himself for his actions?" Higgs asked.
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Gallant answered by repeating what he has said for weeks: that the Liberals acknowledged that there were "serious errors" with the assessments and that the government was taking "bold action" by asking a retired judge to review the situation.
Besides Ellen's Law, the Liberals passed dozens of other bills during the session, including:
- A repeal of an old law legalizing the 2005 property tax break for Canaport LNG in Saint John.
- Legislation to extend Enbridge Gas New Brunswick's franchise in the province and end the company's lawsuit against the province.
- Changes to the Judicature Act that will give the justice minister a veto over Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith's power to transfer judges on his court.
- The banning of donations to political parties from corporations and unions.
- An overhaul of the legislation governing municipalities, including a provision to give local government the power to offer economic development incentives.
- The creation of a new statutory holiday, Family Day, beginning next February.
The only Liberal bill that didn't pass was one that would penalize political parties that don't provide a cost estimate of their promises during an election campaign.
No delaying tactics
Despite PC opposition to many of the bills, the Tories opted not to use procedural delaying tactics to force the legislature to extend its sitting weeks past Friday.
But this year, under new leader Higgs, they acquiesced to the Liberal schedule.
Higgs told reporters that because the government limited debate on several bills, there was no point in dragging things out into two extra sitting weeks set aside in June.
"What do you think our options would have been?" he said. "Nothing's going to change."
The legislature is set to return in October for the fourth and final session of the Liberal mandate before next year's election.
"I don't know if you think back, if that set the benchmark for everything, but this is what people want to see: legislators working together," he said.
PC Trevor Holder said the consensus on Ellen's Law was unusual, but it shouldn't be.
"There's some things you run on, and each party runs on and you've got to be true to that," he said."But when something like this comes up, this is a clear example of an opportunity for the legislature to work the way it's supposed to."