Nfld. & Labrador

All-nighter leads to deal to cut House of Assembly seats to 40

After an all-night session in the House of Assembly, the bill to reduce the number of seats in the legislature has passed, but with significant concessions to the Opposition Liberals.

Labrador keeps 4 seats after Bill 42 is amended following marathon debate

After a debate that went all night and into Friday morning, Bill 42 was passed in the House of Assembly after a compromise was made between the PC and Liberal parties. (Mike Rossiter/CBC)

The House of Assembly will be changing the number of seats, after the provincial government called members back to the house this week to pass a bill after an all-night session.

Around 8:30 Friday morning, the House adjourned after passing a bill to cut the numbers in the legislature from 48 to 40.

Bill 42 was passed with amendments to the original plan laid out just one week ago by Premier Paul Davis, who said he wanted to reduce the number of seats from 48 to 38 as a cost-saving measure.

While the PCs and Liberals spent the night inching closer to an agreement, the NDP accused both parties of manipulation and subversion to the democratic process.

However, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said regardless of how the process happened, there would have been critics.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says there would be critics no matter how the province went about reducing the number of seats in the legislature. (CBC)

"On some days when you see a very bunch of vocal bunch of MHAs in there people say it's dysfunctional. When you see cooperation amongst parties in getting some legislative changes in place, they say that's not politics either," said Ball.

He had previously said he would support a move to cut the number of MHAs sitting in the house, and Friday the Tories had to make concessions to the Liberals to pass the bill.

All in all, Ball is getting everything his party asked for when the process started earlier this week.

"We should at least give it a shot and see what we can get done with this in the next four months," said Ball.

Finance Minister Ross Wiseman said there was never a possibility the next provincial election would be pushed to 2016, which was cited earlier this week as a concern from the opposition parties.

"This was an exercise that was going to happen in the year 2016, so why not do it in 2015 and in the process save some money?" Wiseman told CBC News.

"The notion that we would not have an election in 2015 has already been dealt with now in the legislation."

'Healthy debate'

Shortly after 6 a.m. on Friday, it became clear that the PCs and Liberals had reached a compromise on the issue.

Minister Wiseman told members after a recess that the government and the Official Opposition had agreed on a new number — 40.
Finance Minister Ross Wiseman says there was never any way government would push the next provincial election to 2016. (CBC)

"This healthy debate we've had in recent days has helped to inform a lot of our thinking," he said.

"I'm introducing a motion to amend the clause, and it's been seconded by my colleague in the House of Assembly, the member for St. Barbe."

The NDP isn't happy with the deal, saying the legislation is being rewritten on the fly.

They also feel that deals are being made in the corridors outside of the legislature.

At 6:45 a.m., the party sent out a tweet expressing the view of MHA Gerry Rogers.

Labrador to keep seats

One of the major issues surrounding the bill was whether or not Labrador would keep the four seats it has long held in the House of Assembly.

There had been some concern that seats would be cut in Labrador, given that relatively few people live in the area, which is also several times larger than the island. 

​However, the amendments passed early Friday morning will allow Labrador to keep its four seats.

Minutes before Bill 42 had passed, Liberal MHA Lisa Dempster spoke to the house, outlining the amendments that related to Labrador.

"The commission shall divide the Labrador portion of the province into four proposed districts ... and shall, in describing the boundaries of those districts, consider their historic boundaries," she said. 

Two unique districts 

Another of the major changes that will come as a result of the amendments is that two districts will not be bound by the same population requirements as the other 38.

The previous legislation stated that all districts in the province were drawn up by dividing the total provincial population by 47.

As well, the Electoral Boundaries Act states that each district could only depart from that quotient by more or less than 10 per cent.

Under the amendments passed on Friday, there would now be two districts that would be allowed to deviate from that rule, presumably to facilitate population changes in rural areas.

Election in 2015

After Friday's vote, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball reassured his party that there would still be an election in 2015.

There had been some fears that the PCs were using the seat reduction plan to try and push ahead the provincial election to 2016, given that the commission responsible for changing the electoral map may not have time to make changes before the fixed election date in October.

Premier Davis denied that was the case, saying the move to reduce the seats was driven by a desire to save money, not for political reasons.

Ball told the legislature on Friday that the amendments to Bill 42 ensures that the election won't be delayed. He said that even if the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission​ doesn't finish their work in time, the election will still go ahead.

"What this amendment does, is allows the commission to lapse after 120 days," he said.

"The failure to report shall not in any way affect requirements for a general election."

There is a 10-day extension period that can be used only once, which would allow the government to push that process ahead to only 130 days. 

Ball said that means voters in the province will be going to the polls this fall, no matter what. 

"The election in 2015 under our current fixed election laws would continue," he said.

NDP calls result 'subversion of democracy'

While the Liberals and PCs were touting their ability to work together and pass legislation, the NDP were furious at the outcome.

In a statement released later that morning, the party called the process of Bill 42 a "subversion of democracy."

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said that the government 'manipulated' the procedure to rush the bill through the House of Assembly.

In a speech to the legislature after the bill was passed, Michael said she couldn't believe what happened.

"I have to say, that I am quite disturbed," she said.

"I believe the whole process is wrong."

Ever since the premier raised the idea of seat reduction, the NDP has said they think government is unnecessarily pushing the plan through, without allowing the proper process to happen.

"I can't understand that people in this room don't think that's serious, the speed with which it is happening, I can't believe it," she said over the heckles of other party members in the chamber.

"I can't believe that this is what you are doing."


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