No free vote, but there's still time to change the budget, says prof

A political science professor says there are other ways besides a free vote for the Liberals to change the most unpopular parts of Budget 2016.
Professor Kelly Blidook says any MHA who would vote against their party's budget would have to leave that party voluntarily, or be kicked out. (CBC)

A political science professor at Memorial University says a free vote on the Newfoundland and Labrador budget can't happen, but that doesn't mean Liberal MHAs can't use other means to change its most contentious parts.

Kelly Blidook told CBC's Here and Now that budget votes are considered confidence votes, meaning that while MHAs can vote as they wish, if they vote against party lines they would either have to leave their party voluntarily afterwards, or be kicked out.

"It's kind of hard to have this person in your party and say, 'Yeah sure, you can be in the party with us — but you just voted to say this government should fall,'" said Blidook.

A petition demanding a free vote on the budget has been circulating online, gathering thousands of signatures, and the official opposition Tories have been asking for such a vote during question period in the House of Assembly.

While Blidook says those gestures are symbolic, "people should absolutely be telling their MHA how they feel about this."

"What people want is a different budget, and they should have an opportunity to say as much as they can about that," he said. 

Criticism of Premier Dwight Ball and the Liberal party has been in no short supply since the release of the budget. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Pressure to change

Blidook said people can exert pressure on individual MHAs over aspects of the budget they particularly dislike.

That​ can result in that MHA threatening to vote against the budget, leaving the premier with a difficult decision.

"Am I going to let this person leave, or am I going to change it? And there still is the option for that to happen," Blidook said.

Blidook added there are many parts of the Liberal budget that could use tweaking, and there's still time to do that.

"They're in a tough position. They probably had to bring a budget that people weren't going to be happy with," he said.

"I do think they could do a better job of explaining exactly why they've chosen the measures they have, and in some cases I think they could change some of those measures."

Blidook said the major blunder has been the deficit reduction levy, which he described as a "regressive form of taxation."

"I think you could come up with something far better, that would be much more progressive, that wouldn't take money out of the hands of the poorest people at higher rates than it's taking it out of the hands of richer people."

With files from Here and Now