Nova Scotia

Tory MLAs back down on proposed committee power grab

A motion by Richmond MLA Trevor Boudreau would have tied the selection of meeting topics to a party's standing in the legislature. The Tories rescinded the motion after opposition MLAs spoke out against it.

Public accounts committee only recently regained powers that former government removed

Members of the Nova Scotia Legislature's public accounts committee are working at strengthening the non-partisan intent of the meetings. (Robert Short/CBC)

Progressive Conservative MLAs in Nova Scotia briefly pursued a plan to change the structure of the legislature's public accounts committee on Wednesday before withdrawing a motion that would have seen greater power shifted to the governing party.

A motion by Richmond MLA Trevor Boudreau would have tied the selection of meeting topics to a party's standing in the legislature. The change would have given the Tories three topics, the Liberals two and the NDP one, before a new slate of topics would be advanced.

The current structure involves a subcommittee with one MLA from each party meeting and bringing forward topics for the whole committee to consider. There are no ratios based on party standing.

The Tory motion prompted a sharp rebuke from opposition MLAs, who noted the committee is supposed to operate in a non-partisan, collaborative way.

After calling for a brief recess, the Tories rescinded their motion.

Trying to work together

In an interview at Province House, Boudreau said the intent of the motion was to mirror the approach other legislative committees use to select meeting topics.

Boudreau said hearing the concerns of opposition MLAs made it easy to reverse course.

"The intent of the [public accounts] committee is to work together," he said.

In a nod to its non-partisan intent, public accounts is the only legislature committee chaired by an opposition MLA rather than a member of the government caucus. 

New Democrat MLA Susan Leblanc said she was pleased by the Tories' change of heart.

Leblanc said the motion felt like a step backward to when the former Liberal government used its majority to reduce the power of the committee, which explores areas of provincial spending and auditor general reports, and can often create headaches for the government.

'A non-partisan committee'

The government of former premier Stephen McNeil made drastic changes to the committee's structure during its time in power, including reducing the number of meetings and limiting the topics that could be called.

Premier Tim Houston made good on a promise to change that early in his mandate when the Liberal-imposed requirement that topics only be related to auditor general reports was rescinded.

Leblanc said that's the way things are supposed to be.

"Public accounts is supposed to be a non-partisan committee," she said in an interview.

The Dartmouth North MLA said work is underway at the subcommittee level to make changes that should further improve collaboration at meetings.

Boudreau said he does not anticipate a similar motion being brought forward at a later date.


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