PCs, NDP go toe-to-toe over legislative oversight

By Sabrina Nanji June 17, 2020

The New Democrats who chair the standing committees in charge of fiscal oversight and vetting government appointees say they want to get back to work. But the Tories say they don’t have the technology (yet) and called it a “partisan attack.” 

Catherine Fife, who chairs public accounts; Peter Tabuns, who runs estimates; and John Vanthof, chair of the government agencies committee, wrote an open letter to PC house leader Paul Calandra Tuesday demanding he restart the committees in the name of accountability. 

The trio accused the PCs of using their majority to “selectively allow some committees to move forward with government bills” while they “declined to move with the same urgency to get these oversight bodies back up and running.” 

For instance, the public accounts committee was conducting followup work on earlier reports into long-term care and emergency management that could offer lessons for the current pandemic response. 

Meanwhile, the government agencies committee can’t interview incoming public appointees, which the NDP say is a problem because the PCs continue to appoint at lightning speed, including some questionable gigs. (NDP Ethics critic Taras Natyshak has raised concerns about Jason Schlegel — CEO of a private long-term care chain and PC donor — being named to the LTC incident management table.) 

Calandra chalked it up to technical difficulties. 

According to the clerk’s office, which briefed all house leaders, the legislature is currently only equipped to run two virtual committees at a time. There will also be a “retroactive review” of all public appointments made during the pandemic.

“It is disingenuous for the NDP to claim that they were unaware of these limitations,” Calandra said. “It was always the government’s plan, supported by the opposition house leaders and Independent members, to resume all committees when it is safe and possible to do so.” 

Calandra flipped the script, saying the Opposition engaged in a “partisan attack” because the note was sent on NDP letterhead. 

NDP tease amendments to commercial evictions bill, PCs fire back
On Monday, Calandra accused the NDP of negotiating through the media when they released amendments they want added to the bill banning commercial evictions, which will be tabled this afternoon. Later that day, a Zoom call between all the house leaders got heated and the NDP logged off. 

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said the bill must cover all landlords, instead of only those that qualify for the federal rent relief program but have not applied. Bisson also asked that it be retroactive to mid-March, when the emergency shutdowns began, as opposed to June 3, which is what the PCs originally announced last week. 

The PCs now say the bill will be retroactive to May 1 — thanks to input from the Independent house leaders, Liberal John Fraser and Green Mike Schreiner

“While the NDP opted to walk away from negotiations, we are hopeful that after review and consideration, they will support the expedited passage of this legislation,” Calandra said in a statement Wednesday. 

Calandra is hoping to speed the bill through third reading this evening. 

If the official Opposition doesn’t get its amendments, the government can kiss unanimous support for speedy passage goodbye. Bisson said his caucus is pushing for more debate to address “shortcomings” of the bill and is willing to sit late into the night and on extra days.