Brian Mason says Alberta democracy committee could be scrapped

A file photo of Brian Mason. The Canadian Press

Alberta’s government house leader is accusing opposition members of deliberately derailing the work of a flagship committee on democratic reform.

Brian Mason also left open the possibility the all-party legislature committee could be left on the scrap heap when its mandate expires next week.

“I’m pretty disgusted,” Brian Mason told reporters Tuesday. “(The opposition) have filibustered that committee from start to finish, they’ve made up phoney points of order and points of privilege (and) they’ve attacked chairs for just trying to do their job.

“They clearly do not want to see any restrictions placed on their ability to tap their rich friends for campaign money.”

The one-year mandate of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee expires on Sept. 28.

Little work has been done.

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Mason wouldn’t say if the committee’s mandate would be extended or a new committee struck, noting it’s a decision made by the entire legislature.

“There’s another meeting of the committee on Friday and we’re certainly prepared to give the opposition another chance to roll up its sleeves and do the work that they were mandated to do,” he said.

Mason suggested that otherwise there would be little point creating another committee.

“If the opposition is opposed to reform, you can set up another committee (but) they’re liable to use the same tactics once again,” he said.

The committee was set up in 2015 in the glow of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP election victory over the Progressive Conservatives.

READ MORE: Alberta NDP looking to cap election spending

It is a sprawling 17-member body, with eight New Democrats, four Wildrose members, two Progressive Conservatives, Liberal Leader David Swann and Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark. The 17th member and the chair is NDP member Jessica Littlewood.

Its mandate is to help breathe new life into Alberta’s democratic system by recommending changes to legislation on elections, election financing, whistle-blower and conflict-of-interest rules.

The committee worked through the whistle-blower component but has since become bogged down on election financing.

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The eight opposition members have fought the financing reforms brought in by the eight NDP members and approved by Littlewood as the tie-breaker, saying they are designed to favour the NDP in the 2019 election.

The changes include having taxpayers fund some candidate expenses, a $2.1-million cap on party election spending and a rule that candidates for party nominations submit financial reports to Elections Alberta.

Committee member Jason Nixon, of the Wildrose, said Tuesday the opposition is not filibustering, but recommending critical changes and improvements.

Nixon said any blame for the failure of the committee rests with the chair for calling few meetings in early months of the mandate, with the NDP now trying to ram through financing rules as the clock runs out.

“The changes overwhelmingly in our mind are to the benefit of the NDs,” said Nixon.

Watch below: The same committee that proposed giving political parties taxpayer rebates for campaign expenses is now taking aim at how much parties are allowed to spend. As provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon reported on Aug. 15, 2016, the opposition feels the NDP is locking in its own advantage.

Click to play video 'Alberta NDP looks to cap election spending' Alberta NDP looks to cap election spending
Alberta NDP looks to cap election spending – Aug 15, 2016

On Monday, the work of the committee took an ugly turn when Littlewood quit as chair for the duration of the meeting after opposition members accused her of abandoning her role of impartiality by phoning a PC member Richard Starke late last week to broker solutions to the impasse.

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Littlewood has said she did nothing wrong and plans to resume as chair for Friday’s meeting.

Mason agreed Littlewood had done nothing wrong.

“(She) should be commended for trying to break the deadlock,” he said.

Starke said Mason is wrong and that he and the NDP need a refresher course on the impartiality of committee chairs.

“It speaks to the integrity of the committees and the work they do,” said Starke.