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Debate to make N.B. Legislative Administration Committee public stalls

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WATCH: An attempt to force a public debate about the transparency of the committee failed after the speaker ruled that the discussion is better suited to happen behind closed doors. Silas Brown reports. – Dec 29, 2020

Meetings of New Brunswick’s Legislative Administration Committee will remain private for now.

As the first sitting of the 60th legislature came to a close earlier this month, an attempt by the Green caucus to force a public debate on the transparency of the Legislative Administration Committee (LAC) failed.

Speaker Bill Oliver ruled that the most appropriate place to have that discussion is in the LAC itself or in a separate motion in the legislature.

The LAC is responsible for the operation, funding and maintenance of the legislature, including the budgets for legislative offices. All meetings of the committee are currently held behind closed doors.

Read more: N.B. opposition leaders call for Legislature Administration Committee meetings to be public

Discussions around the implementation and use of a hybrid or virtual system for the legislative assembly took place in a LAC meeting.

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Kent North MLA Kevin Arseneau withheld unanimous consent to the routine motion establishing the membership and powers of the committee in order to try and force a debate about making meetings of the committee public, except in certain cases.

Arseneau tabled an amendment to the motion in order to do just that, but it was ruled out of order by Oliver.

“I understand the member’s passion concerning the deliberations of the committee, however, the purpose of Motion 21 is to appoint the Legislative Administration Committee, to specify its membership and delegate its powers,” Oliver said in his ruling on Dec. 16.

“How the committee operates or conducts its procedures is beyond the scope of this motion and not relevant to the purpose of the motion.”

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The federal counterpart of the LAC, the Board of Internal Economy, became public by default in 2017 unless it is dealing with sensitive HR matters.

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Similar committees to the LAC in many other provincial legislatures, such as Nova Scotia’s and British Columbia’s, are similarly public.

Government house leader Glen Savoie suggested that the most appropriate place to have the debate on the LAC’s current in-camera meetings would be at a meeting of the LAC.

“It’s well known that committees themselves have the authority to decide how they conduct their business. So if he wants to discuss how LAC does its business, then the appropriate place is in LAC,” Savoie said.

Arseneau argued that it didn’t make sense to have a debate about transparency behind closed doors.

“I think that’s worthy of debate, in this house, publicly,” Arseneau said during the brief debate.

“I don’t think we should delegate powers and then go talk about that delegation of powers behind closed doors.”

Read more: N.B. Legislature begins preparing for hybrid sittings

Liberal interim leader Roger Melanson has called for the committee to begin meeting in public. The last Liberal government resisted similar calls for the committee to stop meeting in-camera by default.

During debate on Dec. 16, Opposition house leader Guy Arsenault noted that the Liberals have given notice of a motion calling for the LAC to be more transparent.

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“Be it therefore resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Speaker to work with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly to bring forward a plan for greater openness and transparency by the Legislative Administration Committee,” reads the resolution part of the motion.

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It’s unclear when such a motion would be debated.

The legislative assembly adjourned the fall sitting on Dec. 18 and usually does not return until March.

For now, the LAC will continue to meet in private and any debates surrounding its current in-camera format will happen behind closed doors.