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Democratic Concern with MLA Luff’s Amendment to Motion 504

April 26, 2016

In light of the recent motions and amendments made in the Alberta Legislature, some discussions surrounding democracy, democratic procedure and democaratic freedoms have occurred in the legislature. In order to provide some clarity, the following information from Hansard (the written commentary of the Alberta Legislature) is shared.

Hansard: April 19, pg 665

Private Members’ Business Mr. Cooper:

Mr. Speaker, I rise to talk about the importance of democracy and to ask all members to protect it in this Assembly. Yesterday we had a serious issue over a private member’s motion. The government chose to play politics and moved an amendment that fundamentally changed the intent of the motion. The Speaker allowed the amendment, which might be the correct ruling on a technical level but leads us down a very dangerous path. This Assembly has a long-standing tradition of allowing debate on motions to proceed without amendment unless the mover agrees. Yesterday’s ruling was inconsistent with past rulings, in particular a 1999 ruling that pointed out that allowing amendments to private members’ motions would do a great disservice to members who “may only get one chance in every three or four or five years” to put forward a motion on a topic that matters to them. We have now overturned that ruling and opened the door to where it is very likely that every single future private member’s motion will be amended or subject to potential amendments. Allowing a private member’s motion to be changed and remain in the name of the original mover is a clear example of the tyranny of the majority. It is my hope that government members will be much more respectful of the traditions of this Assembly. Yesterday the government played politics with private members’ business, and then in fixing it, they made a mess. The government made it clear that private members’ business will actually be government political games business, controlled by the Government House Leader. What will flow from this is a further damage to our democracy. As a leader in this House I hope that we can all work together to ensure democracy is respected, Albertans’ voices are heard, and that you, Mr. Speaker, can continue to fulfill your role in defending the rights of the minority.

Private Members’ Business Dr. Starke:

Mr. Speaker, with the exception of the Premier and cabinet, all other members of this Assembly are private members who share in a long-standing tradition to sponsor motions and bills on issues of importance to them and their constituents. These opportunities are very rare. It is done on a purely random draw, and it’s not unusual for members to be drawn only once or even not at all. Private members matter. In 2007 Speaker Kowalski stated that “the work and the advocacy of private members [is] to be paramount in the Assembly.” Retiring members giving their farewell address often state that their sponsorship of a private member’s bill was their proudest moment as a legislator. The three hours of private members’ business yesterday saw those principles, those rare opportunities both honoured and trampled. For two hours we had great debate on the benefits of tourism in our province. Members from all sides participated in a spirit of respect. But that all changed at 5 o’clock. The Member for Calgary-Hays introduced the motion to affirm parental choice in education. An amendment that had not been shared with the mover and did not have his support was introduced. This amendment effectively denied the Member for Calgary-Hays his potentially only opportunity to introduce and debate his motion during the term of this Legislature. Now, as I learned yesterday, private members’ motions can be amended, but it is very rare, and it has always been done with the knowledge and consent of the mover. Sadly, both Deputy Government House Leaders either overlooked or purposely neglected to note this when they argued that these amendments are commonplace. This point, however, was raised by the Member for Calgary-Lougheed, who was there and witnessed it happen along with the Member for Edmonton-Calder, today’s Minister of Education. Mr. Speaker, the 68 private members and their constituents deserve to have their limited opportunities to raise issues respected by all members of this Assembly and especially by those in government, that hold the majority. But at 5 o’clock yesterday that didn’t happen. It was a sad day for democracy in Alberta.

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