Our Democratic Deficit - Private Member’s Bills


Memorial University of Newfoundland political science professor Alex Marland penned a timely article in the Canadian Parliamentary Review last fall. The piece raises a number of questions about the operations and functions of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly, including its diminishing status under the current government. The following excerpt on private member’s bills illustrates the need for democratic reform in our province (emphasis added by me): Members who do not belong to cabinet have a small influence on public policy and have a more limited legislative presence than is the case in other provinces. In other parliamentary systems, members introduce a private member’s bill to propose legislation in an attempt to raise public awareness of issues and to hold the government to account. In Newfoundland, non-cabinet members may speak for 15 minutes on Wednesdays (the designated private members day) when they can introduce motions, which could include urging policy change. But unlike other legislatures, the rules for a private member’s bill require completion of all three readings in the same day, and the resulting impossibility of meeting such a stringent requirement is symbolic of the strength of the political executive and the lack of effective opposition. Consequently a private member’s bill has never been passed.