Government House leader Jerome Kennedy speaks to reporters about the filibuster in the House of Assembly Tuesday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
There are a lot of bleary eyes and ragged faces at Confederation Building this week.
Politicans have been debating in the House of Assembly virtually nonstop since Monday afternoon, and all signs suggest they will continue to go through the day, and likely into Thursday.
If politicians are still debating this morning at 9 a.m. — as is widely expected — they will have been going for more than 40 hours.
The government is trying to pass sweeping amendments to the province’s access to information legislation which would make vast sections of government documents off-limits to the public.
Any document by any government employee which contain “consultations or deliberations” will be withheld from public access to information requests.
The bill will also greatly expand the documents which are covered by cabinet secrecy.
Justice Minister Felix Collins, who introduced the bill in the House, said the government expected Liberals and New Democrats to fight the passage of the legislation.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a love-in,” Collins said. “When you bring in this kind of legislation that tries to strike a balance between public’s access and the right to information and good stewardship and good governance, you expect to find some negative reaction.”
The new legislation would expand cabinet secrecy to include any “discussion paper, policy analysis, proposal, advice or briefing material, including all factual and background material prepared for cabinet.”
The government can also refuse to give out any document that includes “consultations or deliberations” by any government employee.
Government ministers and other heads of public bodies can also ignore access to information they consider “frivolous or vexatious” or any request that they see is “made in bad faith or is trivial.”
Many of the provisions in the legislation come from a review of the access to information law done by John Cummings, a government-appointed commissioner.
In public consultations Cummings held, only 10 people from the general public gave their say on access to information legislation.
But Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said that now that the legislation has been written, they’re hearing for lots of people who aren’t happy.
“There’s certainly a lot of displeasure with it,” Ball said. “People are asking a lot of questions about it.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said even in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, when she was in the House of Assembly, she was getting messages via Facebook and Twitter from people saying they support the opposition’s filibuster.
The government needs to give a day’s notice before they shut down debate, but at this point, it looks like Government House Leader Jerome Kennedy wants to test the opposition stamina.
“We’ll let the debate go on. This is an important piece of legislation. It’s one they feel needs to be debated extensively, and we have no problem with that,” Kennedy said. “A couple of our new MHAs are fascinated by the fact that they’re sitting through the night, and seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.”
Kennedy indicated that the filibuster could run through the day today, and potentially into Thursday.
Overnight sittings of the House of Assembly are relatively common; they happen every few years.
To have two consecutive overnight sittings is much less common.
Nobody can point to a time in living memory when there have been three consecutive all-night sittings.