If all goes according to plan, this province will look radically different come the next election.
A serious amount of political business has been going down lately – with the word “undemocratic”
being thrown around a lot – and much of the conversation is about Bill 42.
Bill 42 changes the electoral system – the whole thing – because the actual map of electoral
districts will be different, while, simultaneously, the number of MHAs elected to the House
of Assembly (HoA) is reduced. Instead of 48 members there will be 40 – with the 4
guaranteed seats in Labrador preserved, thanks to some “party cooperation”
according to some, “backroom dealing” according to others.
So, for example, if you voted in St. John’s Centre or Burgeo-La Poile your whole
provincial voting life, you’ll have to pay extra attention because those districts may
disappear and fall under new monikers.
Members of the electoral boundaries commission are tasked with drawing up a new electoral map
– because the HoA decided to kick 8 MHAs out of the club, meaning 8 districts gotta go.
If the commission can’t do that within 120 days, and needs more time, nothing will change before
the now confirmed fall election. Then the commission may follow its regularly scheduled programming
as its 10- year electoral boundary review is set for 2016 anyway.
Where did Bill 42 come from? In the middle of January, Premier Paul Davis announced his government wanted to lose
10 seats, down to 38 MHAs, before the next general election because the province needs to cut costs –
that deficit isn’t going to fix itself – and it would save roughly $2.5 million a year,
or $10 million over 4 years if they act now and don’t delay. It is a big deficit.
Liberal leader Dwight Ball has suggested cutting MHAs before. And, fair enough,
our MHAs don’t represent that many people compared to other provinces.
But it’s the manner in which this has all gone down – with the Bill 42 compromise reached days later –
that has dismayed, well, a lot of people.
Like a bride icing out certain family members on the invite list, the PCs and Liberals cut
the number of seats in the legislature in the months leading up to the election so there’ll
be less mouths to feed. Some MHAs have just recently won by-elections – or nominations
for aspiring MHAs – for seats that may soonfall into the abyss with oil prices.
The three NDP MHAs were decidedly opposed to the whole affair, as leader Lorraine Michael
said the legislation and process were flawed. Michael said amendments were being written
in the hallways of the Confederation Building during the January 22nd marathon 19-hour
session in which Bill 42 was finalized.
The organization representing the province’s municipalities says it’s against Bill 42, particularly concerned about rural
Newfoundland losing representation in the seat reduction.
And members of the academic community have sent a letter to the HoA calling Bill 42
undemocratic, asking them to drop it and take the time for consultation and public input.
“Rather than improve democratic governance, the Bill, and the events of January 22-23,
illustrate much of what is wrong with the state of democracy in our province.”