For environmental activists, the highlight of opposition day on May 16 was the vote by the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly to pass the second reading of Bill 23, An Act to Amend the Electricity Act. Opposition parties have only several hours every Thursday afternoon when the Legislature is in session to move their bills forward. As reported last week, the Green Party’s Bill 23 will allow municipalities and First Nation governments to partner with local energy producers and transition to green and renewable energy. Bill 23 will now move to committee for further discussion.
Government MLAs spoke against Bill 23 while proclaiming their support for green energy. Several expressed support for “transitioning the economy” but stated it would take many decades. Among the government ministers speaking at length for the obvious purpose of running down the clock, Environment and Local Government Minister Jeff Carr launched into a convoluted story about his grandfather and car rides they used to take together.
The government was killing time to avoid having a debate on the negotiations with CUPE NB nursing home workers. The three opposition parties had worked earlier in the week on an agreement to bring forward a motion on May 16 supporting binding arbitration without restrictions to settle the dispute with the nursing home workers union. However, they would only have an opportunity to do so if time allowed.
When it was his turn to speak, Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau was visibly angry at the MLAs on the other side of the house waffling to avoid the CUPE debate, and their lack of urgency to act on the climate crisis. “This Bill is a baby step, a band-aid on a big injury,” he said, adding that his generation was “abandoned by a complete generation that didn’t do what they should have done … 30, 40, 50 years ago.”
On May 9, when Green Party leader David Coon tabled Bill 23, the PC government had signaled its opposition, and indeed the government voted against it on May 16. The Liberal MLAs all voted in favour, and in a surprise move, PANB leader Kris Austin also voted in favour after initially speaking against it. The two other PANB MLAs voted against the bill, forcing the speaker of the House to break the tie and vote for the motion. It was the first tie vote of the current legislature.
Bill 23 will now move to committee stage, along with other bills that have passed second reading. If it successfully moves through committee, and there is time left in the Legislative calendar, the Green Party can bring it forward for third reading. Information on the status of all legislation is available online. The government had restricted sitting days in the Legislature until the end of May but now has agreed to sit into June.
The PANB Bill 18 to amend the Motor Vehicle Act also passed second reading and was moved to committee after another round of long, drawn out and rambling speeches by the PC MLAs.
Meanwhile the debate on the CUPE negotiations did not happen as the opposition parties planned. The government ran the clock until the end of the scheduled time for debate and opposed a Liberal motion to extend the session. The Legislature will not be in session next week while committees meet. The next scheduled opposition day is Thursday, May 23.
We updated the story on May 17 to correct the number of the Bill: 23.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and on the team of the RAVEN project.