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The first session of the new Legislature adjourned on June 17th after sitting for 59 days. Sixty government bills were passed along with three private bills. Included among these bills were amendments to The Financial Administration Act which will alter the Assembly's procedure for considering interim supply. In the past, a variety of circumstances have resulted in the provincial budget being presented very close to the end of the government's fiscal year of March 31st. This in turn has necessitated the Assembly setting aside its regular business in order to consider and approved an interim supply bill in time to meet the mid-April payroll and expenses deadline. During the 2004 spring session, the Budget Debate had to be interrupted for the first time in the province's history in order to approve interim funding.

The amendments will provide automatic interim funding at the beginning of a new fiscal year based upon one-twelfth of the previous year's estimates. This will enable critical payments to be made on a timely basis at the beginning of a fiscal year prior to the passing of an interim supply bill. The provision will apply only to continuing programs and services. New programs will continue to require interim supply bills.

The Opposition House Leader, Rod Gantefoer, welcomed the amendments, stating during the debate at Second Reading that they were "a routine adjustment and modification to our current practice, and that the budget scrutiny process still is going to be very comprehensive and detailed ...". The Opposition also endorsed amendments that provided for net budgeting within the General Revenue Fund in certain situations. These changes had long been advocated by the Provincial Auditor who recommended that the Government include the activities of Crown corporations and agencies within summary financial statements and consolidated reporting processes.

Speaker's Ruling on Quoting of Electronic Mail in Debate

Speaker Myron Kowalsky was called upon to rule on the quoting of electronic mail during debate. The Minister of Government Relations, Len Taylor, raised a point of order on the matter, stating that electronic mail was comparable to telegrams which may not be quoted in the Assembly as there is no way of ensuring the authenticity of the author's signature. He further argued that if it was permissible to quote email, then the Member should be required to indicate who has written the email.

The Speaker opened his statement by reviewing the Assembly's practice on the quoting of private correspondence. Members are at liberty to quote signed and unsigned letters to support an argument and are not required to identify the sender. Members must however to take responsibility for what they quote, both in regards to its contents and its accuracy. The only restriction on this practice relates to Members being prohibited with quoting any document that contains language that would be out of order if spoken by the Member directly.

Speaker Kowalsky concluded his statement by ruling that electronic mail would be treated in the same manner as any other document or correspondence that it cited in the Assembly. Email may be quoted without identifying the author but only if the Member takes full responsibility for its content.

Agreement on Legislative Calendar

The first step towards a more formal legislative calendar was announced by the Government and Opposition House Leaders, Harry Van Mulligen and Mr. Gantefoer, in a joint news conference on May 26th. Fixed fall and spring sessions were central to the agreement. Other elements of the agreement included:

* An end to the current spring session by June 18th;

* A two to three week fall session to address any legislative business not concluded during the spring session;

* A 2005 spring session with an anticipated opening and Throne Speech in early March and continuing for 50-55 sitting days;

* A 2005-2006 session opening in November 2005 with a Throne Speech and focusing on the government's legislative agenda over the three to four week sitting; and

* A continuation of the 2005-2006 session in the spring of 2006, focusing on the budget, consideration of the estimates and concluding the government's legislative agenda.

Both Mr. Van Mulligen and Mr. Gantefoer expressed their willingness in developing a future calendar based upon 65 day sessions divided between fall and spring sittings and concluding sometime in May. It was anticipated that the current agreement would provide a trial framework in which to experience the on-going implementation of the 2004 Rules reforms before determining whether new rules governing sittings of the Legislative Assembly should be formalized.

Committee Business

As noted in the previous report, the legislative committees have been kept busy assuming primary responsibility for the committee review of both legislation and estimates. The change in venue has not diminished the length of time devoted to these reviews. The statistics maintained by the Clerk's Office revealed that the consideration of estimates in committee to be of roughly equal periods of time as has occurred in the past in a Committee of the Whole.
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Title Annotation:Legislative Reports
Author:Woods, Margaret
Publication:Canadian Parliamentary Review
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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