Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Managing the House in Fiscally Challenging Times: A Roundtable

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Managing the House in Fiscally Challenging Times: A Roundtable

Article excerpt

The final session of the 33rd Canadian Regional Seminar held in Fredericton on November 4, 2011, was devoted to the issue of financial restraint. The following extracts are based on the transcript. Dale Graham is Speaker of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly, Bill Barisoff is Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Alfie MacLeod is Deputy Speaker of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, Steve Peters is a former Speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, David Smith is a member of the Senate of Canada, Gordie Gosse is Speaker of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, Fatima Houda Pepin is Deputy Speaker of the Quebec National Assembly, Hunter Tootoo is Speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.

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Dale Graham (New Brunswick): Fiscal management during difficult economic times is becoming a common theme in many jurisdictions. As Speakers, it is important that we gain an understanding of the financial workings of our respective parliaments to ensure that we can continue to deliver core services. In New Brunswick, we have been through a number of cost-cutting exercises since the early nineties, and we anticipate more cost-cutting in the next few years. We know that difficult times are ahead, and, while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, some common considerations can be applied to our respective Legislatures.

I think we all agree that Assemblies must retain independence in decision making. In our House, budgetary decisions are made by the Legislative Administration Committee, an all-party committee of the House that is equivalent to the Board of Internal Economy in some legislatures. The committee which I chair, also has Cabinet representation. When the government identifies fiscal restraint targets, historically, LAC has agreed that the legislature will lead by example. The reality is that assemblies cannot operate in isolation of the fiscal objectives of governments. How, then, do we retain our independence?

First, we need to be proactive and to take the initiative when it comes to fiscal management. By being prepared, the Assembly can make changes on its own terms. Good fiscal management practices should be in place and consistently assessed at all times, not just at times of fiscal crisis. This will ensure the decisions that must be made to achieve fiscal objectives are Assembly decisions and not the cost-cutting priorities of the government.

It is important that the Legislative Administration Committee be apprised of the core services of the Assembly, the cost of running these services, and the real cost of the fiscal reductions that the committee may decide to impose on the institution. It is our responsibility to ensure that Assembly's priorities are protected and that it can continue to deliver core programming and services.

We need to be inclusive and consult senior managers and staff to seek their input. They may bring forward good ideas that may help achieve our fiscal objectives.

We need to carefully consider each change and decide whether it is really worth the cost. The area of MLA and staff travel and training is always where we seem to have been hit in the past.

We have to be realistic. The reality is that 85% to 90% of our legislature budget is comprised of salaries and benefits for members and staff. When I was discussing the topic of fiscal restraint with the Clerk, she reminded me that, in the past three fiscal years alone, the budget of the New Brunswick Legislature has been reduced by 5%, 3%, and 2% respectively. That is a 10% reduction. More cuts will mean job losses and members need to be aware of this. They need to be ready for the fallout that goes with that. If we are serious about the budget reduction targets, it also means loss of service, which can sometimes be difficult for all of us to accept.

When making cuts, we must share the pain. Political offices must feel their fair share of the pain as well. …

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