PC House leader and MHA for Conception Bay South Barry Petten says his party is pulling its members out of the all-party committee on electoral reform. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)
The provincial Tories are withdrawing the Liberal all-party committee on election reform.
PC House leader and MHA for Conception Bay South Barry Petten made the announcement Monday afternoon, citing a "lack of commitment" from the opposition Liberals.
The committee was formed almost three years ago as a direct result of the 2021 general election that saw delays and set backs caused by a COVID-19 outbreak at the time.
"It was a fiasco of an election. Everyone knows the pandemic election ... [was] probably one of the worst, most expensive elections in our history," Petten told CBC News on Monday.
The PCs called for an independent review and an investigation into that election.
Petten said the governing Liberals refused an investigation but instead tabled an all-party committee, of which the NDP didn't take part. NDP Leader Jim Dinn called it "window dressing" at the time.
"But we proceeded on, in the spirit of good will, to try to modernize our Elections Act, but we've had little to no meetings," said Petten.
"Consultations that happened during the summer, we questioned, documented and wrote letters. We didn't agree with the consultation process but government continued to proceed on."
Petten said, in a nutshell, Justice Minister John Hogan and Liberal officials have been working on a piece of legislation to reform the Elections Act without input from opposition members.
In response, Hogan told CBC News he's disappointed by the PC's move.
Justice Minister John Hogan says a meeting is set for next week to discuss proposed amendments to the Elections Act. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)
"[There's] nothing political about this process whatsoever. In fact, the purpose of an all-party committee is to take the politics out of it because it is so important," he said.
Hogan said initial consultations were done with Engage N.L. and not through the government itself. There were also online consultations.
"We met with the all-party committee, reported those consultations, put to the committee whether they were satisfied with that or they wanted to go a step further," he said.
"The committee wholeheartedly said 'Let's keep going, let's do some more consultations.' So, this is why it's going to take some time, a second round of public consultations that were done in-person."
Hogan said the results of those consultations were also reported back to the all-party committee, but not many people showed up to that meeting.
"You can't force people to participate. All we can do is offer the opportunity to speak and the opposition, like we all were, were a little disappointed," he said.
The next step, said Hogan, was to put together the information and some suggestions for amendments to the Elections Act. He said a meeting request for was issued this week for all government members.
That meeting is expected to be held next week.
"The response we got from the opposition was they don't want to participate anymore," Hogan said.
But Petten said the meeting invite was insulting.
"We wanted an investigation done in the spring of 2021. Now we're coming on the spring of 2024 and now they're talking about some changes," he said.
"We're in the middle of a byelection and on the cusp of probably a general election in the coming months, and it's long overdue and it's a process that's been pretty disappointing for our caucus."