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Alberta's New Democratic Party

Alberta’s NDP and Wildrose Alliance want to ask more questions

Alberta's New Democratic Party 44%

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EDMONTON - Alberta's opposition parties joined Wednesday to argue against what they say is an unfair allotment of time in question period.

Earlier this week, Speaker Ken Kowalski assigned the number of questions each political party can expect to ask during daily question period.

Under the terms of the letter, the NDP and Wildrose Alliance would both get two questions. But their second questions come as either the 17th or 18th questions of the day.

According to the Wildrose, those questions get asked less than 63 per cent of the time because of time constraints.

While the minutiae of legislature business might not be the most thrilling topic, Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman said it's vital for democracy.

"When else do you hold the government accountable? That's what question period is all about," Hinman said.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said only the federal House of Commons and the Manitoba legislature also allow questions from government members. And in those cases, they ask far fewer than Alberta government MLAs, who routinely take up a third of question period with their queries.

Since the fall sitting of the legislature, two government MLAs crossed the floor to the Wildrose Alliance, giving that party three seats in the house. The NDP has two seats, the Liberals nine and the Tories 68.

Mason said they didn't lose seats, it was the Tories. So if anybody should lose questions, it should be the government.

"All opposition parties should have a question before the government starts asking itself questions," Mason said.

Mason and Hinman were joined in their call to change the rules by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

Her party still gets three consecutive questions to start the question period, but said it's unfair the NDP and Wildrose get so few.

All three MLAs called for a meeting of party house leaders to resolve the matter.

Education Minister Dave Hancock, who is also Government House Leader, said he is open to a meeting. But he defended the ability of backbench MLAs to ask questions of government ministers.

"The house is not the purview of the opposition, it is the purview of all members," Hancock said. "Our private members have every bit as much interest in holding government to account and asking questions that are important to their constituency as members on the other side."

Mason said the government's response shows they're frightened of the Wildrose's poll numbers and the NDP's pointed questions.

"They're more scared than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs," Mason said.

The new session of the legislature starts today with a speech from the throne. The first question period is Monday.

Kowalski's office would not comment on the matter, saying only that he will address . he issue Monday in the assembly.


By Archie McLean


Source: The VANCOUVER SUN (February 4,2010)

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