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Petroleum purchases, police oversight sets off tensions in legislative assembly

Adam Lightstone front
MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone says it's unfair for the government to rush the Standing Committee on Legislation in reviewing bills. photo courtesy of the legislative assembly

Regular MLAs outvoted cabinet twice on Thursday to buy more time for further reviews of bills pertaining to operations of the Petroleum Products Division and RCMP oversight, even as a minister warned of costly consequences associated with delays.

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone pointed out that the Standing Committee on Legislation, of which he is a member, had eight bills in front of it in January. The proposed legislation that would increase by $100 million the fund that Petroleum Products Division uses for the purchase of Nunavut's fuel was introduced in October and the government expected the committee to endorse it by November, Arreak Lightstone said.

"I think it is unfair for the government to push this decision on us and expect us to pass these very complex and significant pieces of legislation without doing due diligence and reviewing and scrutinizing every clause within each of these pieces of legislation," he said.

Finance Minister George Hickes asserted that the government could have saved $32 million last fall if the Petroleum Products fund had already been increased and the delay in passing the bill since November has cost the GN an additional $15 million in lost savings on fuel.

Arreak Lightstone insisted that there's much to examine.

"The Petroleum Products Division seems to be somewhat of a mystery. It is shrouded in
unknowns and that is something that definitely needs to be changed in Bill 52, the Petroleum Products Commission Act," he said.

John Main, chair of the Standing Committee on Legislation, echoed those concerns, calling for better monitoring, more transparency and a clearer understanding of PPD's undertakings.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Agreement Act faced a similar fate as Arreak Lightstone explained that "the intention and the purpose of the bill was to allow for independent investigations into serious incidents involving police officers, moving away from the practice of police investigating police."

He said the committee needs more time as it continues its due diligence to "iron out" outstanding issues.

Hickes, as Justice minister, was displeased with that delay as well.

"We need this legislative amendment in order to sign an agreement with a civilian oversight body. Our government’s commitment to move forward quickly is reflected in this budget. That’s why we are requesting $250,000 for the purposes of entering into an agreement with a civilian oversight body," the minister said. "Ensuring we have the appropriate legislation and regulations in place to support this new civilian oversight body is critical. Delaying these amendments means less time to create the regulations to support and implement it."

Both votes to extend review of the bills passed 11-8.