EDMONTON — The first day of the Alberta legislature’s spring sitting saw confusion, broken rules, a do-over and the government house leader forcing his way through a barred door to enter the chamber.
“I pushed my way in because my understanding was our members were being denied the right to vote,” Brian Mason told media on Wednesday before he formally apologized to the Speaker and the sergeant at arms.
“I take responsibility for that.”
Nathan Cooper, house leader for the Opposition Wildrose, said his caucus lost a vote it may otherwise have won.
“It certainly was a gong show. We’ll never know if it was a vote that we won or lost,” he said.
“What happened today, in my opinion, is the government didn’t show up for work.”
It was supposed to be a routine piece of business: a vote by members of the house to pick a new deputy chair of legislature committees.
As per tradition, Speaker Bob Wanner ordered pages to bar the doors to the chamber once voting began to prevent other MLAs from entering.
The New Democrats, with 54 members in the 87-seat legislature, had ample numbers to elect their MLA, Heather Sweet, who was running against Wildrose MLA Prasad Panda.
But Cooper said when he looked across the aisle, there were fewer NDP members in the house than expected, maybe 30 or so. It looked like the Wildrose could win, a result that would prove embarrassing and problematic to the governing party.
“It was very close,” said Cooper.
“We were shocked and amazed at how close it was going to be.”
That was, he said, until the confusion began.
Additional members, including Mason, began flowing in from the NDP side, ignoring the rule to stay out during voting, Cooper said.
“The government house leader bullied himself past two pages and took his seat in the assembly.”
When the opposition protested, Wanner ordered results of the first vote nullified without announcing a winner.
He ordered another vote, but admitted there was confusion over who came early, who came late, and who should cast a ballot.
“I would rule that we re-vote. And to those members who were not here, who entered the chamber after the house was advised that the doors should be secured, I would urge you to consider not voting,” Wanner told the house.
Mason said when he realized he was wrong, he and the NDP members who came late for the first vote left the chamber.
In the second vote, 59 members cast ballots and Sweet defeated Panda. The breakdown, as per tradition, was not revealed.
Greg Clark, Alberta Party leader, said he came late for the first vote, opened the chamber door and was blocked by a page saying he couldn’t come in.
“I realized what that meant, that I wasn’t allowed in, and so I backed off,” said Clark.
“These (pages) are high school kids. If there’s that sort of (barging in) … happening, they’re in a very difficult spot.
“You always have to be respectful of the house.”