Welcome to Briefing Note.
This blog is meant to be a weekly wrap-up of the goings on in the House of Assembly. At the end of each week, I’ll try to sum up the week that was, and what’s to be expected from the week ahead.
(I’ll also try to contribute a few extra odds and ends every once in a while, but for full daily coverage of the political goings-on of the province, you’ll have to pick up a copy of The Telegram.)
So what am I supposed to write about today? For starters, it’s not the end of the week, and it’s damn hard to sum up activity in the House of Assembly when the legislature opens today.
How about I sum up the past few months instead?
It’s been an agonizing four months for politics junkies.
Once the afterglow from the Oct. 11 provincial election faded, we had to patiently wait through darkest days of the year with only sporadic political flare-ups.
Newfoundland and Labrador politics is never totally boring, of course, and Muskrat Falls, the fishery and the auditor general’s report all kept things interesting.
However, it’s worth noting that all of those big issues in the last four months were thrust upon government.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her ministers were forced to react to events, and do the best to maintain control of the message.
To some extent, that ends today.
With this afternoon’s speech from the throne, Dunderdale gets a big chance to clearly set the agenda and take control for the next few months.
I don’t want to prognosticate too much, but here goes anyway:
It's likely that the speech will set some specific agenda items for the coming year, but it will also set the tone for the government’s four-year mandate.
The Muskrat Falls project will certainly figure prominently in the throne speech, and it will likely dominate the first few weeks of debate in the legislature.
After a year and a half of public discussion, nearly everyone is getting tired of talking about Muskrat Falls. The folks who don’t like the idea of building a big ol’ dam in Labrador aren’t going to change their minds; meanwhile, the government and its supporters are more convinced than ever that the massive project is the only sensible solution to the province’s electricity needs.
With very little new information coming out, it’s beginning to feel like all the same people saying all the same things over and over again.
However, it’s the largest public works project in a generation, so nearly everyone involved feels obligated to keep talking about it even if they don’t have anything new to say.
Dunderdale and Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy won’t mind this too much; they’ve been very good at controlling the message, and they’ve been insisting for months that the massive, $6.2 billion project needs to be debated in the House.
After a few weeks of Muskrat Falls, government will likely try to shift debate by bringing down it’s budget, either in mid-March before the federal budget on March 29, or mid-April after the Easter holiday.
Finance Minister Tom Marshall has been taking every chance he can get to downplay expectations. He’s told unions, business groups and government-funded organizations that this is not the year for “wish lists.”
With a projected deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars, Marshall has been saying it loud and clear: there will be very little new spending. What the government is spending on -- and not spending on -- will likely be the next big political story.
After passing a few big pieces of legislation, the government will likely close the House in mid-May, everyone will sit back, and talk about a job well done.
If all of these predictions come true, then the Telegram is definitely not paying me enough.
Both the Liberals and the NDP will try to seize the debate with search and rescue, labour, fishery, health care, justice and a hundred other issues.
Also, you can count on a few unexpected events that no one will see coming.
We’ll just have to wait and see.