They’re off to a fine start, aren’t they?
Kathy Dunderdale’s Progressive Conservatives won a convincing majority on October 11, taking 37 of the 48 seats in the legislature. And the premier deserves sincere congratulations on becoming the first elected female premier in the province’s history.
She could have swept into power, made some real change to government and set the province on an exciting new course.
But the truth is, she’s just another tired politician, with no ideas and zero momentum. And, by and large, she is surrounded by the same sorry lot that swept into power on the coattails of Danny Williams, comprised largely of toadies, buttkissers and bobbleheads whose main qualification for the job was lack of sufficient spine to stand up to a bullying premier.
This is illustrated by the low, graceless way Clyde Jackman and Darin King reacted to their victories, both on the Burin Peninsula.
Jackman won in a squeaker, defeating the NDP challenger by just 48 votes. Rather than use his victory speech to mend fences and build bridges, Jackman took a few smacks at community leaders who supposedly campaigned against him.
Allan Moulton of the FFAW had the nerve to support the NDP candidate, while Marystown Mayor Sam Synard campaigned briefly for the local Liberal. Correctly prefacing his remarks with, “Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” Jackman criticized these individuals for exercising a basic, fundamental right. (And a right that St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe enjoyed, without criticism, when he campaigned for Shawn Skinner.) Of course, Jackman was one of the toads worshipping at Danny Williams’s feet when that premier said Synard “didn’t count.”
Darin King wasn’t much better, complaining that MP Judy Foote campaigned for the local Liberal candidate. Afterward, he said that perhaps he “was not going to be as nice as he used to be” towards Foote. Again, totally lacking in class. And common sense.
Such talk would be unacceptable with a strong leader in place, someone with a strong sense of fair play. But if Jackman and King were dressed down for their tactless comments and threats, we sure didn’t hear about it.
And that’s because the biggest problem confronting this government is Dunderdale herself.
Apart from occasional half-hearted statements of concern, the premier remains silent on federal cuts to the Marine Rescue Sub Centre, Employment Insurance offices, the FRCC and DFO. In my view, she is afraid to rock the boat and possibly lose her precious Muskrat Falls loan guarantee – or cash equivalent.
I’ve made my views on Muskrat Falls well known, and would like nothing more than for Premier Dunderdale to raise a little hell and sink this economic disaster. No such luck with that, of course – within hours of being elected, Dunderdale announced that Muskrat Falls would be debated in the House, but there would be no vote on project sanction.
Like the potentate of a banana republic, the premier will sign off on a $6 billion project without allowing our elected representatives to vote. With their majority, government would win such a vote handily. However, this would force MHAs to express public support for Muskrat Falls, a gesture that will haunt them when the project reveals itself as a boondoggle of Churchill Falls proportions. So much for accountability.
But the premier’s biggest failure is her decision to keep the house closed until spring of 2012.
“If the house of assembly was just about question period, where most of the accountability takes place, then we could go and do that in a month's time,” said Dunderdale, in an interview with David Cochrane, during CBC’s On Point program. “We need legislation to bring to the floor of the house of assembly. It’s not going to be ready in time.”
She even had the gall to complain that the House was dysfunctional. “I don’t find it a place for a very healthy, open, constructive debate to start with,” she told Cochrane.
That’s a big, steaming crock, of course. The House is the very heart of our democracy. If Dunderdale can’t debate there, where the hell CAN she debate? This is unacceptable, and an insult to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Furthermore, her party dominates the house with a massive majority. If debate in the House is dysfunctional and juvenile, she (and her caucus) should glance in the nearest mirror to see who is responsible for this lack of decorum. Most of the heckling, noise and childish behaviour comes from the government side.
As for not having time to prepare legislation, this is a lie. Or perhaps they aren’t competent. Either way, the national average for first sitting after an election is 41 days. In Manitoba, in 2007, the House reconvened just 15 days after an election, and 16 days later, in Nova Scotia in 2009.
By contrast, Newfoundland and Labrador has the record for post-election sleepytime, with 153 days, right after the Williams landslide of 2007. (The next closest is B.C., which went 105 days in 2009.) Looks like we’ll be beating our own record this year.
In that same interview, Dunderdale defended her government’s failed election promise of 2003, to introduce whistleblower legislation, describing it as “a very complicated piece of work.”
Yeah, right. Based on the way this government tolerates criticism and is working to staunch freedom of information, I can safely predict that whistleblower legislation will never happen. It was a lie; a stillborn promise. And it is dishonest of Dunderdale to talk about it in any other terms.
This government was elected on a slogan of New Energy. But what emerged, literally overnight, is a government that is tired, arrogant and bereft of ideas.
“New Energy”, indeed. Make that No Energy.
Welcome to the next four years, people.