At the end of Week 1 in the House of Assembly, two things are becoming clear.
First of all, money — not Muskrat Falls — will dominate the political conversation this spring.
And second of all, the debate is going to be downright nasty.
In today’s paper, you’ll find a story about how Liberal MHA Jim Bennett arguably threatened PC minister Joan Burke.
What no one has reported is the fact that this is the second alleged threat from a Liberal MHA, aimed at a Tory minister.
On Tuesday — the first regular day of the session — Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce delivered a snipe at Fisheries Minister Darin King.
From Hansard, (interpret this for yourself, I’m not entirely sure what it means):
“MR. JOYCE: Yes, he is over there telling me to come on, come on; the little man syndrome. By the time I got over there, there would not be enough padlocks to get in his office, Mr. Chair.”
I’m pretty sure that Joyce meant that there wouldn’t be enough padlocks to keep him out of King’s office, and just garbled it in the heat of the moment. If you’ve got an alternate theory on what he meant, please let me know in the comments section below.
In any event, Government House Leader Jerome Kennedy hopped to his feet immediately, arguing a point of order, and taking a snipe of his own:
(This is also from Hansard.)
“MR. KENNEDY: Yes, Mr. Chair, a point of order.
Not only is the comment just made insulting and certainly has derogatory terms, but I would consider what was just said as a threat, Mr. Chair. The hon. member – I use that term loosely – the Member for Bay of Islands referred to the fact: If I come over there, then the member opposite will not have enough time to get to his –
AN HON. MEMBER: That is a threat.
MR. KENNEDY: He will not have enough to get to his office to have the padlocks on. That is a threat, Mr. Chair. It is unparliamentary. It is something that I would suggest to you should not be condoned in this House. It does nothing more than bring this House to the level of a street fight. All that was said to this man is if you live in glass houses, do not throw stones.”
In total, Kennedy argued three different points of order against Joyce on Tuesday.
None of this happened during question period, where heckles, theatrics and yelling is the norm.
This happened while MHAs were debating the interim supply motion — a housekeeping piece of legislation that allows the government to keep spending money after the end of the fiscal year until the budget is passed.
This should be the most boring, uncontentious debate of the year. Reporters don’t pay attention to that sort of thing, so it’s usually dull and monotonous. More than once, I’ve peeked into the chamber while this sort of thing is going on, and you’ll see backbenchers sitting there reading the newspaper.
If this sort of thing is happening during interim supply, it’s not happening because the politicians want to put on a show for the TV cameras. They just really want to get under each others’ skin.
Meanwhile, during question period, when everyone is watching — maybe for fear of provoking Joyce — the main target of the heckling and yelling was the NDP.
New Democrats have committed to a no heckling policy, and the Tory backbenchers seem to be putting that to the test. The volume of the heckling rises, often so loud that Leader Lorraine Michael can barely make herself heard above the din.
It’s gotten so loud and so intense that it sometimes just gets weird.
While St. John’s North MHA Dale Kirby was asking a question about anti-replacement worker legislation, a Tory MHA bellowed “HOT TURKEY SOUP!”
I’m not entirely sure who yelled it, but kudos. That’s got to be enough to throw even the most seasoned politician off his game.
(I was later informed by a staffer that Kirby has brought food — including hot turkey soup — to striking workers on picket lines. It might have something to do with that.)
Kirby, for his part, has been making a few needling comments on Twitter.
“Is it 'normal' practice for Premiers to heckle during Opposition responses to the Throne Speech? Seems disrespectful to me,” Kirby tweeted on Monday.
Remember, at this point, the most contentious thing that MHAs have debated is whether the government should be allowed to keep spending money after March 31.
Imagine what’s going to happen after we start talking about how much money they’re going to spend and what they’re going to spend it on.
Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to find out.
The rumours up around Confederation Building say that the provincial budget will come down in the next couple weeks — some time before federal budget day on March 29.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale has said she’s looking to find 3 per cent cuts in all departments — with a few exceptions — totalling around $100 million.
Everyone likes to think that governments waste a lot of money, but finding $100 million is savings isn’t going to be too easy.
On top of that, all signs point to the fact that this budget is going to disappoint a lot of people; Finance Minister Tom Marshall has said many times that he won’t be making dreams come true this year if those dreams involve new government spending.
All this considered, this could mean a long, nasty, unsavory spring in the House of Assembly.
Stay tuned, and I’ll see you back here in a week. (Maybe sooner.)
Today's story on Jim Bennett's phone call, and the recording, can be found here.