Not too many people are picking up on it, but the PCs are playing a rather hilariously nasty trick on the opposition parties in the House of Assembly.
It’s almost elegant in its simplicity; the PCs are just doing exactly what both the Liberals and the NDP demanded — loudly — last year.
They’re keeping the House open.
On Monday during question period, the NDP literally ran out of things to say. At the end of QP recently, there’s often an awkward moment where my journalistic compatriots and I stand around, trying to sift out something newsworthy from the day’s shouting match. When the House opens up at the beginning of the year, opposition politicians charge in full of piss and vinegar. For months, they’ve been dealing with political issues, and they’ve been dying to shout out pointed questions of the government in full public view with the TV cameras watching.
As the session wears on, they exhaust those issues.
In March we spent a few weeks hearing about budget cuts, and potential government layoffs, and Liberal Leader Dwight Ball and NDP Leader Lorraine Michael led the charge asking pointed questions about the issue. But now the budget has been tabled, the cuts weren’t as bad as anybody expected and there’s really not a lot more to say on the issue.
In April, the Liberals focused very heavily on the Burton Winters tragedy, and problems with the search and rescue effort which may have led to the 14-year-old boy dying on the Labrador sea ice earlier this year.
But after a month of questions on the subject, there’s not a lot new to be said there either. (The Liberals insist that the only way to get all the answers is a public inquiry; what’s clear is that no new information is coming out by way of question period.)
Privately, folks in the opposition will tell you that it gets harder and harder as the session wears on. That’s part of the reason why the Liberals and New Democrats were clamouring so loudly to have a fall sitting of the House.
In the fall, the House typically sits for two weeks -- a whopping eight days -- but it’s enough for the opposition folks to get up in the government’s face, force them to answer some questions on important issues, and just generally score political points.
I think if you caught a Liberal or New Democrat MHA in a particularly honest moment, they’d tell you that it would be fine to trade two weeks of a fall sitting for a full month of the House in the spring.
And here, folks, is where the PC’s diabolical scheme comes in: it looks like they plan on keeping the House open for another month.
This is by no means 100 per cent confirmed, but the rumours I’m hearing are that the House will sit until around June 24.
Like I said, this is a rumour, but it’s one that seems pretty credible.
They’ve been debating the budget for most of the last month, and that will wrap up early next week (hopefully.)
If you check the progress of bills page you can see that there are still four acts that need to be amended, plus the government hasn’t even given us the *text* of the new Procurement by Public Bodies act (that one could be kind of a big deal; don’t expect it to be rushed through the legislature.)
On top of all of that, Natural Resource Minister Jerome Kennedy mentioned on a CBC political affairs show that there will be some sort of Muskrat Falls-related legislation coming later this spring (check around the 4:00 mark on that video, to hear Kennedy’s exact comment.) That legislation will be suitably controversial that the debate won’t be quick and easy; I wouldn’t rule out some sort of filibuster or stalling tactic from the Liberals.
OK, so for the purpose of argument let’s say that the House goes through to June 24.
What does that do for opposition politicians? Nothing good.
Already, they’ve exhausted the big hot-button issues, and they’re moving on to increasingly diminutive, technical questions.
(NDP Member Gerry Rogers’ question about using the Witbourne Detention Centre as an overflow facility for the already crowded Her Majesty’s Penitentiary is a good example of this. An important issue, but not exactly front page material for the newspaper.)
On Monday after question period, the four legislative reporters all decided that nothing sufficiently interesting had been raised that warranted follow-up questions. Instead, we requested to speak to Premier Kathy Dunderdale about ferry-building contracts in Marystown — something neither the Liberals nor NDP raised — and then we asked to speak to NDP Leader Lorraine Michael about some stuff her federal counterpart had said over the weekend.
Further to the PCs’ dastardly legislative schemes (and I say that with the utmost fondness) in recent weeks, they’ve been forcing the opposition politicians to sit there and listen while they talk, at length, about how awesome they are.
I covered this in a previous blog post about how each member of the House gets 20 minutes to speak about a bill at the second reading stage, but not everybody has to speak. Once all 11 of the Liberal and New Democrat MHAs have used their time, the government can take it to a vote and move on.
Instead, once all 11 folks on the opposition side have spoken, the PCs have kept putting up speaker after speaker to talk -- literally for hours -- about how great the government is, and how wretched those poor, misguided opposition members are.
I can only imagine what it’s like to sit there and listen to them talk; it must be at least a little bit demoralizing.
And the best part? They can all look forward to another month of this.
Well, that’s all for this week.
Just a quick note about the affable Liberal MHA from Burgeo-La Poile, Mr. Andrew Parsons. Earlier this year, we were chatting in the hallway up at the House, and I commented on some of his sartorial choices (Parsons is the only MHA who ever seems to wear three-piece suits.) From there, we got to talking about my affinity for bow ties. To make a long story short, I’ve agreed that if Parsons wears a bow tie on the floor of the House of Assembly, I’ll do a blog post about it. The sticking point up until now is that Parsons doesn’t *own* a bow tie, and doesn’t know how to tie one. He’s insisting on borrowing one of mine. (I’ve politely pointed out that I know how much money he makes and he can afford to buy his own bow ties, but he’s pretty adamant.) Apparently, he’s not sure he’ll eve wear a bow tie again, and he doesn’t want to waste money on something he’ll only wear once. This, Parsons tells me, is evidence of good Liberal “fiscal responsibility.”
So here’s the bottom line: If you see the Hon. Member from Burgeo-La Poile on the floor of the House sporting a poorly tied green bow tie, there’s a solid chance that he did, in fact, borrow it from me. Also, if any *other* member of the House reading this wants to beat Parsons to the punch (and *doesn’t* need to borrow a bow tie from me) I’m diligently non-partisan, and I’d be happy to write a blog post about you, instead.
Remember, this offer is only valid between now and June 24.