Former political comrades routinely quash his attempts to speak
St. John’s South independent MHA Tom Osborne outside the opposition side of the House of Assembly Thursday afternoon, after spending his first week in the House as an independent. Osborne, a longtime Tory, left the party in September.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
MHA Tom Osborne had a proposed amendment to a piece of legislation summarily shot down on the floor of the House of Assembly before he sat down to talk to The Telegram, but he still had a smile on his face.
Osborne has been living a bit of a lonely existence in the House this week — his first week sitting as an independent MHA since he abruptly quit the Progressive Conservative party in September — but he’s been doing it with relish.
“It’s actually quite exciting,” he said. “It reminds me of when I first got elected, the enthusiasm and excitement I had for coming into the House.”
As an independent MHA, Osborne can speak once during debate on each piece of legislation, and then speak again during the committee stage, but he’s not able to ask questions during question period.
Every day when government ministers make ministerial statements, opposition critics are allowed to respond. Each time, Osborne stands up requesting to speak “by leave” of the House, and each time he’s denied by the PC members.
“That still creates more fire in the belly for me because you’re not going to be kept down by someone who doesn’t want you to speak, which is the whole reason why I left the caucus in the first place,” Osborne said.
He said when he approached Speaker Ross Wiseman about getting time during question period, he was told he’d be allowed to ask one question every 30 sitting days — roughly once every seven or eight weeks.
Instead, he said he’s talking with the Liberals and the NDP about them possibly lending him some of their time, and he’s hopeful that he’ll ask questions in the House as soon as next week.
The immediate aftermath of Osborne’s decision to leave the Progressive Conservative fold was vicious, with his former compatriots attacking him.
But in the House, he said, things have been relatively genial.
“They haven’t heckled me,” he said. “It is anti-bullying week and they’ve probably taken a page out of that.”
Osborne is settling in to be an independent MHA for a while longer; he said he’s eventually likely to join either the Liberals or the NDP, but before he does, he wants to know what the people of his district think.
“Next spring I’m going to have a newsletter delivered to each of the households, and in the newsletter I’m going to have a card where people can take the opportunity if they wish to provide some feedback on whether they feel I should continue as an independent, sit as an NDP, sit as a Liberal or even explore the opportunity to go back with government if that’s what they want me to do,” he said.
“I’m going to deliver those. I’m going to get feedback from my constituents. First and foremost, I will follow the guidance of the people who have elected me to represent them.”
Meanwhile, he said he’s enjoying the cut-and-thrust of the House of Assembly.
“The previous year or two, I’d wonder what the heck I was doing coming into a place that I didn’t want to be going to, and did some soul searching. The reality is I love politics, I love debate, I love the House of Assembly,” he said.
“The reality also is I wasn’t getting to do what I love to do the most and it was affecting my ability to represent my constituents.”
Osborne isn’t insisting on weighing in on every piece of legislation that comes through the House, but in the past week, he said, he’s spoken to better than half of them.
One issue he’s still unsure of is Muskrat Falls. He said he’s had meetings with Nalcor officials, and he’s got some good answers, but he’s also has some misgivings.
“I’m not convinced that the project will only be $7.4 billion plus carrying charges and interest. I’m not convinced that they’re going to get it done in time,” he said.
“They may very well, but there are a number of factors here — if the project costs more than the government (is) anticipating, ratepayers pay higher. If the project takes longer than anticipated, ratepayers are going to pay higher.”
As an independent MHA, there’s a solid chance he won’t even get a chance to speak during the Muskrat Falls debate Dec. 5, and he said he still doesn’t know how he’s going to vote.
Listen to the interview
For full audio of The Telegram’s interview with Tom Osborne, go to: www.thetelegram.com/media/flying/4136/Osborne%20Interview.mp3