MHAs trying to figure out how to save Christmas

James
James McLeod
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Politicians sitting in shifts during House filibuster

While MHAs continued to debate legislation in the House of Assembly Thursday morning, Premier Kathy Dunderdale took a break to make a special visit with Santa Claus to students at Roncalli Elementary school in St. John’s. Dunderdale read “The Night Before Christmas” to the children, and Santa Claus answered some frequently asked questions, such as, “Why does Santa wear red?” (The answer: Because it’s
Mrs. Claus’s favourite colour.) — Photo by Louis Power/The Telegram

Premier Kathy Dunderdale is preparing to spend the night before Christmas in the House of Assembly.

Forty-eight MHAs may be stirring in the House next week instead of heading back to their districts to spend Christmas at home, and nobody is talking about hanging stockings by the Speaker’s chair with care.

But Dunderdale told reporters Thursday afternoon that if she misses Christmas, she’ll be fine as long as she can get home in time for New Year’s.

“I’d like to get home for either Christmas or New Year’s. One or the other will do me,” Dunderdale said.

Behind the scenes, the House leaders for the three political parties were trying to break the impasse and end the filibuster that’s been running through the week.

Government House leader Darin King said he’s got a good working relationship with his counterparts in the Liberals and the NDP, and he’s still “optimistic” that the three of them can save Christmas.

 

“In 20 minutes you can achieve a bill. It depends on the circumstance,” he said. “I’ve worked through these filibusters before where you go for hours and hours and hours, and all of a sudden, Boom! You get right through it and you approve the clauses.”

But at the same time, Thursday afternoon King gave formal notice to the House that the government is prepared to sit past 10 p.m. on Monday if necessary, which sets up the possibility MHAs could be debating Muskrat Falls legislation into the wee hours of Christmas Eve — and maybe even into Christmas Day.

New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael said she hopes they can break the impasse.

“I think if goodwill is there on all sides, that can happen,” Michael said. “The three House leaders have goodwill, and I think that’s important.”

But Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said he’s got points to make on the legislation, and he won’t be rushed.

The Liberals have complained all week that they only got the two critical pieces of legislation hours before they were to be debated in the House.

Ball said his party is working on amendments that will improve the legislation, and his researchers are still chewing through the bills to fully understand them.

“We’re not really driven by the timeline right now. We’re driven with our own analysis of this. We’re not here trying to make a statement and trying to sit in this House on Christmas Day,” he said. “It’s really trying to make sure that we have the amendments that we want and in the form that we want, and when they’re ready, we will bring them forward.”

In the House, things have been getting testy at times.

Labrador MHA Keith Russell gave a speech late Thursday afternoon in which he claimed that at an event in his district, Liberal House leader Yvonne Jones gave him a “big sloppy wet kiss.”

Russell also directed a comment at Jones, calling her “nothing more than a washed-up actress, honey.”

Jones argued that the comments had been offensive, and were a breach of acceptable parliamentary conduct.

Speaker Ross Wiseman reviewed the House video, and found that Russell had made at least four different inappropriate comments. Wiseman found that the comments were specifically offensive to female MHAs, and all members generally. Russell was found in contempt of the House and was forced to apologize. He’ll also be forced to meet with the Speaker and review the acceptable conduct of an MHA.

Russell left the House immediately after offering his apology, and declined to comment on the matter to The Telegram.

As of press time, MHAs were theoretically debating Bill 61, a piece of legislation which concerns exempting Muskrat Falls from consideration by the Public Utilities Board when it comes to setting provincial electricity rates.

Before the House wraps up for the year, they’ll eventually have to get to Bill 60, a separate piece of Muskrat Falls legislation which concerns land expropriation and an easement for the electrical transmission lines which will run from the Churchill River in Labra­dor across Newfoundland to Soldier’s Pond outside of St. John’s.

But thus far, the debate has been fairly wide ranging, touching on all aspects of the Muskrat Falls project.

On Thursday morning, New Democrat MHA George Murphy and Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy spent more than an hour going back and forth discussing natural gas as an alternative to Muskrat Falls.

PC MHA Paul Lane said that, in many ways, this is the big House of Assembly debate on Muskrat Falls that didn’t happen in late November because MHAs couldn’t agree on a format.

New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby agreed with that assessment.

“Because we didn’t have a special debate on Muskrat Falls, our caucus members are able to get a number of points on the table that we were not permitted to previously,” he said. “That’s been a positive development.”

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons lamented the fact that there was no formal special debate on Muskrat Falls under the Liberals’ preferred format — they wanted to see expert witnesses in the House of Assembly fielding questions from politicians — but he said this is probably as close as they’ll get to a real Muskrat Falls debate.

“It’s not going to be what we wanted, because even though we get to stand up and say stuff, it’s still a lot of the same old talking points coming,” he said. “This is as close to it as there will be, given that there was no special debate.”

Until the debate wraps up, MHAs will likely spend a few more all-nighters in the House.

Parsons said he hasn’t shaved since the filibuster began,

“I figure I’m going to start the filibuster beard, just to do something interesting. The other thing is you don’t really have a lot of time when you go home,” he said. “When you skip out you try to sleep and eat, and in my case I try to call home once in a while just to check in on my family.”

All three political parties are rotating their MHAs on shifts.

Lane said he’s spending 16 hours in the House and taking eight-hour breaks for sleep.

“Obviously, as time goes by, people are getting tired, but we have a lot of numbers, so we’re able to sort of transition in and out,” he said. “Everyone thus far has been very positive, upbeat. There’s good camaraderie. It’s a really great team-building exercise, actually.”

Kirby agreed that things have been pretty friendly.

“Most of the time it’s been fairly collegial, even more so than it is during question period, or other points in debate,” he said. “There’s a lot of banter, a lot of heckling, but it seems to be all in fairly good sport, and that’s helpful because people are tired and their nerves are a bit frayed.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

 

Organizations: House of Assembly.Forty, NDP, Christmas Day.New Democratic Party Liberal House Public Utilities Board

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Government House, Newfoundland Churchill River

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    December 21, 2012 - 17:40

    Bennett, and Joyce, in the house , quizes Kennedy on clauses on why the PUB can be shut down on hearings and consultations etc that it might desire to have.So I wonder... Does this mean that the PUB, if it desires to have Nfld Power provide enhanced efficiencies for customers, that this be stopped by the Cabinet, as it might lead to demand reductions that would impede nalcor's cash flow? A month ago I put this question to Natural Resources web site. I got no reply.

  • Winston Adams
    December 21, 2012 - 13:49

    Kennedy, in the House, says "Let's look at this logically.. first of all , we need the power" Say what? how did logic fit in there? To arrive there the experts said our housing was "reaching saturation in efficiency gains". Whoa.... Hold up there! What weed are they smokin? This is FALSE. FALSE. FALSE. What expert would ever say that? Well, it's in the MHI report. We know that a switch to efficient heating for our houses saves 65 percent on energy for heat. Same thing for our hot water. And heat and hot water is 80 percent of our residential use. What type of expert could overlook this? Or were they asked to overlook this? Is it uneconomic to use efficient heating? No. it is very economic. Is it unreliable? No. It is very reliable. Is it untested? No. around for years. Hundreds installed in Nfld. Now if power needs is forecast to increase only about 1 percent a year, and we can cut energy use in our houses by half or more, someone failed their logic course, didn't they? Please Mr Kennedy, don't use logic to prop up your need for the more power argument. It's an insult to Aristotle.Iit's an insult to grade 6 graduates. And it should be an insult to every MHA in the House, except maybe Felix. Logic is the basics for math and arithemic and much more, like intellegent reasoning. Invoke logic with reverence and respect. You should correct your statement. If this whole Muskrat is not built on a foundation of logic, it is bound to crumble. And , if it crumbles, when it crumbles, there will be a lot of fallout.

  • Happily Retired
    December 21, 2012 - 12:50

    It's amazing how the Premier in charge of women's rights (and Muskrat Falls) can let Russell's comments go, thereby condoning them. If that was a public servant, he'd be fired. I guess it's OK for MHAs to be ignorant pigs, especially if they're on your side of the House.

  • Winston Adams
    December 21, 2012 - 12:31

    Balls proposed amendment was rejected. Proof that this is a tax grab plan. Unlike income tax that gives a break to low and middle income people, electricity for houses is essential and hits the low and middle income people worse. They lack the fiancial means for efficient heating systems to offset costs. The con party is playing a con game, that's now obviious. And FINTIP suggests these hearings at this time is intentional. It's Christmas... so people will not be engaged in what's happening. This is a real scrooge play here.

  • Winston Adams
    December 21, 2012 - 11:56

    Ball , in the house , is now proposing an amendment , that profits be fed back to ratepayers, as it is important that residents and small business have competitive rates. Otherwise the MF is a tax scheme. Now in Quebec this would be the cornerstone of rationale ... that it benefit the residents and small business for lowest possible energy costs. This is as fundamental as low food cost. We need to be more like quebec with a social conscience for its citisens. Is that not so?Our premier wants revenge against Quebec, and may pay a big price for revenge.In the end we will pay double Quebec residents for heat for our houses, a poor choice and unnecessary. Pride and revenge are vices, not virtues.

  • Winston adams
    December 21, 2012 - 10:53

    Felix, the Secrecy Minister , is on his feet inthe House. He says nothing is being held back . Everything is being disclosed. We are secure in our confidence in this project. He says the other side is terrified . But he is very proud of this project. What an idiot he appears to be. Why do we elect idiots? He half mumbles and talks in circles. But he has some entertainment value. And we need entertainment . We may need it more so in the future.

  • Winston Adams
    December 21, 2012 - 10:43

    In the House , in response to Joyce about the final power rates , Kennedy says "he doesn,t have a crystal ball". Interesting words by Kennedy. A few months ago in the House, Kennedy said that is how he knows that for sure we need more power "you just look into the crystal ball".... Kennedy then goes on to compare how our rates will compare to Europe( which have very high rates) . He admits that Man , Que and BC have lower rates--- but overlooks we are now on a path that will see us double their rates. Joyce asks why not rebate to customers any profits made from MF.Kennedy says no, that profits can be best used for other services. The Premier shouts across to Joyce that it could be used for the Corner Brook hospital. So it is now obvious that this project is aimed as a tax revenue against residents, not least cost power. Kennedy suggests it is inappropriate to give profits back to residents to offset power increases... saying this would benefit the rich. The govn should only help the poor in this regard. "shame on the Liberals for suggesting this" says kennedy. Now kennnedy is no doubt well aware that the rich can install efficient heating equipment to offset new higher power costs. So they can avoid long term high costs. The middle class cannot affoord this. So this tax grab will hurt the average and poor class , but not the rich. And consider this ; kennedy's party brought in a 8 percent tax reduction on electricity... this went to the rich and poor, with the rich benefiting more in real dollar savings. Where is kennedy's sincereity in who will get the benefits and who will get hurt with higher cost.

  • FINTIP
    December 21, 2012 - 10:42

    Ball has said that he's not trying to make a statement, but rather to improve the legislation. I suggest that making a statement - one that will stand on the record for all time - is about the only thing Ball and/or Michaels can do at this point. The Dunderdale government is not about to accept any attempt by the opposition to amend the two crucial pieces of legislation it needs to legally sanction Muskrat (as opposed to that dog and pony show a few days ago). She deliberately withheld the draft bills until the week before Christmas on the premise that the opposition - and the public - would be too busy getting ready for the holidays to offer much more than token opposition. She put a gun to their heads by threatening to sit through Christmas if they didn't back down. And already there are some signs her strategy is working. Michaels has already indicated she is ready to capitulate and Ball is probably not that far behind. No doubt they are both getting pressure from their members who would like to go home and celebrate Christmas. In general, the opposition parties did not acquit themselves well in the run-up to the sanctioning of Muskrat. They need not have waited for the legislature to open to register their opposition to this monstrosity. Indeed, other than by virtue of their refusal to support Dunderdale's private members resolution, we still can't be sure whether they actually oppose it or not. Michaels has had to deal with the fact that her federal counterpart Jack Harris, who happens to be Danny Williams' former law partner, is entirely in favour of it. And until recently Ball has had to contend with a monkey on his back in that Williams' former business partner and expected leadership candidate, Dean MacDonald, was also squarely behind the Muskrat madness. At this stage the only way either of these two leaders can clearly demonstrate their public indignation and outrage over this boondoggle (assuming they have any) is to persist with their filibuster. Failure to do so will be interpreted now and for all time as evidence that they were not so seriously opposed that they would use every possible device available to them as lawmakers to prevent it from going forward. Indeed, when and if things hit the fan a few years from now, Dunderdale and her accomplices will no doubt use that fact as evidence that they weren't acting alone. Forcing government to use closure doesn't in any way change the water on these foul smelling beans, but it does say 'we gave it our all'. At worst it provides an asterisk - a footnote - to which future historians can look in the event this unnecessary, patently uneconomic and incredibly risky venture eclipses the Upper Churchill as this province's greatest blunder - ever! If I were Ball or Michaels, I should think a little less Christmas stuffing and punch is not too great a price to pay for ensuring their children and grandchildren know they did the right thing.

  • Jay
    December 21, 2012 - 09:23

    This is nothing but theatrics by all MHAs. They should all be ashamed of themselves

  • MBC
    December 21, 2012 - 09:16

    russel is a Pig!!

  • Eli
    December 21, 2012 - 08:56

    Paul Lane's comments are nothing short of disgraceful. We're bigger so we'll survive mentality is bullying at its worst. A pox on him and his house this Christmas.

  • Concerned
    December 21, 2012 - 08:51

    You are a disgusting Premier Dunderdale, what in the hell are you trying to do to the people of Newfoundland, just quit.

  • Abby
    December 21, 2012 - 07:54

    Don, Russell is not right. He is a pig, and should not be allowed to sit in a govt. chair with an attitude like that. Hopefully, his 'ass" will be cold in the next election.

  • scrooge
    December 21, 2012 - 07:46

    it was the night before christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring just 48 mha's. the stockings were hung by the speakers chair with care, in hopes that a muskrat falls bill would be there. MERRY CHRISTMAS, oops! should i say that, or should i say HAPPY HOLIDAYS !

  • JP
    December 21, 2012 - 07:42

    Labrador MHA Keith Russell appears to be an extremely ignorant person from the recent news articles I've read. This isn't the first time he's been offensive towards others, but especially women in particular. Politicians such as Mr. Russell should be holding themselves to a higher standard. Unfortunately, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador must suffer through more idiotic comments from him yet again. For the record I'm not politically associated to any party, and I'm male. I also respect women, something that Russell clearly doesn't!

  • Cold Future
    December 21, 2012 - 06:59

    Shut it down and come back at it after Christmas. There is no rush to have the puppets line up and have there strings pulled to vote for the Muskrat Boondoggle. Surely we can wait half an hour later to sign up for boundless debt and hardship.

  • WHINERS
    December 21, 2012 - 06:57

    do they get paid ? YES, are they servants of taxpayers ? YES, do ordinary people have to work during the holidays ? YES, then what makes the 48 mha's any special. if they don't like the job, sitting on their butts, collecting a fat wage, free expence claims, wine/dining, travelling the world, and of course that pension, and acting like a bunch of bullies in a school yard, then resign. we are sick of their whining.

  • Don
    December 21, 2012 - 06:33

    Russell is right.