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.”