For about a week now, politicians have been debating a piece of legislation in the House of Assembly that will determine whether they should shut down the government and go home.
Some time next week, they’ll decide that it’s better to spend
$2.8 billion to keep having a provincial government, as opposed to letting the province lapse into anarchy.
By the time the necessary legislation is passed, MHAs will have spent between 10 and 15 hours debating the matter.
It’s no joke; it’s the ritual of “interim supply” that they go through every spring.
“We’ll probably spend 15 hours,” Opposition House Leader Yvonne Jones said this week.
“If we wanted to, we could go in and pass interim supply this afternoon. However, we know that the government’s timeline is that they need this bill by Thursday. We will ensure that they get this bill by Thursday, but between now and Thursday, we’re going to use the time that we want to raise the concerns that we have.”
Essentially, passing the interim supply resolution allows the government to keep spending money after the end of the fiscal year on March 31.
It gets passed every year, and everybody supports it, but because of the rules of the legislature, MHAs can use the time to talk at length about whatever they feel like talking about.
The rules say politicians need to spend 75 hours debating the budget every spring, but the budget won’t be introduced for a few weeks. In the meantime, whatever amount of time MHAs spend talking about interim supply will be counted towards that debate.
“I think we’ve been bringing out important issues, and issues that our constituents want to bring out, and that’s important,” said NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.
“When you get legislation that you’re debating, you have to do your debate within the context of the legislation, but there are many, many other issues that people are concerned about, and we’re trying to get information on.”
But they digress…
Because interim supply deals with money, MHAs can debate anything related to government expenditures.
Mostly, the speeches deal with particular areas of government that a specific MHA is interested in — health care, or municipal issues or something like that.
Even so, debate can drift off topic. Last year, New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby gave a lengthy description of the time he visited Corner Brook and dined on Tory MHA Vaughn Granter’s chili.
“Now, I know that the member for Humber West entered his chili into the chili contest there, Mr. Chair,” Kirby said.
“I did try it, and I have to say that it was the best chili of the seven chilies that I did try, but the only problem was I could not vote for the member for Humber West’s chili.
“Now, it was not partisan at all, it had nothing to do with it. It is just I could not eat 14 different kinds of chili that day. So, I say to the member for Humber West that I had to spoil my ballot. I apologize for that. You did not get my vote, but you still did win. You had the best chili in Corner Brook that day, so good for you.”
Kirby proceeded to talk about how he visited Stephenville, as well, when he was visiting the west coast.
This year, Liberal MHA Jim Bennett launched into a lengthy speech about how Newfoundland and Labrador students are falling behind the rest of the country.
“The minister can stick his head in the sand. He can act like the hillbilly minister of Education from Newfoundland and Labrador, but when the results are analyzed worldwide, we are sliding. We are sliding in relation to the other provinces,” Bennett said.
Later in the afternoon, Education Minister Clyde Jackman invited Bennett to come by his house sometime.
“Mr. Chair, I invite him to come to Baine Harbour and meet some of my hillbilly friends,” Jackman said.
‘Important part of the process’
Government House Leader Darin King said he feels it’s important to let people know where MHAs stand on the issues.
“From my perspective, I would be upset if I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in this process, and I think the constituents in Grand Bank would, as well, because they like to hear me speak and hear what I represent on their behalf,” he said.
“So I think it’s an important part of the process.”
Jones said she’s fairly sure there aren’t too many people actually listening.
“I would say very few. I think most people who tune in to the House of Assembly, they’re listening primarily to question period,” she said.
“Notwithstanding that, everything we say is on the public record, so whether you watch the House or you listen to the audio of the House, is irrelevant. There’s a historic transcript of it in writing that people can access at any time, at their convenience.
“Just because you don’t have a live audience out there is not a reason to not raise the important issues and have a debate.”