Politicians will head back into the House of Assembly Monday in what’s already shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable sessions in recent memory.
The NDP just lost two caucus members who say they’ll now sit as independents, the Liberals are leaderless until Nov. 17 and Premier Kathy Dunderdale is floating an idea to recess the House one week after she opens it.
Dunderdale told reporters that the first order of business next week will be passing a supplementary budget bill so the government can enact the public-sector pay raises that were negotiated over the summer.
Workers from several unions will get a $1,400 signing bonus, and Dunderdale said that will be paid out before Christmas.
If the government can get that all wrapped up next week, Dunderdale said, it hopes to take the week after that off — out of respect for the Liberals.
Dunderdale pointed out that with the Remembrance Day holiday on Monday, it would be a short week anyway, and it’s in the leadup to the Liberal leadership convention, which will happen on the weekend of Nov. 16.
“So go in for a week, give the Liberals a week to conclude their leadership piece, and then come back in on the 18th and then go right up to Christmas. So that’s the plan, but we need concurrence,” Dunderdale said.
Without the co-operation of both parties, the government won’t be able to get the money for public-sector workers passed in a week, though.
But Liberal House Leader Andrew Parsons said he was a bit surprised to hear that Dunderdale is trying to help out the Liberals.
“It’s weird,” Parsons said. “I’m glad that she’s concerned about our leadership, but she shouldn’t let it affect the House. And while she’s at it, she should feel free to go ahead and call that byelection.”
Dunderdale has also put off calling a byelection in Carbonear-Harbour Grace to replace retired finance minister Jerome Kennedy; Dunderdale said she’ll wait until the Liberal leadership convention wraps up, so that if the winning candidate doesn’t have a seat in the House, they can run in Carbonear-Harbour Grace.
Parsons said the Liberals are still drawing up their plan of attack for the House, but Muskrat Falls will be a big part of their agenda.
Last week, Nalcor and Emera agreed to a new deal for the Maritime Link portion of the project, and a plan for selling Muskrat Falls power at market prices.
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said Muskrat Falls will be big on her agenda, too.
As the House resumes, she’ll also be coping with the challenges of leading a substantially reduced caucus. On Tuesday, two of her MHAs announced that they couldn’t work under her leadership, and will sit as independents.
Despite dropping from a caucus of five to three, Michael said that she believes her party will still get the same amount of time during question period, and it’ll be pretty much business as usual.
“What can I say? We’ve got three people in a caucus, and we all have our work to do,” she said. “We still have question period. We have all the debates.
“We have a load of critic areas. One thing for us is that we’re all going to have a heavier load with regard to critic areas.”
Michael said she didn’t know if she’d go along with the plan to close the House the week after next. She said she wants to see the government’s legislative agenda first, and that will be decided at a meeting of the three party House leaders on Monday.
“I want to know what legislation the government is planning. I want to see the issues that they’re planning on dealing with this fall, and once I see that, then I will make a final determination.”