The percolated jumping frog of Dunderdale county

Peter Jackson
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There’s a metaphor about change that often springs to mind.

Take a frog and put it in a pot of boiling water. It will immediately leap out. Put it in a pot of lukewarm water and it will stay. Gradually increase the heat, and it will adapt. By the time it realizes the water is too hot, the frog is too sluggish to hop to safety.

I think a lot of us have become sluggish. Some unsettling changes have taken place in the past 10 years, yet we continue to adapt, or shrug them off as minor aberrations.

Here’s an example.

John Furlong, filling in Monday as host of CBC Radio’s St. John’s Morning Show, spoke to novice MHAs about next week’s opening of the legislature.

He began with a question to Tory MHA Paul Lane (Mount Pearl South).

“Will you be relieved … that you can put behind you this pressure to respond to critics who say the House should have been open sooner than this?”

Lane begged the question.

“I think that the government made the decision not to open the House, and that was certainly their decision to make.”

Furlong pushed further, and Lane continued to deflect.

“People are always going to criticize the government. … I think most of it has been coming from the opposition parties, but, you know, that’s fine; they have their right to criticize — that’s their role.”

Then, this zinger: “But we have the government of the province. I think we’ve been doing a good job of it so far.”

Now, Lane has no monopoly on avoiding questions or missing the point. But his responses raise disturbing issues, not the least of them being that neither Lane, nor other Tory members, seems to think the House of Assembly is a necessary accoutrement of our democracy.

A parliamentary system, in other words, without a parliament.

The evolution of this mindset has been gradual. Former premier Danny Williams began trimming sessions many years ago. The trend was reported and commented on, but rarely gained much public traction. Besides, session lengths have historically varied widely.

The implied message, however, has slowly seeped in: the House has become irrelevant. And it hasn’t helped that debate is increasingly mired in childish hectoring.

Furthermore, blurring the line between the ruling party and the government is not unique to this province. Just as the Harper Conservative brand has crept into core federal documents, this provincial administration has been rife with “Williams government,” “Dunderdale government” and similar partisan language.

In truth, this is not the Dunderdale government. It is the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The majority party may hold executive power, but the House of Assembly belongs to the people, and all MHAs have the right and the duty to debate and discuss the government’s business within its walls.

The House last adjourned on Sept. 19, 2011. It opens again with a throne speech on Monday. That means it will have been closed for almost six months. The sole chamber representing the voice of the people — shuttered for half the year.

Not that long ago, this would be unthinkable. But the slow simmer has become a rolling boil. And that’s where we find ourselves today.

It calls for nothing less than legislation to set minimum fall and spring sessions. And if Premier Dunderdale is too blinded by her own hubris to see the absurdity of an empty legislature, then it’s up to another leader to make it an election issue.

Else, I fear, we frogs are perilously close to being fricasseed.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Twitter: pjackson_NL

Organizations: CBC Radio, Tory, Harper Conservative

Geographic location: Mount Pearl South, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Aubrey Hodder
    March 01, 2012 - 16:10

    It seems to now be comming a devine right to do whatever you like when you get a majority government.What about the rest of us, the ones who elected them.

  • Ryan Lane
    March 01, 2012 - 14:23

    The way the HOA currently operates is woefully inadequate both because of the lack of days sitting and the lack of proper governance and procedures. You know like standing committees and such. Even though some of us were arguing for better governance prior to the election, it fell largely on deaf ears. Well you reap what you sow and all that. But one thing is for certain, the next 4 years with this crew in Government is only going to get worse.

  • Scott Free
    March 01, 2012 - 07:29

    John Smith might be Little Man Dan himself; what else could explain his constant and pathetic adoration.

  • The New P.C. Government should have opened the House of Assembly right after their October Election Win
    February 29, 2012 - 18:07

    Who in the name of Creation did we elect to govern us in the last election, when we have a MHA like Paul Lane giving a non-answer to a very important question posed to him by the Media concerning the fact the House of Assembly has not been opened for 6 months. This is the same feller the PC Government has been sending forth to speak with the Media to defend the undefendable Muskrat Falls Project every time the need arises.

  • Ed Power
    February 29, 2012 - 15:00

    Thank you so kindly, Mr.Smith, for the lesson in governance and democracy. I really had no idea that democracy only occured once every four years, and ceased when the final votes were tallied. How stupid of me. How stupid of us. Wherever did I get the idea that we had a Parlimentary system of government? It makes one wonder why we have that imposing building dominating the city skyline. Surely in this modern age, and in a time of fiscal restraint, we can do away with it altogether? Think of the savings in heating, lighting and maintenance if we were to dispose of it, or convert it to condos. Since government is now by decree (or should that be Divine Right) we can dispense with all the unruly debate and chatter, and just settle for the odd Tweet, Open Line call or Press Release. Not to worry, our "betters" have it all in hand, John Smith has told us so. "Move along now, nothing to see here...."

  • John Smith
    February 29, 2012 - 14:34

    Gosh Cyril, please forgive me for not being as smart as you obviously are, I am truly sorry for my lack of intellectual abiltiy. Only people of your superior intellect can call people idiots, serbs, arrogant, etc. I guess that's what it is to be so smart. Oh if only I could be just like would be good. Mr. Williams, the most popular Premier in our history, and the most popular premier in Canadian history, a rhode scholar, self made millionaire...yep...idiot..right Cyril? Poor Cyril, the liberals are wallowing at 7 or 8 percent in the polls, I understand Cyril...I understand...everyone is wrong...and you are right. It must be hard to be you...LMFAO

  • Cyril Rogers
    February 29, 2012 - 13:21

    John Smith is a PC crony, or a complete idiot, or both. It is clear he is the serb and the party consists of lords of the manor. His version of democracy dates back to before the signing of the Magna Carta at Runneymeade. He is simply clueless as to the proper functioning of an elected legislature. I agree with him in one respect....opening the House will essentially be a waste of time but only because these ignorant Tories are choosing to make it so. Their arrogance, coupled with a lack of respect for how the HOA should function, is contributing to the rapid demise of democracy in our system. I hasten to add that past Liberal administrations have been guilty of some of these excesses as well but no party has done as much damage as those since 2003. Danny Williams was the teacher and he has developed a class of idiots when it comes to understanding how democracy actually works. It's a shame, because I know some of the PC members to be intelligent, educated people, but they have left their basic principles behind..... to worship at this perverted altar of democracy we now endure.

  • Joshua
    February 29, 2012 - 11:00

    Has the House been closed up for too long, you ask? Let me answer it this way: I feel it might be appropriate to bus the Youth Parliament members back to the House on March 5th. To give a brief orientation to the MHAs about their surrounds, plus how to keep decorum. A lesson or two on Parliamentary Procedures wouldn't hurt, either. But why March 5th? Leave it a few more days until March 17th... St. Patrick's Day. There'll be a huge dose of 'Blarney on that day anyway....

  • John Smith
    February 29, 2012 - 10:00

    Ed b'y...the way I see it we exercise our democratic right every 4 years. We elected this present government by a HUGE margin. They said if you vote for us we will be going ahead with Muskrat falls...still...a HUGE margin. Any votes in the house will be won by those with a HUGE majority. In this case, the PC government. This is not the 1600s, there are all kinds of ways for the opposition to complain and whine. The other provinces that had elections opened their houses for two or three days, then closed them. This governemt stated that it would be a waste of taxpayer money to open a house for two days, with no pending legislation on the table, and christmas right around the corner. Some of the new members. Like Dale Kirby and Jim Bennet never even left their jobs, that's how important they take the new post. Give me a break.

  • ed power
    February 29, 2012 - 09:26

    Mr. Smith seems to have a rather tenuous grasp on how a democratic system of government actually works. From his comments here, and his many previous comments on Muskrat Falls, I gather he leans towards autocratic governments, or maybe some type of benevolent dictatorship. It is so much easier that way, you never really have to think for yourself. Like in the "good old days"of our past, all decisions will be made by our betters, and we should always trust in their wisdom and give thanks that they have seen fit to rule over us. I wonder if Mr. Smith would feel the same way if one of the other political parties - the "sixth graders" as he calls them - were the government in power? Somehow, I doubt it. Strange, how democracy only works when your party is in power, and the unwashed masses are supporting you. When the rabble aren't quite so supportive, well, naturally, their concerns are "a waste of time", they "argue back and forth like sixth graders" - which, oddly enough Mr Smith, requires two sides - and can't be expected to understand what ever policy/program/project is being implemented on their behalf. I would have thought that we had outgrown this colonial mindsetby now, but it seems that we still have some evolving to do. We have a centuries long tradition of unquestioning acquiesence to authority in this country/province- from Churches, the Merchant Class, Commission of Government, The Only Living Father and continuing on to today - a tradition that has not served us well, and that some people seem unwilling to break. Ms. Dunderdale's political demise began on election night last year when she deemed that the demands of a Parlimentary Democracy were beneath her. As always, pride goeth before a fall.

  • John A. MacDonald
    February 29, 2012 - 09:09

    Shame, Shame John/Kathy I turn over in my grave when I hear ye talk.

  • John Smith
    February 29, 2012 - 08:45

    Ken b'y...what do you want? A medal? Give me a break. Why don't you defend why you think the house should be open, rather than attacking those who think it's a total sham, and a waste of time and money. All I want to see is Dwight, Yvonne, and Lorraine getting their daily dose of negativity out in public. There is never one idea put forward by the opposition, just whine, and complain.

  • Ben Power
    February 29, 2012 - 08:38

    For god sake the House will open on Monday. The media will be happy as will the nay sayers. Now can us normal mortals go on living our lives where we have to work everyday in probably one of the best places in the world? Just ask our doctors who just got back from Haiti what kind of conditions we have here. We are turning into a bunch of whiners... And no...i will not be watching the House of Assembly. I have better things to do with my time.

  • Jeb White
    February 29, 2012 - 08:08

    It is indeed a disappointing trend in our governments to dismiss the importance of the House but so is, as Jackson accurately described it, the childish behavior that takes place in it. The house should be open and the first thing on the agenda should be a code of conduct for the MHAs. However, I disagree with Jackson's opinion that the people are becoming upset about the House being close. In fact, I doubt the public cares. We may even be happy not to see the insults and bullying behavior of the "honorable" members.

  • Ken Collis
    February 29, 2012 - 08:02

    John Smith, are you paid by the PC party? I thought you worked for Nalcor. And yes, that is my real name!!!

  • John Smith
    February 29, 2012 - 07:20

    Yes, all will be good when the house opens...LOL Give me a break. The house is a waste of time. The opposition is worried they won't get enough free TV time before the next election, that's the only reason they want it open. I can't wait to see them arguing back and forth like grade sixers, yep, all will be well when the house opens...what a joke.