Damning with faint debate

Rick Lipsey
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Muskrat Falls gets short shrift with Tory plan

If you’ve not had a chance to enjoy the absolute thrill, the pleasure, the intellectual stimulation of private member’s day in the Newfoundland legislature, you can safely say you have not completed your bucket list and will not be delivered to the maker of your choice with a grin so wide it could not be wiped from your pale, deathly puss by even the “my gawd, he looks some good” crowd at Caul’s.  

I mean to say the profound import of that one day each week, always a Wednesday, hump day, during the few months a year the honourable members are making their near three-figure salary to represent us, is absolutely impossible to quantify.

But I’m here to tell you I’ve been there, I’ve been to the legislative mountaintop, and have seen, have witnessed, Mr. Speaker, on so many mind-numbing occasions, private member’s day, and can talk with some authority about why it is reserved only for debate of the most historical, the most significant, the most dramatic pieces of legislation to come before the House.

OK, OK, my well of derision and mockery has been emptied, at least for the moment.  

But sarcasm aside, the fact that the debate on Muskrat Falls has been relegated to private member’s day by Kathy Dunderdale cannot be viewed as anything other than disgraceful, an act of incredible arrogance (or monumental stupidity — take your pick), and still another illustration of how this government has butchered its attempts to convince the Newfoundland public to embrace this project as worthwhile and visionary.

In fact, the selling of Muskrat Falls has been a public relations disaster from the get-go, and could supply teachers of communications classes with the ultimate example of a cautionary tale for their students.  

And everybody should know — and I’m here to do my part — just how insulting this latest move actually is. Politicians and journalists and others who follow the House of Assembly process closely are aware of just how legislative light private member’s day happens to be. But the average Jack and Jill may not be aware that this slot being set

aside next week for debate of a

multi-billion-dollar project is mostly reserved for the relatively innocuous of political matters.

Most days in the House are dominated by question period, but there is important debate that takes place as well, and notable laws passed. But on Wednesday, glorious Wednesdays, there are a couple of token hours set aside for debate of legislation introduced by an opposition MHA or government backbencher trying and hoping to obtain his or her few paragraphs on page 32 of The Telegram (the electronic media has traditionally ignored private member’s day, and spend afternoons pursuing stories emanating from question period; the print guys and gals, though, have usually been forced to sit in the press gallery, eyes glazed over, through the entire proceedings).                        

And the Wednesday afternoon resolution usually borders on the inconsequential, on motherhood issues and the like. At least it did when I was involved in its coverage: the House supports the seal hunt, the House deplores pedophilia, the House loves the “Ode to Newfoundland,” the House would like to see the cost of living go down, the House believes there are actually no price tags on the doors of Newfoundland (as that cornball song has it).  

It’s an afternoon for a snooze. Nothing happens. Or rarely does.

And this is when Dunderdale has decreed that Muskrat Falls, one of the most significant projects in this province’s history, will have its merits, or lack of merits, depending on your perspective, discussed for a mere couple of hours.

I suppose you can argue that the whole process is a farce anyway because Dunderdale is going ahead with Muskrat Falls come hell or high water.

Her government is in too deep to pull back at this point.

And there are no immediate political implications for Dunderdale, as well. If Muskrat Falls heads down the crapper, it could

be years from now before that becomes evident. Dunderdale, by then, might be spending her days dozing in the Canadian Senate (put there by her friend Stephen) or in some senior citizens home playing bingo (not that there’s a lot of difference between the two locales).

And if you hear the premier’s version of events, the debate is irrelevant because the people have already spoken on Muskrat Falls when they elected her and her government. It was an endorsement of Muskrat Falls. (Does anybody up there on Confederation Hill have the guts to tell her just how stupid that actually sounded?)

But she’ll still get her moment in the sun.  

On private member’s day.  

Her day.

Her legislation.

Queen for a day.   

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.     

Organizations: The Telegram, Canadian Senate

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Cyril Rogers
    December 02, 2012 - 22:02

    JAY...I stand corrected and apologize for my factual error on the event that led to Crosbie, Wells, and Hickman(?), crossing to floor to sit as Independents. My point though was meant to illustrate that when something is clearly questionable and being handled in a dictatorial manner, members of the HOA have a moral duty to stand up and be counted. In my opinion, this is too important to be a partisan issue and I am sure some of these PC members must have serious concerns.

  • Jay
    December 02, 2012 - 07:35

    Cyril, Please check your facts. The Upper Churchill deal was passed unanimously in the Provincial House of Assembly. That unanimous consent should probably illustrate how useless debates in the House really are. The impetus for John Crosbie and Clyde Wells to leave the Liberal party in the late 60s was the debate over financing arrangements with John Shaheen for the Come by Chance oil refinery . Of course, Crosbie also lost a leadership bid to Smallwood around that time, as well, but I wouldn't want to bore the readers with a detailed history of that time.

  • Cyril Rogers
    December 01, 2012 - 09:30

    When the Upper Churchill was being debated, we saw three members of Joey's government cross the floor because they thought, and knew, it was a bad deal. All three went on to prominence in politics and law. Where are the three(or more) wise ones in this legislature that have the integrity to stand up and say I respect my people and my province too much to be "railroaded" into voting for the most wasteful project this province has ever seen.? Where are they? Steve Kent? Paul Lane? Surely there is somebody on the government side who can see this debacle for what it is! Sadly, the Upper Churchill looks good compared to this!