Musical chairs

Bob Wakeham
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It’s been a long time, you have to admit, since the chairs in the Newfoundland House of Assembly have received so much media attention.

And you have to feel sorry for chairs, period, and not just the legislative single-seaters, but all manner of chairs, because it’s not as if they’re a daily focus of journalistic chatter except when exploited for a cheap laugh in a newsroom, where humour is often of the crude, Grade 8 variety, as in: “What did one chair say to another?” Answer:  “Uh-oh, here comes another arsehole.”

But there they were this past week — and by “they,” just for the record, I’m not referring to politicians who might be associated with that derogatory anatomical term. Perish the thought. That would be classless — although you can have some fun with that notion, if you so desire.

Nope, I’m talking about the chairs in the Newfoundland legislature, those places where the MHAs plunk their derrieres and actually work for a couple of months a year (grand job if you can get it), the chairs basking in all kinds of media coverage, more than they’ve gotten in decades.

Given all the history (and the histrionics) they’ve witnessed over the years, it’s about time, really, that the chairs got a bit of publicity and had a chance to make a few headlines.

Their big brother of chair-land, the Speaker’s chair, (where Queen Lizzie’s representative, the lieutenant-governor, sits occasionally to recite, like a good robot, his government’s fine works), does get a fair bit of air time, but the regular chairs always play second fiddle. 

The chairs, though, were front and centre in the legislative press gallery and beyond during the past few days: my God, just where, members of the Fourth Estate were asking, breathlessly, would the chairs for the two NDP mutineers, Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore, be situated?

And then, dramatically. on the evening news, we had the “visuals,” as we say in TV world, with a voice-over, again, as we say in television vernacular, showing the two chairs occupied by Kirby (still enjoying his 15 minutes of Fletcher Christian fame) and Mitchelmore (tell the truth now, and hope to die: had you ever heard of him before he decided to leap from the good ship Michael?).

In any case, there they were, outside the little NDP cocoon they had enjoyed during the last couple of years (or perhaps tolerated is the more accurate word, given recent events).   

And there was no need of the voice-over: the chairs might have been repositioned, but Kirby and Mitchelmore could still be seen in all their lack of glory every time the legislative camera focused on Lorraine Michael.

Kirby, in particular, was clearly seen fiddling with his iPod, tweeting or blogging, or whatever the hell those tools of intrusive ignorance are called upon to do (I’ve barely mastered the simple cellphone myself). Rebel Kirby seemed to actually know when he was on camera and took full advantage, acting out in the background like Mr. Gadget, similar to the way we did in Grade 6, making faces and such when not in our teacher’s sight line.

If those two chairs holding up the rear ends of Kirby and Mitchelmore could have talked, they would probably have said they were mortified, and would have loved to have been able to look up and tell Kirby: stop acting the fool, b’y. Grow up.

Now the chairs in the legislature, first-hand viewers of all kinds of events in Newfoundland’s political past, might also have said that this most recent moving of chairs is pretty mundane stuff, relatively speaking, of course.

The chairs remember, as do some of the older farts in Newfoundland, when Joey Smallwood had the chairs occupied by John Crosbie and Clyde Wells moved as far away from the government benches as they could possibly get, after the two mavericks decided they were sick of Joey’s costly love affair with John Shaheen and deserted the party. (Just in case you’re wondering: the positioning of the chairs took place in the dead of night, and not while Crosbie and Wells were in them; in Crosbie’s case, that might have required the use of a crane).

The then-young politicians came in the next day to find they were in a legislative isolation ward, their seats bolted to the floor (perhaps with railway spikes flown in from Bishop’s Falls on John C. Doyle’s private jet).

Now that was a substantive movement of legislative chairs, one of the first steps taken in the eventual ouster of Fidel Smallwood from his dictator’s throne.   

John Crosbie and Clyde Wells.

Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore.

Two politicians who eventually had a profound influence on Newfoundland affairs.

And two, Kirby and Mitchelmore, who, well, what can you say? Small fry, really, enjoying a bit of notoriety for a few weeks. Doomed to be asterisks, answers in a trivia quiz on CBC’s “Radio Noon” in the year 2025.

But, for now, let’s raise a drink and give a few cheers for the chairs and their day in the sun, in the first block of news on “Here and Now.”

Uh-oh.  Here comes another …

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: CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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