I don’t think our provincial politicians have enough to do.
Why? Because more and more, going to the House of Assembly seems to be a waste of time, a place where hearing your own voice is far more important than devising legislation to improve the way government works.
And the time-wasting is becoming institutionalized.
Every Wednesday afternoon is private member’s day, and the pattern is the same.
If an opposition member makes a motion, it’s defeated.
If a government member makes a motion, the opposition tries to amend it, then amendment is thrown out, and the motion is voted in.
The government members get their chance every second week, and introduce by far the most self-serving, waste-of-time motions.
So far this fall?
A motion by a government member congratulating the Dunderdale government for the trade deal the federal government negotiated with the European Union.
Go back further, and you can see a motion ask the House to support a drug team the current government announced in the budget, a motion supporting the government’s “actions to ensure public programs and services for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are designed and delivered in ways that are results-focused and effective as well as innovative, efficient, and affordable,” and a motion “commending” the government for cutting taxes.
In other words, it’s an afternoon of government members patting themselves on the back so much it’s a wonder their arms don’t break off.
The ministerial statement that announces nothing we don’t already know.
Try this one from last week, when the Justice minister made the same announcement he’d made in September: the province is starting the process to build a new penitentiary.
The September announcement that the province was going to replace the penitentiary was titled “Province moving ahead with planning for new penitentiary,” while the ministerial statement was titled “Planning for new penitentiary moving ahead.”
Here’s a block from the news release; “A public request for proposals will be issued in the near future for companies with expertise in planning correctional facilities. The successful proponent will be asked to develop the functional space requirements and cost estimate for a new facility. Following the completion of that planning exercise in 2014, the provincial government will be in a position to consider the project budget and the intended implementation schedule.”
And from the minister’s statement in the House: “A public request for proposals has been issued and the successful proponent will be asked to develop the functional space requirements as well as provide a cost estimate for the new penitentiary. After this phase of the planning is complete in 2014, the provincial government will consider the project budget and the proposed schedule of implementation.”
Has anything changed? Nope. But why stop a good round of time-wasting blah-blah-blah?
But it’s not only government: eager to get their own face-time in the House, opposition parties are spending large blocks of time presenting petitions and reading them into the record: last week alone, opposition members tabled and read 21 petitions.
Now, it’s part of a democracy for constituents to be able to petition the House: I understand that.
But Liberal Andrew Parsons tabled and read the same petition four times last week, albeit with different signatories. Liberal Jim Bennett tabled and read the same petition about cellphone coverage in Trout River three times.
Other than wasting the House’s time and hearing your own voice droning on and on, what’s the point?
Then, there are the areas where the parties co-operate in wasting time: first, there was the vote several years ago to simply stop sitting on Fridays. The four-day work week was set up so MHAs could spend more time with their constituents.
Our House of Assembly sits less frequently than almost any legislature in the country, so they could probably find some time.
Then, there’s the recently introduced “Member’s Statements.”
Individual MHAs stand up to recognize exemplary constituents. It’s a fine concept, but the congratulations are running thin, and recent examples include congratulating figure skating teams on their 40th anniversary, high school teams winning provincial championships and constituents reaching various halls of fame.
All notable achievements, for sure — and all another few minutes knocked off an already painfully short legislative clock.
Russell Wangersky is the editorial page
editor of The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.