So here’s a question, and I don’t mean for it to be confrontational. When a politician talks about being “accountable,” what exactly are they talking about?
The dictionary definition, courtesy of Merriam-Webster, is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”
That seems simple enough. And we’ve just come from a provincial election where every politician seemed to be promising to be accountable.
The provincial Tories put it this way: “We will continue to demonstrate that our commitment to accountability is unwavering.”
They were far from the only ones making the promise.
Problem is, the wavering started the moment the election ended.
Take the provincial Liberals: they can’t even seem to find it within themselves to be accountable for their own electoral performance.
Listen to the radio and you’ll hear the endless bleating that their poor results were the fault of polling numbers reported by the media. Voters dropped Liberal candidates, the story goes, because polling numbers showed the Liberals in a weak third place.
What a slap in the face of voters that little canard is. Why? Because the message inherent in that logic is that voters don’t vote for candidates or policies, they only care about voting for whoever’s going to be on the winning side.
Accountable as a government? The Liberals can’t even manage accountability for their own electoral failings. Underfinanced, ill-prepared and stumbling — but pollsters and the media are the ones to blame. (I know — kicking the Liberals right now is as sporting as drowning puppies, but honestly, can’t they ever even begin to learn anything from their mistakes?)
Then there are the other parties.
The NDP? As yet in control of nothing, it’s hard to conceive of them being accountable for anything either. It’s like nudists arguing about the sartorial quality of their wardrobe selections.
Then there’s the Tories, committed accountabilists all the way. But maybe I’m looking at their commitment the wrong way.
Let’s parse their statement again — “We will continue to demonstrate that our commitment to accountability is unwavering” — because perhaps I read it wrong.
It could be read to mean that the Tories have an unwavering commitment to the need for accountability.
At the same time, read literally,
it might mean that the Tories will continue to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to whatever level of accountability they think suits them. In other words, an unwavering commitment to whatever level of accountability they already have. Or don’t have.
Most likely, that’s the interpretation they’re using. The election was barely on the books before Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced that there wouldn’t be a fall session of the legislature, and that the new opposition won’t start asking questions in the House of Assembly until sometime next spring. (Nice work if you can get it.) Her argument? The legislature needs legislation, and there isn’t any drawn up yet. Guess our last round of legislators really did take the whole summer off.
Well, maybe the opposition could ask some questions in the House, so that the new, continued government of Kathy Dunderdale could be accountable for its decisions.
Not so fast. The premier doesn’t like the House.
“I don’t find it a place for a very healthy, open, constructive debate to start with,” Premier Dunderdale told the CBC.
“Most of my issues are around the quality of debate and the research and the fact that you can pretty well get up in the House of Assembly and say whatever it is you like. You don’t have to be concerned with truth.”
Keep the House closed, and you don’t even have to be concerned about questions. Or be accountable for answers.
And that was only the night of the election.
What about the day after?
Well, then Dunderdale told the CBC that there would be a debate in the House of Assembly about whether the Muskrat Falls project should proceed — but that, despite the debate, she didn’t see any need for having a vote on the project in the House.
What possible reason is there not to have a vote?
Presumably, with a healthy majority, any legislative vote would be a cakewalk: the opposition would bluster and find real or imagined fault and then vote against the project, so that the final vote would be 37-11 in favour.
The only reason you can possibly imagine for not holding a vote is so that no individual MHA has to answer to their constituents for how they voted. In other words, to defend their vote and — wait for it — be accountable.
One of the biggest projects in this province’s history, and Dunderdale doesn’t want to have anyone’s name attached to it.
Unwavering commitment, indeed.
But that’s just the silly old dictionary definition of what it is to be accountable.
It’s quite clear we’re dealing with something else again. Should be an interesting four years.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.