You couldn’t help but get the sense that the first eight months or so of Kathy Dunderdale’s time on Confederation Building’s eighth floor amounted to a feeling-out time for Newfoundlanders, a dating period, a chance to get some initial, preliminary goods on the blind date who had been suddenly anointed by King Daniel as the Homecoming Queen.
It wasn’t an all-out, Liz-and-Richard, passionate love affair, for sure, (neither the baymen nor the townies knew her well enough to even think about getting to first base), but the scraps were few and the voters seemed willing to take the next step, go steady for a while and have a gander at what Cupid Dan had lined up as his replacement.
And not having found a great deal to dislike about their new partner on the hill (and with little or no “Dating Game” alternative), Newfoundlanders decided to say “we do” on election night, and accepted Dunderdale’s vows and promises to validate their choice.
But in a flash, the easy times appear over.
The honeymoon has been brought to a crashing halt by Dunderdale herself, tripping awkwardly over her wedding dress by announcing to her faithful (and even to those thinking of joining the congregation) that she was going to rest on her arse of power for the time being, thank you very much, and avoid the House of Assembly until next spring.
And if that note of arrogance
didn’t supply sufficient firepower to torch the honeymoon suite, she
displayed a strange and paradoxical approach to Muskrat Falls by promising on one hand that a full debate would take place in the legislature on the controversial project, but that, on the other hand, there would be no vote, no way for Newfoundlanders and/or their representatives to have an official say in what is being touted as a godsend for the province’s future energy requirements.
(A poor and immensely cheap attempt at comic relief here, and an admittedly enormous quantum leap, one dealing with shattered relationships: I read recently about one of the wackiest and briefest marriages of a public nature ever recorded, one that actually ended during the honeymoon, a strange union between the immensely unattractive actor Ernest Borgnine — he of McHale’s Navy fame — and the rotund Broadway singer Ethel Merman who could shatter mirrors with her version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Ernie and Ethel lasted 32 days, and their split came about, at least in part, according to reports that emerged years later, because she was upset by his penchant for breaking wind in the bed and then holding her under the covers. And there were some who said it wouldn’t last…)
Getting back to more serious but equally smelly business here in Newfoundland: Dunderdale can do all the spin-doctoring in the world, the kind that would make Elizabeth Matthews proud, and can argue, as she might, that some of her ministers have to familiarize themselves with new portfolios and that time is required to prepare a legislative agenda.
But few will buy that lame argument.
Sure, the legislature can be a
circus act at times, but it’s the
place where government is most accountable, where both the opposition and the media have access to ministers on a daily basis, where an administration’s feet can be put to the fire, where they often belong and deserve to be singed.
Danny Williams treated the legislature with detachment, as well, but everyone and his dog Rover loved old Dan (or were intimidated by him as if he was a pit bull, the kind that was violently patrolling the old Corner Tavern neighbourhood in St. John’s last week).
He could afford to act as if he was Fidel of the North.
Dunderdale doesn’t have that luxury.
And then we have this highly questionable approach to the debate over Muskrat Falls, an approach that’s certainly put a chill on the idealistic warmth that
permeated the early Dunderdale/public rapport.
What’s the use of a debate, of asking questions, of even having them answered, people are wondering, understandably so, if there’s no vote when all is said and done? Doesn’t that render the debate absolutely irrelevant?
Not only should there obviously be a vote, most rational-thinking Newfoundlanders would conclude, but a free vote as well.
Say what you want about the American system, but at least there’s room south of the border for party mavericks and rebels, politicians more than willing to dislodge themselves from the party shackles. Not here, though. If an MHA feels the Muskrat Falls deal is misguided, or if constituents tell him or her they’re worried about its ramifications, the member still has to toe the party line.
Solidarity, it’s usually called.
Silence of the lambs, I’d call it.
You can almost hear Dunderdale’s former honeymooners protesting: “Open the House, Madam Premier. Have a full debate on Muskrat Falls. And allow for a free and open vote.”
If not, the divorce papers are being drawn up.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.