Last week’s column made some assertions that were — shall we say — less than accurate.
The first was my suggestion that the current administration is fond of using the term “Dunderdale government” in news releases and other government communications.
It is not.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale, unlike Danny Williams before her, has shunned the use of her last name in branding the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. In place of the ubiquitous “Williams government,” we now mostly find generic terms such as “government” and “province.”
However, Dunderdale has clearly not abandoned Williams’ autocratic approach to governing. Which leads me to the second clarification.
Last week, I said the House of Assembly hasn’t been in session since September 2011.
In fact, the last session ended on May 26, 2011, well over nine months ago.
There is no conceivable excuse for this lengthy shutdown. Nonetheless, Dunderdale and her supporters point to the deterioration of decorum in the House as a rationale — repeatedly categorizing criticism as mere partisan whining and complaining.
This is hardly new. All governments think the opposition is full of baloney. But they don’t, as a rule, shut down the House for the better part of a year.
(As an example of how far the conceit of the majority can stretch, look no further than federal Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who demanded Tuesday that the Liberal party release phone records relating to the ongoing “robocall” scandal. When asked if the Conservatives would do the same, he said there was no need “because obviously our party is not behind these calls; we know that.”)
Dunderdale is falsely equating the tone of debate in the legislature with the actual need for debate.
“I don’t find it a place for a very healthy, open, constructive debate to start with,” she said following the 2011 fall election.
What’s particularly galling about this assessment is that government MHAs, including the premier and ministers, are as much or even more responsible for the nasty tone as anyone.
The opposition criticizes.
That’s what it does.
But Dunderdale and her colleagues do not take criticism well. They have repeatedly demonstrated this in every other public sphere. And in the House, they retaliate with as many or more personal barbs than they get.
To make matters worse, the government’s bad conduct was frequently overlooked by former speaker Roger Fitzgerald.
His appetite for scolding opposition members was matched only by his ability to turn a blind eye to misconduct from the other side.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael put it well in April 2011, after being admonished herself.
“I’m not in there shouting, and the premier better look at her people if she’s talking about rowdiness in the House,” she told The Telegram. “If she’s really serious about rowdiness and decorum, then she should whip her people into shape.”
After Monday’s speech from the throne, Michael pleaded — both inside and outside the House — for the government to put its partisan tarring brush away.
“It really bothers me, because the government keeps painting anybody who is bringing forward ideas different to theirs as being against them, as being partisan,” she said. “They seem to think it’s their way or no way, and that really bothers me.”
But Dunderdale stuck to her mantra.
“If you were to listen to the Opposition and the third party, in Newfoundland and Labrador the sky is falling, everything is in disrepair and falling apart,” she told reporters.
In other words, the Opposition opposes, and the premier — who’s never been on that side of the House — doesn’t like it.
She is expecting, perhaps, a love-in?
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor.