Punch-and-Judy show

Russell Wangersky
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It's only a handful of days in, and I think the whole bunch of them should be sent to a marriage counsellor or something.

The government and the opposition, that is. Because they sound, at this point, more like an old dysfunctional married couple than a government and opposition. The Dunderdale Tories and the opposition, especially the Liberals, now spend more time talking about each other to bystanders than they do actually talking to each other.

I've never seen anything like it.

The moment question period ends, they just have to go out and start blabbing to all their friends and acquaintances about how unreasonable their spouse is.

Both the Tories and the Liberals are hardly out through the legislative doors before they start issuing spin-based news releases that try to restate everything done in the House to cast themselves in a better light, and to cast their opponents in a worse one.

"Jerome K., he just comes home and plops on the couch and won't do anything, won't lift a finger to do the dishes, and you know, I've had a full day at work, too."

"I can't believe that Lorraine. She just argues and argues and never bothers to let the facts get in the way ..."

We get it: you don't like each other.

Heck, it's taken less than a week to get from introductions across the floor of the House to "playful" threats (Eddie Joyce and Fisheries Minister Darin King asking each other to come across the floor and settle things) to downright serious umbrage, with Government House Leader Kennedy getting all huffy about Liberal Jim Bennett "threatening" Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke.

By the end of next week, will the legislative Bloods and Crips be meeting each other under the streetlights in the parking lot, waving lengths of chain and arming themselves with boards with nails sticking out of them?

There has been visceral hatred in the House of Assembly before - in opposition, Danny Williams came close to bursting every blood vessel in his head in fury, so angry was he about the smug, self-serving rejoinders that the Roger Grimes Liberals would offer up when asked legitimate questions.

There have been plenty of times, covering the House, when I've seen "honourable" members who looked like they were more than ready to end the session by giving some other honourable miscreant a pop in the snotter.

But this particular session, things are happening faster and nastier.

Blame to share

And there's plenty of blame to spread around.

Part of the blame is the failure of not reining in these Type-A bad boys and bad girls soon enough; I know that criticizing past Speakers of the House is frowned upon in the parliamentary system, but when Speakers are either too lax or too one-sided in dealing with abuses of House procedure, you can guarantee that frustration will build and tempers will boil.

So let's not keep that up. Instead, start heaving people out who shout abusive and offensive heckles. It's amazing how quickly removing the bully pulpit quiets the most serious of bullies.

And pick equally on both sides. Speakers have to have an equal-opportunity tossing policy, whether it's the minister of offensive or the critic for abuse who deserves to take a hike.

Most of the rest of the blame starts at the top - it's early on and we've already had the premier and her ministers start to answer opposition questions in a belittling way that smacks of bullying. We've already had equally pugilistic responses from opposition members.

All of it is behaviour that would be unacceptable in any other workplace in this province.

The leaders of the three parties in the House should be sitting down with their caucuses and reminding them that there is behaviour that simply doesn't belong in the House, regardless of what the members opposite are getting on with.

And at the very end, to the members themselves. Remember when you were elected? When you actually won that first election and stood up in front of all those supporters and promised that you'd do your utmost to bring their concerns forward and be the best MHA you could? You believed it then, too, didn't you? That you'd be different. That you'd make a mark.

You're not doing that by being a circus clown in a legislative sideshow.

Do you want to be remembered as the MHA who got censured for uttering threats - the kind of fussbudget footnote who only gets to figure prominently in a column like Bob Wakeham's this week because of your outlandish behaviour or intemperate language? Or do you want to be remembered for good solid work representing your constituents, making good decisions and making things in this province better?

Let's dial back the heat, and turn up the light.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Government House, The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • KickJohnSmithOff
    March 10, 2012 - 11:25

    I'm sick of seeing John Smith here the worse culprit. Can the telegram kick him off or investigate him? He is abusing this site and the citizens of NL by his bullying lying behavior. Sounds like he works for the Conservative party or Musrat/ Nalcor group as he censures Muskrat details and facts (like them) and viciously attacks anyone with a different view. Enough of this bullying. Once a bully always a bully. Can't some members of the Conservatives lead by example rather than bullying and legal threats. What is this teaching the young people of this province. It's ok to bully if you can get away with it! Seems not a dignified class of politicians destroying Nl fabric and exploiting Journalists and media for their own special intetests and gov/ Muskrat lobby group.

  • John Smith
    March 10, 2012 - 08:28

    Now it all makes sense. now I know why the political hacks and the media wanted the house to open. Not because they thought it would provide us with a place to debate in public the issues that are most pressing to the people of the province. No, it was becuse these guys needed new material. When I watch the proceedings it reminds me of play acting. 99% of the real work is done by the departments, the deputy ministers, and departmental heads who have been at their jobs for 25 or 30 years now. Administrations come and go, but the bureaucrats remain the same. The nonsense, the charade that is the HOA, is simply for show. That's why the NDP are so keen to be there. It's their way of getting on TV, their way of pretending to the public that they actually know what they are talking about. The Liberals are the same. They don't care about the province, only how to gain more seats, spread more lies and innuendo, and of course, get closer to that golden pension.