All right: I’ll admit it. I’m boring. I actually read Hansard, the written record of this province’s House of Assembly. Not just question period, either. I read the whole darned thing, from members’ statements to the debates themselves.
I watch the House on its online webcast, too — at least, I watch for as long as I can, because this particular House of Assembly is beyond cringe-worthy.
And believe me, I’ve got the experience to know that. I’ve covered this province’s legislature in one form or another since 1986, watching the House under the administrations of Brian Peckford, Tom Rideout, Clyde Wells, Brian Tobin, Beaton Tulk, Roger Grimes, Danny Williams and now Kathy Dunderdale. That’s going on 26 years of House-watching.
This has always been an underperforming legislature, perhaps because it is always a majority government.
Government politicians don’t co-operate or reach consensus, they just speak from on high, belittling and bullying the opposition members on the other side of the House.
But that doesn’t mean the opposition always performs in stellar fashion either, and that’s certainly the case right now: questions are opened-ended and slack, and usually look for all the world like last-minute efforts dredged up from whatever the morning’s media headlines have brought.
Truly effective oppositions not only know the questions they’re asking, but they often have some knowledge of the answers, too.
Then, when governments prevaricate or trot out a handful of off-point bluster, the opposition members go outside the House and give the media the answers the government has been avoiding.
Right now, the opposition asks a question, the government answers with some stagey bluster that really only the government members seem to enjoy, and everything stops.
But if you really want to see where this particular House is falling down, you have to look at the debates on legislation.
Because, with few exceptions (Finance Minister Tom Marshall and Liberal Andrew Parsons), there are no real debates on legislation. With the exception of that pair, there’s little in the way of careful examination of the bills that become law.
Somewhere along the line, MHAs’ efforts on debate have been replaced with lengthy travelogue paeons to the wonders of their own districts.
If there’s a motion on small business tax rates, a government member will start listing every program that has ever been brought in and applied to small business, with a healthy listing of small businesses in their districts.
An opposition member will follow with an equally fawning description of how much they love small business in their district.
How about discussing the merits of proposed legislation? “Nah, that’s too boring, all that reading and considering, Mr. Speaker, because in my district …”
Instead of examining the legislation, the member spends time outlining the past record of their own administration: “In the last minute that I have, I will reiterate some of the investments that this government has made in Corner Brook and region, including the Bay of Islands, in the last number of years. The courthouse in Corner Brook, again, millions of dollars; the long-term care unit which we were talking about today, millions of dollars; dementia units, millions of dollars; Corner Brook Regional High, the school which I was the principal of, again, millions of dollars; planning for the former Regina school, on the way and future development; Bartlett’s Point, hundreds of thousands of dollars; the revitalization of Margaret Bowater Park; road paving and infrastructure work on both sides of the Bay of Islands; cost-shared of the Trans-Canada Highway from Massey Drive west; moneys for the new fire pumper truck in Corner Brook, and in Meadows, in the Bay of Islands; moneys to straighten the road at Gallants; the new Dunfield Park Community Centre; support for Summit Place in Corner Brook; the new residence at Grenfell Campus, and a new administrative building at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University.”
Keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter who the MHA was. The party doesn’t matter either.
Politics in this province used to be mixed with legislation.
Now, it’s theatre instead of substance.
And I think, by saying that, I just insulted theatre.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been changed to fix a typographical error.