Darin King is starting to remind me a bit of Gary Bettman. King, of course, is the government House leader who stubbornly refused to give into Liberal opposition demands that witnesses be called during a special legislative debate on Muskrat Falls.
That debate, which requires unanimous approval of MHAs to take place, has now gone belly up (apparently), with little chance of revival, the democratic process receiving another kick in the groin.
Bettman, as most hockey fans would know (and perhaps more than a few non-jock afficionados, as well, given the fact that his smug mug is appearing with regularity outside the realm of sports stories) is the NHL commissioner who put players in an untenable position by playing the lapdog for owners and ordering a lockout, rather than attempting to negotiate an agreement during the course of the season.
Now, millions of fans are paying for his arrogance and stubbornness.
Even with the knowledge that the lockout would have repercussions for years, Bettman — whose emotional ties to hockey are those of a basketball man, which he is — kept his snobbish nose up in the air, as if his you-know-what didn’t stink, and made it impossible for him to get a whiff of the foulness that surrounded his every move in this absolutely frustrating dispute, a fan’s worst nightmare.
He is a bully.
In our home rink of Newfoundland, we have our own version of the bully. Minister King, the politician who runs the affairs of the Dunderdale administration in the legislature. He isn’t dealing with well-heeled suits or rich hockey players or millions of hockey fans. But he’s in much more important, crucial territory: he’s at centre ice with an audience of thousands of Newfoundlanders looking on, people who have every right to a detailed legislative debate on what is arguably the most important project the province has ever undertaken.
And, from where I sit, and most rational-thinking Newfoundlanders sit (one would assume), King and Premier Kathy Dunderdale should have been willing to compromise, to bend over backwards, if the voters were to be the beneficiaries, if their knowledge of the Muskrat Falls proposal had a chance to be enhanced by witnesses brought before the bar of the House. It might have been a tough political pill to swallow.
But Muskrat Falls is too important a matter to be used as a political football — or a political puck, for that matter.
On the other hand, of course, and there’s always that “other hand,” Liberal Leader Dwight Ball in some ways resembles Donald Fehr, the head of the NHL players union.
Fehr may have cut off his nose in spite of his players’ faces (which are usually deformed, not by labour disputes, but by lifetimes of elbows and high sticks and fists) when he delayed moving in a direction that could have given the negotiations some impetus. Bettman is still the ultimate bad guy, but Fehr is not without some blame.
In Ball’s case, he boxed himself into a corner by declaring unconditionally that witnesses be called or there would be no debate.
There was little room to manoeuvre and he provided King and the Tories the ammunition to charge that he was singularly responsible for the fact that the special debate would not take place in the House.
That’s totally disingenuous, of course: this is government’s call, and the ruling Tories could afford to be magnanimous. Nevertheless, Ball did take a penalty and gave government an advantage, a power play, and it scored.
Lorrraine Michael, the NDP leader, could be viewed as representing the fans, in keeping with this hockey analogy of mine, as she sought ways to ensure the debate, the season of the Muskrat, could take place, even if it meant she had to hold her nose.
Michael has suggested the witnesses be called in another setting. The debate, meanwhile, could go ahead. The games could begin. It was a sensible stance and politically astute as well.
If there’s no late peace agreement this week in the off-ice hockey wars, Bettman’s credibility, never pronounced at the best of times, will continue to take a justifiable beating.
And if the Muskrat Falls debate remains in limbo, it’s King who should receive the most severe chastisement.
Hockey fans are the big losers on one stage, Newfoundlanders the big losers on the other.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at @nl.rogers.com.