No-show a sad sign

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What if you had a party and nobody came? That’s the problem for the Members Compensation Review Committee, which was supposed to have a two-and-a-half-hour public meeting where citizens could discuss the possibility of changes to the pay, benefits and pensions of members of the House of Assembly.

Instead, the meeting in St. John’s lasted only 10 minutes, and the sole committee member, Judge Jaqueline Brazil, closed out the evening without hearing from even one member of the public — because only representatives of the St. John’s Board of Trade showed up to comment.

And it’s not only members’ compensation where the public is showing a decided disinterest. Two years ago, public hearings into changes in the province’s freedom of information legislation were overwhelmingly dominated not by the public, but by provincial civil servants requesting that the act be tightened up. The public was pretty much a no-show.

“I was disappointed in the lack of response to the public hearing sessions. In total, I heard from approximately 10 members of the general public,” review commissioner John Cummings wrote in his report recommending broad-based tightening-up of access.

What can you take from the lack of attendance?

The best thing you can hope for is that the message didn’t get out — that, despite news stories and advertising, the public just wasn’t aware that they had an opportunity to speak and, hopefully, be heard.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not the whole story, which means the public feels disengaged from the process. The first Internet comment posted on our news story about the poor turnout was: “What difference would it make, this government is doing what it wants anyway!!!”

It’s sad that the public is not even bothering to address an issue like compensation for politicians, especially because this regular public review of MHA benefits springs from the cesspool that was the constituency allowance scandal.

Maybe, in some way, it all sounds like good news for the government: if the public can’t even be bothered to offer up its opinions, then who can argue with the government simply going ahead with whatever plan it feels is in the province’s best interests? Nobody cares, so fill your boots.

But that’s only a short-term option — perhaps as little as a one-term freebie.

The problem?

Public disengagement is not just the fault of the electorate, it’s the fault of a government that either fails to provoke the interest of its citizens, or else has, by its own actions, conditioned the electorate to believe their voices don’t matter or will not be heard.

Eventually, a different politician or party will engage and involve the public.

And when that happens, there’s a very real chance the electoral decks will be swept clean.

If you have a party and no one shows up, it usually isn’t because everybody likes you a lot.

Organizations: Members Compensation Review Committee, Board of Trade

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    September 27, 2012 - 09:39

    This proves Nflders are too green to burn? This was originally attributed to Morine in the early part of the last century, and who was from Nova Scotia. We elected him a MHA. He was on the payroll of the Reid Nfld railway, getting tens of thousands of dollars while voting on governments issues about the railway contracts. Who cared then, who cares now? But when something gets to a big scandal levels, then we care, but usually too late. The secretcy act got passed with little trouble It helps muzzle the media who are our guardians..And who cares if our MHAs have little oversight on their salary and pensions? I guess numbers count. If the public don't care, then what is wrong with the status quo.Perhaps we should abandon democracy?

  • Fred from Brigus
    September 27, 2012 - 06:01

    Just because the Compensation Review Committee held a public meeting and for whatever reason nobody showed up dosen"t mean that no periodic review is necessary. Ottawa is presently reviewing and making changes to it's compensation packages which the public has deemed to be too generous. NL should do the right thing as they already what changes are necessary to be made to alleviate the burden on the taxpayers.

  • DON II
    September 26, 2012 - 09:01

    During a poorly attended public meeting which I went to some years ago I asked a person sitting next to me if he thought the poor turnout was because the people were ignorant and apathetic about the issue being discussed and he told me that he didn't know and didn't care! The politicians and their hacks know that the people don't know, don't want to know and could care less about what goes on inside Confederation Building or about the skullduggery that is planned over a few drinks in somebody's living room as long as it does not directly adversely affect them. The problem is that the hidden inner workings of Government does directly adversely affect them but they don't know it. The prevailing attitude is don't tell me any bad news or I'm alright pal too bad about you. The Government and their hacks just do what they want because nobody is watching and nobody is revealing or reporting on the skullduggery that is going on every day! The political and Government system in Newfoundland and Labrador is so corrupt that if some well connected developer had a few thousand unused cans of purple and yellow paint and wanted to get rid of them by getting a Government contract that the Government could be persuaded to propose legislation that required every house in Newfoundland and Labrador MUST be painted purple with yellow polka dots. To add insult to injury, the opposition parties would vote for passage of that legislation too, no questions asked! That is the way it works. If some well connected or special interest group wants something or wants a contract they just contact the right people on the inside and the deed is done. It appears that the same situation is in the works for the Muskrat Falls project. Somebody is going to get very rich when that done deal gets final official approval!

  • W Bagg
    September 26, 2012 - 08:08

    Lack of advertising..........................but when the govt wants the public to know something, turn on Open Line, no less than 3 MHA's wil be spinning.

  • Was this meeting even advertised?
    September 26, 2012 - 07:51

    We should all be lambasted for a week on all the communication media for being so complacent. I wasn't there but I hadn't even heard there was a such a meeting scheduled. I attend most of these events, so was there not enough advertising? It should have been announced on the VOCM Radio Talk shows a few times because there are over a hundred thousand tuned into that medium every day. Will this meeting be rescheduled with a lot of fanfare? I want to attend.

  • Dave Lane
    September 26, 2012 - 07:36

    Engagement with the public doesn't just mean "holding a meeting." It means promoting it widely and in an appealing way. And you also have to engage people where they are. Go door-to-door. Get online in a meaningful way. We're all reading this article online, aren't we? The ad up top promoting NL as a tourist destination with compelling taglines and images should sometimes be a well-designed ad for our government asking "What do you think? Click here to tell us."