The argument for a free vote legislative system

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By John Ryall The contemporary political situation in Newfoundland and Labrador is simultaneously frustrating and hopeful. Our current provincial PC government has plummeted in popularity, pertinent to the arrogant, condescending and non-transparent way they have governed since the last provincial election. This PC government maligned Liberal MHA Jim Bennett for leaving a message on Minister Joan Shea’s office phone that a cancer patient in her district was being ignored and Jim Bennett was being ignored for raising her plight. The PC government distorted Bennett’s remarks as being threatening because he sounded frustrated and claimed he might have no choice but to raise the issue on open line shows. The PC government deliberately withheld the issue until International Women’s day 2012, which was clearly a manipulative attempt to convey that a female minister felt threatened in order to circumvent that this PC government was being apathetic to a cancer patient and inhospitable to any constructive criticism. This PC government also refuted calls for a public inquiry pertinent to the slow search and rescue response in the tragic death of young Burton Winters, which also seems to reflect a lack of moral government accountability. Shortly before the legislative presentation of the Muskrat Falls proposed development this PC government implemented Bill 29. This bill has been berated by the opposition, legal experts and the overwhelming majority of the general public. Bill 29 permits Ministerial briefings to be kept secret, and permits the government to refute requests for information if they are biased against the requestor, or what is being requested. Liberal MHA Dwight Ball has insightfully pledged to abolish Bill 29 if he leads an elected Liberal government and NDP Leader Lorraine Michael orchestrated a brave legislative filibuster against Bill 29 last year. Recently our PC Premier Kathy Dunderdale travelled to China in an attempt to extrapolate investment in our oil industry. As Dunderdale represented our province in one of the worst human rights abusing nations in history she made no public mention of China’s morally reprehensible human rights record and illegal occupation of Tibet. However, Dunderdale does not have a monopoly upon this apathy because in 1999 our then-premier Brian Tobin welcomed then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongzi, and ignored China’s reprehensible human rights record. The contemporary PC government also does not have a monopoly for disrespecting democracy. In 2005, the Danny Williams administration expelled PC MHA Fabian Manning from caucus because he publically criticized the way his government mismanaged the crab fishery. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the then provincial Liberal governments pressured party members who criticized the welcome of Zhu Rongzi that they could not promote social activist causes if they conflicted with party policy. At the 2002 provincial Liberal AGM Liberal delegates proposing a free-vote legislative system were denied the right to a rebuttal after Liberal ministers opposed the resolution because Liberal ministers claimed that they could not recall any time when members of the opposition had voted in favour of government legislation. Incidentally, in 1988 when the Brian Peckford administration ratified the Meech Lake Accord, Liberal MHA Leo Barry dissented with his caucus opposition to the accord and voted with the government. In 2002, when the Roger Grimes Liberal administration ratified the Voisey Bay Agreement, then PC Opposition MHA Fabian Manning dissented with his caucus opposition to the accord and voted with the government. Ironically, in 2005 when Manning dissented with his governing party he was expelled, however his dissent within the same party had been tolerated when they had been in opposition. Immediately after Manning had been expelled from the PC governing caucus many Liberal opposition MHA’s berated the PC government for being intolerant of dissent. However only two and a half years earlier, when the Liberals still controlled the government, their ministers fervently refuted a free vote party member’s resolution that would have extrapolated the power from a government to expell dissenting members from its caucus. It is frequently governments that are more dictatorial than opposition caucuses and it is more imperative for any respective government to promote more democracy. The role of government is to be more inclusive rather than exclusive and Bill 29, which constrains public access to information needs to be replaced with legislation that amplifies public access to information. The current Liberal leadership and NDP caucus should utilize the opportunity of opposing such a dictatorial, and non-transparent government to advocate a free vote provincial legislative system. There are those who claim that a free vote legislative system would never pass because politicians fervently endeavour to retain power they have acquired. However many decades ago the establishment of a televised legislature and fixed election dates were refuted and eventually attained. There are those who claim that political parties must require their members to conform to party policy in order to survive even though history has taught us that when governing parties don’t listen to the people they lose power shortly thereafter. It is not coincidental that the current PC provincial government has declined 33 per cent in the polls over approximately 18 months since it maligned its critics, refused to publically investigate a human tragedy and constrained the public’s access to information. A free vote legislative system would permit government members to have dissented on Bill 29 and demand an inquiry for Burton Winters and maybe enough dissenting government members would have defeated Bill 29 and established an inquiry for Burton Winters. John Ryall writes from Mount Pearl

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, China, Tibet Meech Lake Accord Mount Pearl

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  • Scott
    August 05, 2013 - 05:13

    Just finish reading your article. Have to say you did a fine job. But has a province we don't have any right's left. They are being taken away one at a time. Freedom of choice , who we can elects to represent us. Was taking away on July 5/2013 by the provincial Liberal party. Who in there right mind would vote for any off the liberal party. Just some one who got something again society

  • Dianne
    August 04, 2013 - 19:09

    Democracy - Transparent - Human Rights -Free Vote - Along with Abolish- What wonderful words they are...There only one problem concerning those words. They don't exscess. In our provincial government or any of the opposition party's. Especially in the Liberal party. All because of July5/2013..When they broke each and everyone. At the sametime Mr Ball telling the people he like to see a Healthy Competition. LOL..Six people came foreward...One was lift behind...WHY..Is it that Mr Charles Murphy of corner brook. Show leadership. Because of his article of June 24/2013. Not Like Mr Ball...Who stood in Marystown. Told the people there he see a future there...But in my community of Jackson Arm. He only see make work project. Follow by Starvation, If he call this leadership...We got hard time's coming if the Liberal form the next government.

  • Betty
    August 04, 2013 - 18:08

    Mr Ryall...Out of the three provincial party...The biggest HIPOCRITE OF them all is the Liberal party. They walk on everybody right on July 5/2013. When they took away freedom of rights from every newfoundlanders and labradorians. Who they should be able to vote for leader of the party. You tell me...What is the different...Between the liberal and chinese. NOTHING..Just a difference province...As for Bill 29...Liberal party will loves it.

  • Anon
    August 04, 2013 - 16:13

    Dude... paragraph structure...

  • Cyril Rogers
    August 04, 2013 - 14:40

    Mr. Ryall, you make some excellent points in your letter, and it only goes to show that all parties have some work to do......if they truly want to be more democratic. As you rightly point out, the Liberals have an excellent opportunity to NOT do "business as usual"...... but whether they have the intestinal fortitude to do so is the question. Their leadership candidates will be missing the bigger picture if they fail to understand the need for essential reform of our system. The saying, "If it ain't broke...don't fix it" certainly does not apply to our legislature or the Parliament of Canada and our politicians need to find a renewed sense of purpose if they want to break away from the cynicism of the past few decades. We need reform but not the type that is imposed upon us by people like PM Harper or the provincial PC administration, who believe they are the only ones who know best. Thus, we have the debacle known as Muskrat Falls about to descend upon us....and there is no way to stop it, unless market forces come to our rescue.

  • Tibetyabottom dollar
    August 03, 2013 - 09:15

    These people reflect the values we secretly hold. Burton Winters may as well have been a Chinese peasant. While we kill rivers for carbon credit, we invite the people's republic to our colony to drill Old Harry. Our governance sits around waiting for royalty cheques.