Harper government held in contempt of Parliament

Provincial players already preparing for election

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on March 26, 2011
Prime Minister Stephen Harper votes against a Liberal contempt of Parliament motion in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday. — Photo by The Canadian Press

The election campaign may not have officially started until today, but in Newfoundland and Labrador, all things political were already kicking into high gear Friday.

For the first time in Canadian history, the federal government was found in contempt of Parliament, after the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois united in a non-confidence motion against the Harper Conservatives.

Some time today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will go to the Governor General to formally trigger the start of an election campaign. Harper called the election “reckless” and said Canadians do not want to go to the polls.

But Liberal MP Siobhan Coady said this is evidence that the Harper government is undemocratic.

“This is the first time in history that a government has been found in contempt,” she said. “What I think you saw today was opposition parties, on behalf of their constituents, rising in the House and saying we don’t trust this government.”

As Coady was in Ottawa voting against the government, things were moving pretty fast back home.

Former journalist Ryan Cleary announced he will seek the NDP nomination to run against Coady in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

Cleary was narrowly defeated by Coady in the last federal election. With Fisheries Ambassador and former provincial cabinet minister Loyola Sullivan rumoured to be running for the Conservatives, the riding is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races in the province.

In St. John’s East, Conservative candidate Jerry Byrne said he’s ready, even though he doesn’t want an election.

“In another couple years, when the time is right, we’ll have our economy completely turned around and we’ll be in a much better position fiscally to handle an election,” he said.

At the same time, Byrne said “The minute that the writ is dropped, I’m ready to knock on doors.”

NDP MP Jack Harris — who will be on the ballot against Byrne — said that locally he’s not concerned about the Conservative challenge, because he’s confident in his record representing the people of the riding.

Nationally, however, Harris said the election will likely be a about Harper and his government.

“From my perspective, we’re campaigning against Mr. Harper and his policies, his style of government and the kind of Canada he wants to create,” he said. “It will be a referendum on Mr. Harper’s style of government, his leadership and his policies.”

The Green Party also has a candidate in St. John’s East, and he weighed in on Parliament’s contempt vote Friday as well.

Robert Miller pointed out that part of the Greens’ platform includes mandatory ethics and management training for all MPs.

Politicians weren’t the only ones chomping at the election bit Friday.

Jo Mark Zurel, chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade said as soon as the campaign starts, the board will be inserting itself into it.

“We  want to know where the candidates stand,” Zurel said.

The board will be asking the parties what their positions are on everything from custodial management of the fishery and the province’s role as an Arctic gateway, to fiscal responsibility and the potential for an East-West energy grid.

The board will also invite all three national party leaders to speak to members at luncheon events.

The campaign will likely begin in earnest on Monday, but none of the parties have announced a full slate of candidates for the province.

A spokesperson for the Conservative party said Byrne is the only candidate they have formally nominated.