Understandably, a great deal of valued attention was being paid this past week to the latest Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy routine performed in the House of Assembly by Lt.-Gov. Frank Fagan, the Queen’s puppet in Newfoundland, reciting, word for word, the amazing rhetoric slickly formulated by Liberal government public relations flacks that extolled the tremendous virtues of “My Government.”
How in the name of Shari Lewis, and puppeteer shtick down through the ages, could you not possibly hang onto every syllable placed in the obedient vocal chords of our own little “Lamb Chop”? (For those readers not blessed with a garbage head like my own, or not old enough to remember watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” after squeezing in some last-minute Sunday night homework, “Lamb Chop” — perceived as absolutely adorable by a then non-discriminating, easily entertained audience — was the star hand puppet manipulated by the dexterous Ms. Lewis).
I don’t know about you, but when Lamb Chop — I mean the lieutenant-governor — promised on behalf of the Queen that her provincial government, those dedicated men and women elected to manage the affairs of her unwashed servants in her oldest colony, to tunnel all of us out of this economic avalanche with “The Way Forward,” a “vision,” a “road map guiding our future to a province that is diversified, prosperous, and with a high standard of living,” well, to tell the truth, I was filled with a blast of optimistic oxygen.
After all, it was impossible to have any doubts whatsoever about the inspired efforts by the Liberals (and, in fact, by all those honourable members of the legislature) to bring relief to this hellish financial situation when the speech ended with heavenly tones that would bring tears to a glass eye: “I invoke God’s blessing upon you,” it read. “May divine Providence guide you in your deliberation.” Obviously, our worries are over; just sit back, “Let go and let God” — if I can plagiarize the vernacular of society’s many 12-step, self-help groups.
But — there’s always a “but,” is there not? — as enthralling an afternoon as the speech from the throne provided, its news worthiness was dwarfed by an even more significant story of recent weeks, one that has had tongues wagging in kitchens and taverns throughout the province: the dust-up that occurred between a couple of honourable members in one of those hallowed corridors just outside the esteemed locale of the House of Assembly.
Surely, you heard the call.
IN THIS CORNER, WEIGHING IN AT HIS ALWAYS PERFECT POUNDAGE, THE VETERAN, THE DEER LAKE DESTROYER, DWIGHT (THE MANNEQUIN) BALL!
AND IN THE FAR CORNER, WEIGHING IN AT THE EQIVALENT OF A TRUCKLOAD OF MANURE, A NEWCOMER, THE MOUNT PEARL MASHER, JIM (THE FARMER) LESTER!
Now, I’m not quite sure what actually occurred, since it boils down to a “he said, he said” affair, but Ball has officially complained to Lester’s corner man, Lameduck Leader Paul Davis, that he was “confronted” by the apparently belligerent MHA from The Pearl who blocked his entrance to what is referred to as the government “common room” (That’s where members can doze away as their colleagues take turns droning on inside the legislature).
Who can possibly forget the time Bill Smallwood crossed the floor to take a swing at Bill Marshall…
But I’m sure the exchange mirrored the sort of riveting repartee that always characterizes debate among our elected types, perhaps just a notch above “got ya last.”
And it happened on a day the government was recognizing — you can’t make this stuff up, as they say — “Anti-bullying Day” in the province.
Oh, the horror.
But no matter the outcome of any sort of inquiry into this set-to between Ball and Lester, it does appear, at least on the surface, to pale in comparison to other mano a mano bouts of the past in the House of Assembly, at least those of my recollection and observance (welcome interludes for the press gallery).
Who can possibly forget the time Bill Smallwood crossed the floor to take a swing at Bill Marshall, who had read aloud an article from a small, independent newspaper that accused Smallwood’s mother — Joey’s wife — of being a “slum landlord”? This wasn’t “your mother wears army boots.” No sir. This was stuff worth fighting about: “Your mom is a slum landlord.”
Or the time Harold Collins charged over to the opposition side of the legislature and shoved Roger Simmons up against a wall after the perpetually saucy Simmons had implied the Tory cabinet minister required prescription medication to get through the day’s proceedings.
Ah, those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.
Now, we’re left with Dwight Ball complaining that Jim Lester wouldn’t let him enter the nap room.
Or Lamb Chop telling us everything is hunky-dory in Newfoundland.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org