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EDITORIAL: Reckoning time in Newfoundland and Labrador

Eddie Joyce, the indepenent MHA for Humber-Bay of Islands, was a happy camper after being one of the first candidates to be declared elected in Thursday's provincial election.
Independent MHAs like Eddie Joyce, Humber-Bay of Islands, will have more leverage in this new minority government. — Western Star file photo

Well, this is different.

For years, provincial elections in Newfoundland and Labrador have followed a predictable model: a majority government stays in place until it’s tired and lame and roundly disliked, and then it gets replaced by a majority government from the other side.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Majority after majority has led to a particular kind of government — new governments come in talking about consensus, but within months, during question period, the walls of the House of Assembly practically drip with condescension.

The government of the day sees itself as the people’s choice and therefore the repository of all and every good idea. The opposition members, in the government’s eyes, are barely better than idiots, responsible for every mistake ever made in the province in the past, and not worth listening to.

From zero to imperious in 60 seconds or less.

And around and around we go.

It’s not a recipe for good government.

At this point, after losing 10 seats and two cabinet ministers, the Ball government should be chastened.

But this time, it’s something a little different: at the moment (with a recount in the offing for a district the NDP won by a mere five votes), Dwight Ball’s government is a minority government, the first one the province has ever had. Well, unless you count the brief stalemate between Liberals and Tories in 1971, though that situation was so transitory no one ever actually sat in minority.

And minority governments are a different beast.

At this point, after losing 10 seats and two cabinet ministers, the Ball government should be chastened. If the numbers hold, and the government wants to keep a Liberal in the Speaker’s chair, the government will have just 19 out of 40 votes in the House. (The government might try to convince one of the two independents to try and come over, but both have already said no chance.)

Liberal cabinet ministers and members of the House will have to be diligent to attend sessions where the government could fall in a vote, and overall, the government will have to be more accommodating to the interests and requests of the opposition.

It will keep the government on its toes, and will mean that the tried-and-true of the politics of the past — belittle and insult your opponents to the guffaws of your fellow government cronies — will have to change.

It will either change, or the government will risk the danger of an election on a timetable not of the government’s own choosing.

And frankly, it’s about time.

We are in horrible fiscal shape with few, if any, options. If anything, our elected members should all be pulling on the same set of oars instead of flailing away trying to score cheap political points in House of Assembly sessions so puerile that high school students sit in the visitors’ gallery and roll their eyes.

Maybe being less comfortable in their positions will mean our elected politicians act a bit more like grownups.

We can at least hope.

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