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Tightening the reins

Minority government. Maybe it’s something this province should try.

On the face of it, it might sound like a stupid idea, a year’s-long frustration of a government not being able to get anything done without the support of at least some members of another party.

But on the other hand, it would do wonders to pierce the imperious stance that has come to be a constant feature of governments in this province.

Provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador — essentially always majorities — follow a traditional pattern.

A new government comes in, usually riding a tide of general voter disdain for the calcified incumbents. The new government inevitably says that they, unlike their predecessors, will consult with voters and make the House of Assembly a more functional place. Heard it before? Of course you have. It’s a broken record. It may even be delivered with good intentions, perhaps, but it suffers from perpetually weak delivery.

After about a year in office, the same old political hardening of the arteries starts up.

Government-knows-best governance doesn’t take long to arrive, and it’s not long before faux-upset cabinet ministers are outraged about things as small as their privilege being affected by social media postings. Legislation stumbles through without thorough analysis — “We’re the government, the people picked us, so our plans cannot be wrong, shut up, naysayers” — and we get Bill 29 or far-off power dams that blow their budgets apart or free ski-hill days at essentially bankrupt ski hills. “Let them eat moguls!”

Thank goodness, important issues like the hurt feelings of an MHA will get full kangaroo court committee hearing, where, no doubt, the government members (the majority at the table) will vote righteously and unanimously for some kind of censure.

Nova Scotia’s election on Tuesday came close enough to being a minority Liberal government to truly shake up the winners. British Columbia’s brand-new minority government seems ready to be toppled by its combined opposition. In both cases, hair’s-breadth governance should inject something a little closer to civility — given that both governments are only a legislator or so away from a vote of non-confidence.

Here, elections seem always to guarantee governments the keys to the kingdom, and a short walk from the lowly, disdained opposition benches to the high ground of the divine right of governance.

Imagine if the government actually had to make a persuasive argument for its agenda, instead of simply delivering it on stone tablets like some kind of legislative Moses strolling in off the mount.

Government members should have to think hard about how they got their jobs every day, not just once every four years or so.

A minority administration might go a long way towards focusing their minds on that.

And it might mean better, more even-handed legislation and process for us all.

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