Democracy is a beautiful thing.
The opposition parties are into the second day of almost continuous debate on a bill that would gut the public’s right to access information about what the government is doing with public money. Political parties can talk and talk on any of the bills that come up for debate.
But Bill 29 is different.
It is a full frontal assault on one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
The Conservatives make no bones about what they are doing. In the debate thus far, they have rejected any amendment that limits their ability to hide anything they do not want to release now or in the future.
Kathy Dunderdale won’t like this, but it is hard to escape the conclusion. She and her Conservative colleagues are recreating for the entire government the cult of secrecy that helped keep the House of Assembly spending scandal going for a decade. For good measure, the Conservatives have even limited the power of the Auditor General to conduct his audits of public spending. He is not barred from auditing, his office is not shut down but he will be neutered almost as effectively as if he were kicked out of the building altogether.
Bill 29 is part of a pattern the Conservatives have been following since 2003 to undermine what had been a progressive law favouring the public’s right to know what its government is doing. The Liberals introduced the law in 2002.
The Tories, the Progressive Conservatives as they then were, pledged to go even further.
Once in office, they went in the opposite direction.
That isn’t all they’ve done. The Conservatives have undermined the House of Assembly, threatened to take away free speech, and dramatically reduced oversight of public spending. The result of their concerted efforts – financial mismanagement – was predictable. The only thing that was astonishing was that the Reform-based Conservative Party admitted to their “unsustainable” spending.
There are so many days, to borrow some words from Aaron Sorkin, where you can't imagine that anything good will ever happen in politics in this province. Most days, you’re buried under a black fog of partisanship, self-promotion, and stupidity and brand of politics that's just plain mean.
But over the past 24 hours, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have seen some politicians put aside their partisan differences and work together to fight for values that we all share.
And if politics brings out the worst in people,” as Sorkin had C. J. Cregg say, “maybe [sometimes] people [can] bring out the best."