14 December 2010

The return to “normal”

If you are looking for a good read, take a wander over to cbc.ca/nl and soak up Andrew Button’s observations on a recent visit to the House of Assembly

But, if the days I spent observing the house are any indication, the peanut gallery has more representation than anyone else in our province's legislature. With the non-stop heckling that goes on there, the house of assembly evokes the detention hall more than the hallowed offices of the Queen's own chamber.

Button is right. 

But that’s not what’s worth noting here.

Rather, pay attention to the fact the piece appeared.  The producers and editors at the Ceeb may have had this underway before Danny Williams hightailed it out of here but your humble e-scribbler is willing to bet there’ll be more of these sorts of pieces in the weeks and months ahead.

You see, the House of Assembly didn’t turn into a drool academy in the past couple of days.  Members of the House have been displaying this sort of behaviour for years.  Arguably, things have gotten notably worse in the past decade, as older hands retired and a new crowd took over.

The taunts are audible from the gallery, as Button noticed, even if the official record didn’t contain it. Some of the stuff hurled back and forth has been quite personal and quite savage.  And the bias of the Speaker in dealing with this sort of behaviour is simply unavoidable.

Yet,for some reason, the number of times this issue turned up in local media in the past seven years is one you can count on the fingers of one severely mangled hand.  it’s not like reporters didn’t see and hear the behaviour

Odd is that, especially considering it is a reflection – as much as anything else – of what Chief Justice Green referred to several times in his report on the House of Assembly spending scandal.  It’s called the “tone at the top.”  That new crowd that started flooding the chamber after 2003 learned their attitude toward the legislature and the people in it from their boss. And not surprisingly, the attitude turned out to be a bad one.

It isn’t odd if you connect it up with another piece of information.  According to at least one editor, Danny Williams and his crew used to mention that infamous Craig Westcott e-mail to reporters and editors whenever the opportunity arose over the 20 months between the date Westcott sent the e-mail and when he made it public via Kevin O’Brien.

Blatant breach of the province’s privacy laws.  An effort to attack a reporter’s credibility.  A sign of the intensely personal way Williams used to take everything.  Any of those reasons might have been cause for someone to have reported the fact Williams’ office was talking up the e-mail.

Even just mention the episode, in passing.

But they didn’t.

Not once.

For those who like to remember those days, think of what happened as being a bit like Brian Tobin’s time.  Tobin learned that he could place a decent story on both television newscasts if he fed it to the Telegram for their front page first. 

And coincidentally, the Telegram seemed to lay off the sort of investigative reporting on things like travel expenses that they used to produce regularly.  With a strong leader, it seems some people think it makes more sense to try and be part of the choir.

And then Brian left the province. 


The Telly does a series on how the provincial government did such a piss-poor job of handling access to information requests.  Over in another corner, it took a national CBC program to reveal that Brian Tobin was on track in 2000 to be the highest spending premier in the country. The sort of stuff that normally would have appeared in local media didn’t; well, didn’t appear not until Brian headed back to Ottawa.

Then, as if by magic, all sorts of stuff started to pour out of every media orifice in the province.  Things might be different these days from the immediate aftermath of Tobin’s time, but events of the past few days suggest that old habits are hard to break.

Things seem to be returning to normal, whatever normal is around these parts.

- srbp -