02 November 2011

The value of nothing or Pater knows best, redux #nlpoli

Talk show host Randy Simms has a fine column in the most recent Saturday edition of the Telegram.

Our House of Assembly needs fixing, writes Simms.

It hardly sits.

It has no functioning committees.

Laws receive cursory discussion at best.

Simms quotes from an article by Memorial University professor Alex Marland that you can find in the latest issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

Simms quotes:

The House is closed for 88 per cent of the year and talk radio has effectively replaced it as the people’s voice. Legislation is not sufficiently scrutinized. The committee of the whole is greatly overused, there are too few opposition MHAs to assess bills sufficiently and standing committees are embarrassingly underused to the point of being dysfunctional.

Simms notes in another spot that the last time a piece of legislation went off to a House committee for specific review was 2001. Note the date.

All true.

Russell Wangersky adds a couple of other details in a column of his own but  regular SRBP readers are familiar with these issues:

The problem with the current state of the legislature is not just that the members aren’t working as hard as those in other places or that they are among the highest paid in the country.

The problems now are the same one your humble e-scribbler has been raising all these years:

  • No one is holding the government to account in public as it should, and,
  • The government is making decisions that will affect the province for decades to come without disclosing what they are doing and why.

The most glaring example of the sort of mess the dysfunctional House can produce is the Abitibi expropriation.  But you can equally add the unsustainable growth in public spending since 2003, the Conservatives’ love affair with secrecy, dismantling of the access to information laws,  and the ongoing management problems that have beset the Williams and Dunderdale administrations.

The answer to the problem in Newfoundland and Labrador’s political culture is not to shut down the legislature and have a committee run around to see what others are doing.

The first step would be to acknowledge what the problem is, exactly.  if you missed it, read back a couple of paragraphs.

The second step would be for people to acknowledge it isn’t a problem with the legislature alone.  It’s much bigger and goes into the issues Wangersky points out.

The third step would be perhaps the hardest.  For that one, people would have to recognise that the legislature got the way it is because they placed a higher value on conformity or cheerleading than on democracy.

Danny didn’t do. 

Kathy didn’t do it.

Other people, including the two columnists now calling for reform,  allowed them to do it with comments like this:

“That being said, for the last seven years, Danny Williams has been the right choice to run this province, and, regardless of any number of complaints, he’s done it well.”

Rooting for Danny and/or and otherwise staying silent – even when what he was saying or doing was truly appalling in a civilised society – basically gave Williams and his associates free reign to dismantle the legislature and the rules by which we are all governed.

Kathy Dunderdale is just carrying on with the same approach.

Pater didn’t know best, after all.

- srbp -