08 June 2012

A sign of the problem #nlpoli

One of the reasons why the provincial Conservatives are in political trouble is that their communications are frigged up.

For those who are wondering, that is the relatively polite version of the technical term for it in the communications business.  Think of it like the B-52, one of the largest airplanes ever to fly.  The US Air Force used to say that the crews called it the BUFF:  big, ugly, fat fella.  Well, they didn't actually use the word "fella".  That's just the word the Air Force used so that prissy people wouldn't complain about hearing the word f**ker coming from someone in a light blue uniform.  For others, of another inclination, it's akin to why hippies used to refer to police as "pigs".

Anyway,  James McLeod has a thoughtful piece in his periodic blog over at the Telegram about something he and his colleagues in the Press Gallery have been having with government ministers for the past few months:  they won't talk about good news.

Basically it boils down to this:  ministers won't do media interviews until a bill hits second reading in the House.  Lately this has meant that the opposition and others are talking away about government initiatives days before the minister shows up for an obligatory, pro forma dog and pony show.

It can be a matter of days or weeks after it's been tabled before a piece of legislation makes it to the floor of the House of Assembly for second reading.
This interval is the crux of what we're talking about here today.

McLeod wanted an explanation so he went to Jerome Kennedy, the minister who is responsible for wrangling his team in the House.  Kennedy's response was that this was a time honoured practice going back before 2003.  The idea is that to talk about the bill before it was debated in the House would be an insult to the members of the House.

Well, Kennedy may think that's what is going on.  After all, that explanation is similar to what happens in court.

The truth is something far different. Your humble e-scribbler spent seven years dealing with the legislature in the early 1990s.  If that sort of thing was happening back then, your humble e-scribbler is drawing a complete blank in his old brain box about it.  You see, back in those days, sessions of the House lasted a long longer than they do these days.  Members got lots of time to prepare for debate.  They got the text of the bills well in advance and lots of people talked about one bill or another long before it got to the floor of the legislature.  Wide public debate is what everyone wanted, even when the government might have a bit of pain over things like the Lands Act in the early 1990s.

Somewhere along the line, the government party started to shorten up the time a bill got any discussion in the House.  Remember in the House of Assembly patronage scandal that some stuff went through the House in a day or two?  Yeah, well, this is part of the same thing.  What the government party used to do was try and jam the opposition up.  They'd keep a bill close to their chests until the last possible minute.  Then on the day the government decided to call second reading, they'd hold a media briefing in the morning, then have a briefing for the opposition, give them all the wording of the bill and call the thing for debate in the afternoon. 

The current crowd  - Jerome's crew after 2007 - were famous for it.  They took to the anti-democratic practice just like they loved another Tobin era practice called poll goosing.  The result was pure crap, of course.  The opposition got stampeded into going along with the government because they didn't have any information other than what they'd been fed.

If the House became dysfunctional in the process, to use Kathy and Danny's favourite word for it, it's because Kathy and Danny and some of the crowd before them made it that way.

It's also why they introduce big things like the access to information amendments in the last few days of a long session.  They want to limit discussion and get their way before anyone realises what is happening. 

Someone just said "coughexpropriationbillcough". 


So James does a fine job of highlighting a problem the current crowd are having.

And to go with it, there you have a bit more of the story.

The fact the current crowd are frigging themselves up apparently because of their misunderstanding just highlights why they are having basic political problems.