29 November 2012

Oh for God’s sake, just get a room #nlpoli

If you want to read a strongly worded condemnation of a provincial politician, take a gander at the Telegram’s editorial on Yvonne Jones from Tuesday’s paper.

Jones told the provincial government last week that her vote in the House of Assembly on Muskrat Falls was up for sale. Word got around the province pretty quickly.  And the Telegram dutifully pointed out that Jones’ pork-barrelling was from another time, a time perhaps best left behind.

The editorial tuts the appropriate tuts at Jones’ style of retail politics, but there are a few other points the Telegram didn’t make about the episode that are worth laying out.

First, clashes between Jones and Kathy Dunderdale over the past couple of years have been heated.  They have been intensely personal, though, and that’s really what the difference between the two politicians is really all about. They don’t like each other.   Kathy and Yvonne have never been so far apart as a matter of principle or policy on most issues that have come up in the House. 

Take Muskrat Falls, for example. Jones signalled last year when she was leader of the Liberal Party that her opposition to the project was far from firm.  Last week wasn’t the first time she talked about the need to get benefits for Labrador.  The only difference between 2012 and 2011 is that the Tories finally realised that they could have her vote for a few miles of pavement and some copper wire.

Secondly, it is unfair to single out Jones for criticism.  Jones is not alone among the 48 members of the legislature in practicing what the editorial calls “the leftovers of the political system that spawned the tawdry little saying ‘Me and the premier brought you this cheque.’”

Municipal affairs minister Fairity O’Brien has been traveling the province this polling month handing out fire trucks, often accompanied by the local Tory politician anxious to be identified with the party pork machine.  They are doing the same thing as Jones, albeit on a far more modest scale.  But if you look, you can see that the pork system is so prevalent that the crowd of politicians running the province have been know to issue news releases praising a gallon of government paint and a few brushes.  Their political power rests on a hash of pork, publicity, and polls.

Pork leftovers, as the editorial calls it?  Hardly.  The members of the House ran a patronage orgy out of their accounts in the decade between 1996 and 2006.  None of them – including a former Auditor General  - had an ethical problem with the idea of letting politicians dole out money to anyone they wanted, often without receipts, and for no clearly defined purpose. 

Patronage was the real story of what people know as the spending scandal, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single public comment by anyone discussing it, let alone condemning the practice.  Well, that is, besides SRBP.  What everyone talked about was politicians buying wine and women’s clothes for themselves and their friends.    No one seems to have noticed – or wanted to notice -  the far more insidious aspects of the scheme and what it meant for the province’s political system.

Since 2003, the Other White Meat has resumed its former place at the heart of local politics.  Four decades is a long time, but everything comes back in fashion, eventually. The time of the trough has not  passed by any means, no matter what the Telegram editorial writer thinks.

Jones’ recent vote bartering is also a sign of a wider issue in local politics and a big reason why the Liberals remain on the Road to Oblivion.  There are basically no differences between the provincial Liberals and the provincial Conservatives on pretty well any issue that cannot be solved  - if it comes down to it - with an appropriate amount of bacon.  


That’s one of the reasons why so many people in the province – your humble e-scribbler included – simply don’t support them any more. Full stop.

That doesn’t confirm the NDP chant about the same old story, by the way.  The NDP used to be much closer to the other two as well.  Only last year, all three political parties in the province supported Muskrat Falls just like they had the same financial policies and fisheries policies.

As the polls shifted though, the NDP figured out that they needed to distinguish themselves from the others if they wanted to be successful politically.  So now they routinely challenge the government party sharply on many issues.  Real politics is starting to work.  The importance of the new NDP position on Muskrat Falls is not that they oppose it, as such, as much as that they have shifted their position away from government apparently in response to public opinion  They look and sound like a party in a democracy.  They look, sound, and act like a group of people hungry for power.

They follow a common plan of action.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are just a loose association of individuals who can’t get themselves pointed in a single direction what for the personal agendas at play in the background. 

Jones’ personal agenda is a case in point. Yvonne Jones made sure she wasn’t around the House for a private members’ vote on Muskrat Falls on Wednesday.  On Tuesday, Jones fed gentle questions to Jerome Kennedy which he sweetly answered. A power supply for Jones’ district that he sneered at before is now uppermost in Kennedy’s mind.  No one should be surprised if it turns out the two have already settled up the bill of sale and negotiated the date of delivery for Jones’ vote.

“In your view, is opposition to Muskrat Falls a necessary condition for being a member of the Liberal caucus?”  the Telegram’s James McLeod asked your humble e-scribbler on Twitter Wednesday night. Your humble e-scribbler had earlier tweeted that Jones should just cross the floor. That’s what prompted his question. 

Well, to answer it, you have to know that Jones likely isn’t alone among the Liberal caucus in her feelings about the pork-fest the Tories are about to unleash. The comment about getting a room wasn’t about what your humble e-scribbler thinks Liberals should believe about Muskrat Falls or anything other specific topic.

It was the political equivalent of saying “just get a room”.  After a while, all the dithering, pretending, and play-acting just gets really annoying.