The government presented only seven bills for debate, only a quarter of the normal load for the major sitting for the House. That seems to be a record as well, and not of the sort any government would wish to hold.
For good measure, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador could watch some of the most abysmal behaviour in recent memory, including a political lynching aided by a partisan and incompetent Speaker of the House.
What they are really watching, though, was nothing as trivial as a finance minister Jerome Kennedy’s second session of embarrassing verbal attacks on other members. People are watching a governing party that is in the advanced stages of stagnation and decay.
Regular readers will recall the post in September 2010 that noted the peculiar characteristic of a party that was, at that point, both in a pre-leadership and pre-election stage simultaneously:
This is a provincial government that talks more and more about less and less.Well, the election may be over but the leadership question still lingers. Williams is gone and Dunderdale will soon go either of her own choice or because the party insiders realize they must change. If they do not change, as old hands will remind them, the voters will change for them.
Governments in the double-whammy of pre-election and pre-leadership are rare. But what they do is guarantee a unique kind of lowest-common-denominator politics.
What we are seeing these days is a remarkable example of stagnation politics in which the governing party talks less and less about about less and less. As their legislative agenda shows, the provincial Conservatives have reached what is possibly the lowest common denominator of all things: nothing except what they absolutely had to do. You see, constitutionally, they had no choice but a budget bill to the House. Three other minor bills supported the budget. For some inexplicable reason, the government House leader didn’t call for debate of one of them until the last couple of days of the sitting.
Beyond that, the only major piece of legislation changed the offshore safety regime. That one came out of 14 years of discussion with Nova Scotia and the federal government so it isn’t the product of anything this current administration has done since taking office in 2003.
Even with little on the order paper, the House didn’t get to debate two of the bills at all. A change to the Services Charges Act and another to change the Highway Traffic Act didn’t get beyond the notice of motion stage. This was their second life. The Conservatives introduced them in March in the last days of the old session. They brought the pair of small bills back but still couldn’t finish them.
Now part of the reason the Conservatives closed the House early was to end a difficult session while Corporate Research Associates is still in the field. With the House over, the Conservatives have less chance of embarrassing themselves even more than they did with the Rodgers lynching or the latest of Jerome Kennedy’s hysterical outbursts.
They didn’t have Felix Collins to rant about the wogs or the fuzzy wuzzies this year. But they did have Darin King the omnidirectional minister – he can go any way at all on anything, any time - ready to dazzle Muslims in the province with his profound ignorance of their religion and culture.
The Conservatives could close the House way earlier than ever this year, though, simply because they had nothing to do. And that’s the clue to just how screwed up things are inside the Conservative caucus of a government barely into the second year of their most recent administration.
Compare this past spring with the session a decade ago. Roughly the same number of sitting days (23). But twice as many bills for debate of which the legislators actually passed half of them, including the budget bills. What turned out to be the last session of Roger Grimes’ administration had more on the go and finished more work than this supposedly new government under its new leader.
The current Conservatives aren’t new, though. Whenever Kathy Dunderdale speaks of her accomplishments she does not start in 2010 when she became Premier. Nor does she start counting from 2011 when she won a majority of her own.
Kathy Dunderdale herself counts the start of her record in 2003. Leaders count their own accomplishments from the start of their own administration as first minister.
That’s a clue to where she and her colleagues have their heads. And that is yet another indication that Kathy Dunderdale is an interim leader, carrying on as a figure-head until the Conservatives decide it is time to make a change.
The Conservatives will need to change. People clearly want a change.
And if the Conservatives do not change, voters will do it for them.
Until the change comes, we can expect more of the stagnation and decay this past session of the House displays so dramatically.