Not only have the New Democrats imploded as an effective political force but their leader has decided her job is to serve as a cheerleader for the government.
Recall, that Lorraine Michael spent a lot of time before the 2011 general election supporting major government policies. And in the first session of the House after the election, Lorraine was ready to go right back to her old ways.
The Bill 29 debacle pumped some life into the opposition parties but, as the recent NDP caucus revolt showed, the party had some real internal problems. One of them was a serious lack of election readiness. The contending positions in the dispute were not Lorraine versus Dale but between the people who wanted to get ready to take power from the Conservatives and those, like Lorraine and her supporters, who were basically content with where they were.
This week Newfoundlanders and Labradorians saw the old Lorraine back in all her glory in two episodes.
The first came when she gave the health minister a do-over on a question the minister screwed up the week before.
You see, every member of the House of Assembly who is not a cabinet minister or the Speaker has a right to ask a question of the government during the daily question period
Usually, the time is allotted entirely to the opposition parties so they can poke and prod the government for mistakes. Every now and then [in legislatures across Canada]*, a government member will get up to ask a softball question to let a minister crow about something.
That’s why it was really odd on November 12 when Lorraine Michael lobbed a softball at health minister Susan Sullivan:
Last week, the Minister of Health and Community Services stated that two rapid response teams have been put in place and two more planned to help seniors stay out of the ER by providing home-base supports. I have heard from the minister, and I thank her for getting in touch with me, that this information is not accurate.
Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Could she please clarify for the House when the rapid response teams will be up and running?Susan got to her feet and explained that her answer last week she had been talking about something called “fast track”. The correct information about rapid response teams was that there were two and they were planning to have four:
In terms of our rapid response teams, Mr. Speaker, we are continuing to work on those. We will have four, as opposed to two, rapid response teams operating in the Province. In fact, the RFPs have gone out and we expect to start the process around hiring very, very soon, Mr. Speaker.Now any opposition leader worth her salt would never have tossed a softball to a cabinet minister like a lapdog backbencher. The least she would have done is let the whole thing slide. If it was a simple and honest mistake then that’s all there was to it. Give Sullivan credit - in private - for admitting her mistake. She’s a decent and competent minister so just chalk it up to one of those things that happens and the whole thing stays private.
The most an effective opposition leader would have done is found a way to make sure the public knew that the minister didn’t know her arse from her elbow. The adversarial nature of the House of Assembly is designed to expose weakness so it can be fixed or gotten rid of. If this was a minister’s umpteenth cock-up, then the opposition leader had a duty to expose the whole mess.
In the process, the opposition leader makes clear that she has standards and is prepared to do what is in the public interest, namely to uphold those standards. The responsibility then shifts to the premier to replace the minister or do something else to fix the mess.
And on it goes from there.
Make no mistake, though. There was no political value for Michael in what she did. There was no value in it at all. The Conservatives won’t let up for a second with the heckling. They won’t give the NDP caucus more money.
The second one came on Thursday when Premier Kathy Dunderdale told the House of Assembly that the provincial government was going to spend an untold amount of public money for an advertising campaign to tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians how great things were in the province.
The campaign would make sense if it was aimed at telling people outside the province about all the great stuff happening here. A poll released on Wednesday showed just how much Canadians in other parts of the country don’t know about this province. It’s a staggering failure of the Conservative’s “brand” policy, but that’s stuff for another post.
While an ad campaign to improve awareness among mainlanders seems have some merit, the Conservatives are advertising only inside the province. There’s no reason for the campaign except that the Conservatives want to try and turn around their own sucky polling numbers. Think about it for a second. If things were great in the province, then people already would know it. The only value in it is for the cynical Conservatives. They will get the tag at the end of the commercial that tells you all this good news was courtesy of the crowd running the place.
Interim opposition leader Ed Joyce pointed that out when he got a chance to respond to Dunderdale’s statement.
But here’s what Lorraine Michael said right off the bat:
I have no doubt at all that this is going to be a good campaign. We know that we have expertise and we have people who we hire through contracts to do that; we have seen it in the tourism campaigns. I am sure it is going to be very good. I am sure visually it is going to be good, and I am sure the stories are going to be good because I know we have those stories.
Then she talked about the need to put money into not-for-profits and “social enterprise” businesses.
“That is something I would like the government to do,” said Michael, “besides putting on this wonderful campaign.” Pollyanna Michael surely had to take a hit of insulin to lower the glucose levels in her blood after all that sugary language.
In the next poll or two, the New Democrats and the Conservatives will be locked in a fight for third place in a three party province. The New Democrats will win. It won’t take them long to take a commanding grip on last place because they are experts at the sort of political softball that kept them in the political wilderness for decades.
* To be clear, this was a reference to legislatures across Canada generally. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it's probably never happened since Confederation. That's what Makes Lorraine's softball toss all the more peculiar.