If Paul Davis and his beleaguered band of provincial Conservatives started the week on a high, it didn’t last very long.
They opened the House on Monday to debate a bill that would reduce the size of the House of Assembly by 10 members. They had the instant support of the Liberals and, going into the session, they knew that Ball and the Liberals had already agreed that the fall election would now come sometime in 2016.
They announced another ridiculous twist in the already ridiculous fight over European free trade. The media reported the whole thing positively at first, although before the day was out major economic groups in the province had slammed the provincial government for their anti-trade stance.
On top of that, the three maritime premiers were in town for a meeting of the Atlantic premiers council. Reporters asked them about the feud. We’d be ticked off too, in the same position, they agreed, but if there’s federal cash to be had, we want a piece as well. That does nothing except highlight why the provincial government was just plain dumb when they passed on the original deal and tried to turn it into something else.
Okay, so Monday wasn’t really all that high, but when this time last year, the Conservatives were being burned in effigy for heat and light as people sat around in a blackout caused by the provincial energy corporation, Monday was pretty damn good.
Then Tuesday came and, in the hideous cliche of hack television reporters, things went horribly wrong.
The opposition Liberals and the Telegram’s James McLeod caught three Conservative backbenchers faking petitions in favour of the cuts to the House of Assembly. The day before, Davis had told reporters his government hadn’t consulted people to see if they liked the idea. On Tuesday the Conservatives were claiming it was hugely popular. Then the they presented the fake petitions
If that wasn’t bad enough, some staffer in the Premier’s Office tried to fight back by slipping a page from a petition presented by Liberal Tom Osborne last year. The sheet had three names on it, all of them Liberal office staffers.
McLeod showed the page to Osborne.
Osborne pointed out that the top right corner of the page had a tear in it; the premier’s office, he said, had torn off the top page of the petition and neglected to give me all the other pages underneath which had the signatures of parents and community members concerned about the Holy Cross Elementary situation.
According to Osborne, he and New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers were at a public meeting on the issue, where there was a massive petition being signed. Osborne and Rogers apparently struck a deal to split the signatures 50-50, so he would present half of them in the legislature on one day, and she would present the other half on a different day.
The cover page Osborne attached to the signatures put the petition into a format acceptable under what McLeod called the legislature’s “arcane” rules.
Wednesday brought a double whammy of gaffes for the Conservatives.
The Liberals have apparently been trying to get copies of the submissions made to the boundary commission in the 1990s that eventually wound up recommending fewer seats in the House. The only copy is in the hands of the justice department library. Officials there won’t release some of the submissions.
The exchange in Question Period doesn’t make it clear why the justice officials are keeping some submissions secret, especially since it’s been 21 years since the commission held its hearings. What’s more, the members of the House are entitled to receive the documents without redactions. Withholding them is a contempt of the House.
If nothing else, the episode allowed the Liberals to raise the spectre of Bill 29. That alone puts the Conservatives in a hard spot.
And if all that wasn’t enough, before Question Period was over, New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael asked about the 120 days the new boundaries commission will have to do its work. Finance minister Ross Wiseman noted that the 2006 commission suggested the next commission to be appointed could get its job done in six months.
Michael pointed out that six months was longer than 120 days.
Wiseman replied: “Maybe math was not my strong suit…. However, I was not too bad with English. Remember I said, Mr. Speaker, within six months. I was not equating 120 days to six months, I said within.”
Math not his strong suit.
Regardless of the rest of what Wiseman said, it’s that strong suit crack that will turn up over and over and over again.
If the Conservatives had that many self-inflicted wounds by the third day the House was open to deal with a hasty decision by government to cut seats from the legislature, you’ve got to wonder what will happen on the fourth day.
Meanwhile in another part of town, the crowd putting off the annual review show have got to be wondering why the government opened the House while the comedy show lampooning the political scene in the province. The review crowd had to write the material and charge people admission to cover the costs of renting the hall and hiring stage crew.
If people want to laugh at politicians, all they have to do is go to the House of Assembly. The jokes are better, admission to the public galleries is free, and you can watch it live on TV or over the Internet.
The poor crowd at review can;t possibly compete with Paul Davis and the bunch in the House of Assembly.