17 April 2015

Has anyone seen the Liberals lately? #nlpoli

This editorial by Craig Westcott originally appeared in The Pearl newspaper and is re-produced here with permission.

Two of the most serious issues to hit Newfoundland and Labrador in some time occurred over the past two weeks and on neither one of them was the provincial Liberal Party prepared to perform its duty. Neither the leader, nor any MHA, was available to give guidance, offer comment, or suggest any indication of the government-in-waiting’s thinking.

The first, and more serious issue, was the tragic shooting of Don Dunphy, who was killed after the Premier’s Office referred one of his social media comments to Paul Davis’ bodyguard detail for investigation.

The tragedy raises fundamental questions about public safety, political management of the police and an individual’s basic freedom to comment on political issues and express dissent without fear of receiving a visit from the police or being blacklisted by the government. How the police visit led to Mr. Dunphy’s death is a mystery that has yet to be explained. That the tweet in question led to a police visit is disturbing. It contained no threat to the premier or anyone else. On that basis, the police visit to his home was a contravention of Mr. Dunphy’s human rights.

The circumstances connected to the killing of Mr. Dunphy question the integrity of our justice and political systems and threaten democracy itself. And yet neither Liberal Leader Dwight Ball nor any of his caucus members have stepped forward to offer their assessment and recommendations. They have scurried into hiding like bats at the approach of daylight. Up to the time of this writing, not a peep has escaped their lips since Mr. Dunphy was shot and killed by the premier’s body guard.

The other issue that has driven the Liberals into hiding is the so-called House of Assembly ‘reform.’ The commission charged with chopping eight districts and redrawing the electoral map unveiled its proposed scheme last week.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy was out early and often pointing out the flaws in the ‘reform,’ especially when it comes to gutting representation in rural Newfoundland. The Liberals supported the PC government in its unexpected, rash and ill-considered proposal to reduce the legislature.

It was a desperate ploy by Premier Davis to delay the long overdue provincial election and the Liberals fell for it.

Perhaps that’s partly why most of them have lost the use of their voice boxes. The more likely reason, however, is that the proposed new boundaries sets up the Liberals for some internal dog fights over district nominations, even between the leader and a fellow MHA in the newly proposed district of Gros Morne. The only Liberal to step forward with a genuine  comment as of Tuesday was MHA Jim Bennett.

The Liberals’ poor performance when it comes to addressing key issues is not new. Their stand on the multibillion dollar boondoggle that is Muskrat Falls has been vacillating, confusing and, given their failure to oppose a giveaway of gigantic and historic proportions, irresponsible.

Similarly, they have failed to press Davis about his various tricks to delay the election – which according to the electoral law brought in by Danny Williams, called for the vote to have been held by this past January, due to the resignation in January 2013 of Premier Kathy Dunderdale. When Davis told the CBC recently that he was looking at delaying the election yet again, until after the federal vote on October 19, the Liberals maintained silence.

Their reticence is inexplicable. Paul Davis’ PCs have shown themselves to be incompetent, untrustworthy and in disarray. They are unworthy of government.

Surprisingly then for this late in the game, the question begs to be asked: If Dwight Ball’s Liberals are incapable or unwilling to do their job as the people’s loyal Opposition, how can they be trusted to take on government?

Given their timidity, the Liberals are not so much a government in waiting as they are a party in hiding.