Wednesday, 1 May 2013


CBC Reporter John Gushue wrote a Post on his Notebook, April 28th, regarding the Dunderdale Government’s Core Mandate review and its refusal to release the Report.  NDP Leader Lorraine Michael had been asking for it in Question Period and has been getting nowhere. Of course, that issue was not Gushue’s entire preoccupation.  His Article segued to the matter of the behaviour of certain Government Ministers, their manner of answering Opposition questions and their deprecating tone of voice.   

When I wrote, “NOW ITS DARIN KINGS TURN”, I had truly expected, perhaps naively, that the Minister of Justice would apologize to MHA Gerry Rogers for his contrived allegations in the Facebook affair.  Given the sheer volume of public indignation expressed against the Government’s and the Speaker’s handling of the matter, the Speaker having recanted, one might have legitimately expected the Minister would also apologize.  I had thought, perhaps, the Premier might recognize that her Administration needed ‘behavioural’ reform.  

The Premier and her Ministers are the ones who put a public ‘face’ on Government. It is an important matter that the Administration commands respect for its leadership; words like dignity, self-control and decency come to mind.  The Minister didn’t apologize and the Premier failed to tell him to step forward.
Monday’s outburst of frustration in the House by Lorraine Michael, during Question Period, and John Gushue’s comments confirm that Government’s condescending, arrogant, insulting and generally boorish behaviour towards Opposition Members, is continuing. It needs to be dealt with.  The problem is deep; it has gone too far.

This excerpt from Gushue’s piece is instructive; referring to the Government, he writes:

“Indeed, they've been nothing less than cranky — right crooked, even — when asked any questions at all. Day after day, the Opposition has been hammering away at the government in Question Period, with the effect that fatigue has been setting in. You can see in the eye rolling and exasperated non-sequiturs that come out of ministers' mouths.

“Or, sometimes, the tone says it all.

“Earlier this week, Michael asked Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy to update the figures of job losses by department.

"If she would stop pontificating and do some reading then she would perhaps find the information right under her nose," said Kennedy, who is grumpy frequently enough in the legislature to be in a class by himself. (Last week, during a routine debate, Kennedy called out the word "liar" while the NDP's Gerry Rogers was speaking. That's one of the best-known prohibited words in parliamentary language, and while Kennedy may have wanted to make a point, it's telling that he went ahead and did it anyway ... and had to be asked twice to make the apology he knew he would have to.)”

What John Gushue describes, is not the ordinary "cut and thrust" of debate in a legislature.  From time to time, Members will lose composure and forget that the House ought to be a place of decorum; the presence of television cameras and omnipresent microphones attest to the fact that what they say and how their remarks are presented are matters of public record. That misspeak or intemperate comment fails to be a concern, suggests the problem has become ingrained. What was once a relatively rare event has become the norm.

Legislative debate including Question Period provides an opportunity for Cabinet Ministers to strut their debating skills, to exhibit intellectual prowess over their Opposition quarry and to demonstrate their potential for extemporaneous, thoughtful speak and even to inform (warn) Caucus competitors of their superior talents.

This frontbench represent the antithesis of proud legislators; they seek only to prove their compatibility with pit-bulls.

The poor behaviour did not begin with this Budget debate, however. The problem stretches back to the time of Danny Williams’ leadership (writing in the Telegram, Russell Wangersky referred to it as "tantrum based politics") and the lingo has only gotten more petulant under the Dunderdale Administration.

Last year, an Opposition Member could barely ask a question on Muskrat Falls without being derided by either the Premier, the Ministers of Finance and Natural Resources as uninformed, as ignorant and as stupid. Every degrading word, whether within the rules of parliament or not, has been thrown at them.  Often, the Premier and her Ministers have no regard for the accuracy of what they say. (See "UNCLE GNARLEY: WHAT THE MEMBERS OPPOSITE DON'T UNDERSTAND). Even Backbench Members enjoy unfettered liberty to engage in the same bullyboy behaviour, often with the Premier sitting in her place.  Some of them then go on Twitter to continue what time does not afford in the House. 

In short, Question Period is a mess and the House of Assembly has become a place where a particular brand of Ministers strut the stuff of bullies and ignoramuses rather than the counselled depth and demeanor of lawmakers; with the Premier’s approval and engagement, low brow misfits can get away what would not be countenanced in any other forum. 

It has gone on so long that the Speaker is either unwilling to deal with it or he just doesn’t notice.

What is the alternative?  None, unless the media are prepared to ‘call out’ the culprits and expose them for the miscreants they truly are.  If these repeated behaviours were exhibited in any other work place the instigators would be in Court on charges of abuse.

I have heard some pretty rough stuff uttered in the House of Assembly during my eleven years on the ‘Hill’, from both sides of the House, but this group has taken bad behaviour to a whole new level. 

From the Premier down, they need to be chastised; the occasional reference by the media is important but simply insufficient.  Hopefully, John Gushue has started something.