Why no federal politician would (or should) oppose Muskrat Falls

Twitter was in, well, a twitter last week over a story by the CBC titled “Federal Liberals support Muskrat Falls project: Rae.” There was talk of division between the Liberal Party of Canada and the NL Liberals; suggestions that Liberals were “caving in” to Muskrat Falls. This talk, and these suggestions, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If people took the time to read past the headline, they would see that Bob Rae also said:

I think that what’s important is that the provincial Liberals are doing their job because they are the people on the ground who are going to have to be assessing exactly how much it’s going to cost, and how it’s going to be financed.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no disconnect between the federal and provincial Liberals when it comes to Muskrat Falls. Pretty much all politicians, of all parties, support the development of Muskrat Falls. It’s how it should be developed is where the government and opposition disagree.

Beyond the obvious misunderstanding of Bob Rae’s comments, the suggestion that there was anything wrong with the federal Liberals supporting Muskrat Falls genuinely surprised me. It is not the job of the federal government to decide if Muskrat Falls is a good deal, or if the project is in the interests of Newfoundlanders & Labradorians. Their job is to be there, when and if the House of Assembly gives Muskrat Falls the go-ahead. While I’m not a fan of the deal that Williams/Dexter struck, if it goes ahead (which it probably will), I’d want to know that the federal government is there to support the province.

Further, it’s not like Bob Rae’s comments announced a new Liberal policy. If anything, it was a reiteration. During the 2011 federal election, Michael Ignatieff also threw his and the Liberal Party’s support behind the project. The NDP supported the project under Jack Layton, and they continue to do so since Thomas Mulcair became leader. Conservative support for the project has also been steady.

So cool the conspiracy theories; Bob Rae isn’t a secret supporter of Kathy Dunderdale. And no, the Liberal Party isn’t stabbing its provincial counterparts in the back.

Of course, Liberal Muskrat Falls policy could change in the next year, with the federal Liberals choosing a new leader in April, and the NL Liberals holding their leadership convention in November of 2013.

We’ll have to wait and see.

The Tragedy of the Backbencher

Bill 29, the PC government’s amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, has been called many things. Draconian, secretive, and regressive are just a few examples. It has also been called undemocratic. The government has been called undemocratic because of this bill’s passage.

While I agree that this bill is indeed draconian, secretive, etc., I’m sceptical when it comes to calling Bill 29, let alone the government, undemocratic.

That brings us to the title of this post! The tragedy of the backbencher.

You can’t blame Felix Collins, Jerome Kennedy, or even Kathy Dunderdale for Bill 29 passing. You can blame them for creating it, and blame them you should. But it’s not their fault Bill 29 will soon be law. That fault rests solely in the hands of the PC backbenchers. The 20 MHAs who wouldn’t stand up for their constituents – or their own personal beliefs for that matter – if their careers depended on it. And trust me, after such a catastrophic week in terms of public reaction for this government, the future of their careers as MHAs may very well hang in limbo.

This motley crew heckles what they’re told to heckle, tweet what their told to tweet, and speak when they’re told to speak. It’s sad, really.

These people are Members of the House of Assembly. They’ve been elected by the people in their districts, most of whom by a large majority. But they seem to forget who put them where they are when it comes to speaking out on legislation.

It seems they’re either to busy sucking up for a spot in the next Cabinet shuffle, or too afraid of Dunderdale’s wrath should they disagree and dare to tell people about it.

While Torys will tell me otherwise, I seriously doubt all 36 members of the PC caucus agree with Bill 29; we know their constituents don’t. If they actually do, more power to them (not really; it’s an expression).

To bring this post full circle, the reason the bill isn’t undemocratic is because the people’s rightfully elected representatives voted for it. They could have acted in their constituents interests, but they didn’t. They could have done the right thing and voted against Bill 29, but they didn’t. They didn’t because the level of control the PC leadership has over their caucus rivals even that of Stephen Harper. The “tragedy of the backbencher” is their inability to ever vote against their party (even a handful of Harper’s MPs can occasionally muster up enough courage to do so).

I know I’m talking to the wall, but, to the backbenchers: Think of your constituents first. At the very least think of your own ideals and beliefs.

If more did this Bill 29 would be a different story.

But the backbenchers won’t change. However, if they’re not careful, their careers soon will.

My letter to the Editor: No Inquiry? No Votes

Here’s my letter to the Editor that was published in the June 9th, 2012 edition of The Weekend Telegram, under the title “No Inquiry? No votes”:

I am writing to express my outrage towards the decision of Premier Dunderdale and her PC government concerning the Burton Winters tragedy. She has been lobbied by Burton’s family, search and rescue experts, and the Official Opposition to call a joint inquiry with the federal government in the hope of finding answers to the many questions this avoidable tragedy has brought forward. She has denied this request.

The Premier and her “Progressive” Conservative cronies insist that all the answers are on the table. An inquiry would not uncover any new information, she has said. I might have believed this, one day. I may have believed this if not for the Premier’s refusal to meet with the grandmother of Burton Winters, for the sole reason that she wanted a member of the Coast Guard to be present. I may have believed this, if not for Minister Peter Penashue’s commitment that the federal government would cooperate if an inquiry were called. When the do-nothing by-default Minister is starting to make more sense than you on this file, you know you’re doing something wrong.

Labrador deserves better. It was no accident that Randy Edmunds defeated then-Minister Patty Pottle in Torngat Mountains last October. MHA Edmunds was on the ground in Makkovik searching for Burton. Both he and his Opposition colleague and fellow Labrador MHA, Yvonne Jones, are showing leadership on this file. Sadly, the Premier, her government, and the federal government are showing none.

The people of Newfoundland & Labrador want and need answers. Ten thousand Canadians from across the country signed a petition, presented by MP Judy Foote last week, calling for answers and for improved search and rescue in Labrador. This shows how far this tragedy has reached, and how many Canadians Burton’s story has touched.

We need a leader in this province. We need a government who is not afraid to look for answers. This leader is not Kathy Dunderdale, and her government is not living up to its mandate. Burton’s story will endure, and the government’s decision to refuse the inquiry will come back to haunt them in 2015.

Adam Quirk

Mount Pearl

On the student “strike.”

I haven’t blogged in a few months. I think this is a good place to re-start.

I’m sure that anyone who happens to find their way onto this blog knows about the situation in Québec. Long story short, the Charest Liberal government laid out a plan to raise tuition fees. It should be noted that the Québécois currently enjoy one of, if not the lowest tuition rates in North America. It should also be noted that they would still enjoy this status after the planned raise. As you might guess, the students, or should I say the students’ unions, weren’t too happy about this. So, they went on strike.

Lets start with a lesson from our good friend the dictionary:

Strike (noun): A refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions.

My first problem is the terminology. For comparison, here’s another definition:

Boycott (noun): a punitive ban on relations with other bodies, cooperation with a policy, or the handling of goods

Students aren’t “employed” by their universities. Students do, however, purchase a service (i.e. education) from the universities. Therefore, this is a boycott. Not a strike.

At the beginning the protests from the striking boycotting students were peaceful. They disagreed with a government policy; they have every right to protest it. While this may be true, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. When a protest outside a venue where the Premier is speaking goes violent, when smoke bombs are set off, crippling the Montréal subway system, and when student leaders and government negotiators reach an impasse so great that the Minister of Education resigns, that line has been crossed.

That’s not even the worst of it.

Two days ago, ~100 protestors stormed into a university campus in Montréal, vandalizing classrooms and cancelling classes, trying to impose their “strike” on the students who actually want to avail of the education they’re paying for.

Preventing other students from attending class just because you disagree with the tuition raise is reprehensible. Education should be free. In a perfect world, it would be free. But it isn’t. Professors have to be paid; heat, light, and other bills have to be paid; infrastructure has to be maintained. If not through tuition, how else do the protesters expect the government to pay for their education? Hiking taxes? Slashing professors’ salaries? Letting university infrastructure deteriorate?

The main point is: your education costs money. You should be grateful that your Québécois education is as heavily subsidized as it is. You should be grateful that your government offers financial assistance. But what you shouldn’t do is throw a tantrum, and terrorize the country’s second largest city because you didn’t get your way.

And with that, I end with a salute to Premier Jean Charest, and his dropping of the hammer.

The end of a (tyrannical) era

Kim Jong-Il, North Korea's "Dear Leader", isdead at 69.

I did not expect this tonight.

I’m going to assume anyone with access to a computer or television knows this by now, but Kim Jong-Il, the revered “Dear Leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), is dead. He’s died of fatigue no less, according to state TV.

At the same time that I’m happy that such a twisted man is no more, I can’t help but think it won’t make a difference. The death of one “Dear Leader” will not change the regime in North Korea. His son, Kim Jong-Un will take over, and nothing will change.

I could say more, but this has left me pretty well speechless.

Getting the Ball rolling

Dwight Ball is the interim leader of the Liberal Party of NL

As I’m sure anyone reading this blog would know, the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador picked up 6 seats in the October 11th general election. While we added 2 seats to our total, we lost 2 Liberal seats and our leader – Kevin Aylward – was unsuccessful in his bid to re-enter the House of Assembly.

Since then, the leadership of the party has been in question. Yvonne Jones, who resigned as leader this summer due to health complication, carried on in her role as leader of the Official Opposition, while Kevin Aylward – de jure at least – remained party leader.

Well, the age of ambiguity is over! Announced Wednesday afternoon, Dwight Ball – the Member of the House of Assembly for the Humber Valley – has become the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Leader of the Official Opposition.

I think they made a great choice in choosing Dwight Ball. He’s nowhere near a career politician, has no party baggage (that I know of, at least), and has what it takes to put our party – which, at the moment, is plummeting in the polls – back on track. He has made paying down the party debt one of his main priorities, and has even pledged to step down as leader 90 days before the next leadership convention to put himself on an even paying field with any other prospective candidates.

But Leadership 2012 (or 2013?) is a story for another time.

Rebuilding a once-great party into the political power it used to be is going to be an uncomprehendably difficult task. It starts with leadership – at the top and at the grassroots. Dwight Ball is the right person to lead us in that direction.

P.S. I’d like to thank, once again, Yvonne Jones and Kevin Aylward for their dedication and their leadership.

P.P.S. The title is cliché, I know. Please forgive me.

An Important Decision

Liberals from across the country will gather together in Ottawa this January — for the first time since our historic May 2nd defeat. The Liberal Party of Canada Biennial Convention, taking place January 13-15, 2012, will be a pivotal point in the party’s history, and it is our chance to prove to Canadians that we are capable of change. From resolutions on policy, to the party’s bureaucracy, and how we select our next leader, the January convention is an opportunity to get the ball rolling on rebuilding. What will arguably be the most important part of the convention, however, is the election of our party’s next President.

A party President’s job is immense. They have to bring in new members — lots of new members –, attract donors, and fund raise, fund raise, and fund raise some more to make sure we’re in a position to fight — and win — the 2015 election. There are currently 5 candidates standing for election, with the 4 main candidates being Mike Crawley (former President of the Liberal Party of Canada’s Ontario wing), Alenandra Mendès (former Québec Member of Parliament; defeated in the May 2nd election), Ron Hartling (President of the Kingston and the Islands Liberal Riding Association, which is one of only two ridings which elected a new Liberal MP this May), and last but not least, Sheila Copps. Anyone who has, or who does follow Canadian politics should know this name. Sheila Copps was a Member of Parliament from 1984-2004, and was a cabinet minister from 1993-2003, in charge of the portfolios of Environment (93-96) and Canadian Heritage (96-03). She also made history when then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed her to the position of Deputy Prime Minister (93-97), making her the first woman to be appointed as such.

I’ve taken my time in deciding who I’ll support as President of the Liberal Party of Canada. This person needs to have new, progressive, out-of-the-box ideas to rejuvenate, revitalize, and rebuild the party. But, this person also needs to have the experience necessary to take on such an important role in such a turbulent time in our party’s history. I feel there is one candidate who truly encompasses all these qualities. This candidate, despite her years in Canadian politics, has committed herself to truly making a change. She has reached out to young people more then, as I can see, any other candidate, and is prepared to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. This candidate believes the Liberal party needs to try something new.

The candidate I’ll be supporting, and who I’ll be casting my ballot for in Ottawa this January, is Sheila Copps.

A lot can happen in two months

As the title might suggest, its been 2 months since I’ve last blogged. I apologize for this discrepancy, I’ll try to do better!

What a crazy 2 months it has been. From the provincial election to controversial school board policies to the new phenomenon of “Occupy” protesting, a lot has been going on. But first, my main focus since I last blogged, the recent provincial election.

On October 11th, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians went to the polls. It was kind of an odd campaign — 2 leaders were women, including the Premier; Kevin Aylward took over the Liberal leadership with just 3 months until E-day; the NDP, for the first time in their history, were 2nd place in the opinion polls. After all the votes were counted, the parties’ popular vote stood as follows: 56.1% for the PC’s, 24.6% for the NDP, and 19.1% for the Liberal Party. It followed the same pattern we’d seen the entire campaign, except the Liberal turnout wasn’t near as dire as some polls suggested.

As you might have guessed from the previous numbers, the Progressive Conservatives won their 3rd straight majority government — their 1st under Kathy Dunderdale. Although, strangely enough, the competition this time around wasn’t for government, but Official Opposition. The Liberal Party had lost its leader 3 months before the vote, and the NDP were still riding high on the Jack Layton effect which saw the federal NDP take over Opposition status. Now, although the New Democrats placed second when it came to popular vote, that doesn’t matter in the Westminster system — seat count does.

With an absolutely massive majority (albeit smaller than the 2 previous majorities) of 37 seats, the PC’s took 77% of the seat count. The supposedly second place NDP, with 5 seats, took 10% of the count. The Liberals, who were proclaimed down and out by pundits and partisans alike defied all odds and won 6 seats, and held their ground as Newfoundland and Labrador’s Official Opposition.

Yes, history was made. A woman brought her party to power for the first time in our province’s history, and the NDP took more than 2 seats for the first time in their existence. And a historic message was sent to the Liberal Party. We need to rebuild, re-energize, and re-engage. With Wednesday afternoon’s announcement by Kevin Aylward signalling his resignation as Liberal leader, we have an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.

This next session of the House of Assembly — whenever Dunderdale chooses to open it — will be more interesting than those of late, with a combined 11 members on the Opposition benches, as opposed to 5.

P.S. I’ll try to blog more! At least more than once every 2 months…

Rest in Peace

This morning, Canada lost a great leader. Jack Layton, who made history with his electoral success, who was always a champion of social values and social justice lost his fight with cancer.

All Canadians – of every political stripe – need to recognize what Mr. Layton has done for this country. He taught us that there can be a “politics of hope”, and that’s something all parties need to work towards. His sacrifices should not be forgotten, and his vision of a better Canada should live on in his memory.

I was shocked, and saddened by the news, and I can only imagine what his family and friends are going through.

Rest in Peace Jack, you were one of the greats.

And the winner is…

If you’ve been following my blog at all this past week, you know that the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador has a new Leader, as of Sunday. That new leader is Kevin Aylward.

Yes, he’s a former MHA. Yes, he’s a former Minister. But at this point, less than two months before a general election, we need a leader with experience. We need a leader familiar with the way elections work, and who could be tasked on such short notice to lead our Party into the October 11 vote.

Congratulations to Mr. Aylward, congratulations to the Executive Board for making this decision, and once again, all the best to Yvonne Jones in her recovery.

This is going to be an exciting an interesting election, and I’m looking forward to the campaign!