The last few months have born witness to the death throws of the PC govenment of Newfoundland and Labrador. In local terms: " the bottom's out of her b'ys." It began with the sudden, and unexplained departure of one Daniel E. Williams - as he likes to be referred to in legal wranglings. That was followed by the unprecedented fixing of the subsequent leadership non-race. Then there was one sorry blunder after another. The polling numbers steadily fell. The blunders continued. And so on.
The last few months however have signalled a whole new phase, and a steady decline into the absurd. A place so low, so dark, so desperate that it reminds me of other places and other actors. Different circumstances, and different geographies, but bare with me.
When a regime begins to fall, anywhere in the world, what is the first sign of panic? The first sign of desperate people clinging desperately hard to power? They turn inwards. They refuse to acknowledge the opposition around them. They become insular and isolated. They ignore the art of compromise and embrace their tools of power. Power has become their only reason and purpose. They crack down firstly on those that forment the desent. They try to isolate them, marginalize them, demonize them, and when all this fails, as it inevitably does to those that attempt to halt just progress, they turn inward. It could be Syria, Egypt, Yugoslavia, South Africa, East Germany - you get the idea.
It doesn't normally happen in democracies - although it has. Take the civil rights movement in the US as an example - although they eventually accepted the just change. Another, closer to home example, could be Quebec's "Silent Revolution". The point is, most democracies are governed by constitutions that restrain their governments from acting against the just democraltic rights their countries are founded upon. So what happens when a government, in the developed, democratic world does just that? We have such a case now in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Our Public Utilities Board was castigated, marginalized, and demonized by the government (and its supporters) when it refused to endorse the Muskrat Falls option. It was sent to the dog house with the Premier actually commenting publicly that she had lost confidence in it. An act so contemptous, so arbitrary, so cowardly that those of influence and common citizens alike, in any other province would have revolted. Yet, hardly a word is muttered about the outrageous treatment given the Board. It did result in a small compromise by the government though - an agreement to hold a special debate on Muskrat Falls and a study of natural gas alternatives. However, the government is guaranteed to win a debate where they hold the vast majority of the seats, and they chose a company to do the natural gas study that was already on the record as saying it was not feasible. So a compromise, but in name only. A compromise that was so obviously designed to appease rather than to address that it lost its relevance almost immediately.
Then came the moment. The all encompassing moment. Bill 29. An Act to ammend the Access to Information Act. In an almost suicidal move the government decided to be exceptionally democratic about an exceptionally undemocratic move. It held a four day filibuster in the House of Assembly to pass a law that essentially turned access of information into a ministerial perogative. The new law gave individual ministers the right to veto what ever they chose to from their ministry. The public revolted. Not in the streets, although some did, but rather in their hearts and minds. It was as if for once they saw the government as it actually was and not how the government had been portraying itself for some time. The opinion polling numbers for the government began to plummet almost immediately.
The government's response? A new policy that bans individual MHAs from advocating for their constituents directly to the government departments concerned. The new policy mandates that all MHAs must put their inquiries to a Minister's Executive Assistant, and that no other channel may be used. Essentially, they rendered every MHA obsolete - especially politically. In effect, complete power and control of a constitutional responsibility was taken away, and a fundamental pillar of democracy, the citizen's vote to elect their own representative in the House of Assembly, was severely weakened.
The end result of Bill 29, and the new policy on MHAs power to represent, is to transfer absolute power to the individual ministers in Cabinet. A now complete inward turn. A desperate, undemocratic, and flagrant move by men and women to deprive their own citizens of the rights they should have become acustomed to by now. A move reminiscent of the Senatorial days of the decaying Roman Empire. A move gently similar to the now deceased, or in the process of becoming so, Arab dictatorships and their secret and self-rewarding deals. Over the top comparisons you say? Dramatic and off topic? Reflect on the times, reflect on the signs, and see the truth that the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has become.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)