In a Parliamentary democracy, the parliament matters. It is where Ministers and members state their positions, make their arguments, and put their policies, and other matters of public interest, on the record.
At least in theory.
In a system of responsible government, the parliament matters. It is where the administration gains and retains, and occasionally loses, the confidence of the people via their representatives. It is where the administration is held to account through Committee of the Whole, written questions or inquiries of ministries, the tabling of reports by officers of Parliament, and, in modern times, the relatively new institution of question time.
At least in theory.
But then there’s practice.
The phenomenon of the Amazing Atrophying House of Assembly is already well known
and well described
by techniques of modern statistical science
But now, for the first time, the crack labradore statistics team can describe the distinct, but closely related phenomenon of the Amazing Disappearing Premier.
ODP’s disdain for the House of Assembly — that thing he had to get elected to in order to become
Premier — is
barely disguised not disguised at all
. The number of days in which he has participated in debate has, with the exception of 2008, been on a steady decline since he became Premier. (The paler shade of blue in the following graphs show, by way of reference, the comparable stats for his time as Leader of the Opposition, including the period when he was laid up for medical reasons. The preliminary nature of the 2009 data is indicated by the asterisk.)
If current trends continue — both ODP’s pattern of non-participation, and the fall sitting of the legislature customarily being only about 40% as long as the spring one — he will add just six or seven participation days to his 2009 total.
Of course, as noted above, part of this is a function of having a legislature that sits as little as it can get away with. However, even after adjusting the absolute numbers to account for the Amazing Atrophying House of Assembly, his medical layup early in his opposition career, and the shortened sessions in election years, the Premier’s relative participation in House proceedings is rapidly diminishing. This graph shows his participation in debate as a percentage of all sitting days, per calendar year, since he was first elected as an MHA.
From Hansard alone, it is impossible to distinguish ODP’s non-participation in the House of Assembly due to absence, from non-participation due to surliness, sulking, or deflection. It is rumoured, for instance, that he actually was in the House of Assembly for the five last days of the recently ended spring sitting. Yet there is not one syllable attributed to him in the written proceedings. Not even during QP.
These days, even when he does deign to show up in the legislative chamber to which he has been elected to represent the people of — which district is it again? — or, if present, to open his mouth at all, said mouth, which once ran on lithium batteries, has been saying less and less. This graph shows the average number of words attributed by Hansard to the Premier per sitting day, by calendar year:
Of course, once again you have be fair to ODP and adjust for the fact that he’s not always present, what with Premier’s meetings and other important out-of-province travel and whatnot. However, even considering only the days when he does participate, the average number of words that come out of him when he does speak has also dropped off dramatically:
The dramatic decline is fuelled by such eloquence from the formerly prolix leader of the PC party as:
PREMIER WILLIAMS: No instructions have been given; and, yes, we can.
And the immortal:
PREMIER WILLIAMS: (Inaudible).
Once upon a time, the legislature mattered.
Once upon a time, the Premier’s participation in the legislature mattered.
It is a function the withering both of the political vine and the public service ethic that no one seems to care that none of these things matter any more.
Those with long memories might ask themselves, why not just give up this silly pretence of responsible parliamentary government, and just appoint a small group of six or seven eminent commissioners or some such to run the affairs of state?
Others might ask instead: if the guy at the top is so utterly bored, annoyed, or frustrated — or all of the above — with the trappings and time demanded of the elected, parliamentary job that he, to hear him say it, so very magnanimously, volunteered to do... then isn’t it time he considered a career change?
Labels: bow-wow parliament, Our Dear Premier