Not fit for it
On April 3rd, a provincial cabinet minister is reported to have told the VOCM radio audience, "the opposition has its say, then the government gets its way."
Pithy. Rhyming. Mostly true, in a majority government situation.
And utterly arrogant.
But don't think for one second that this sorry lot have yet reached the heights (or depths) of their hubris.
Not with sorry cases like the MHA for Terra Nova.
And certainly not after the disgusting display on Thursday by that legend in his own mind, Jerome Kennedy, who had the following exchange with NDP leader Lorraine Michael:
MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, legislative standing committees are an integral piece of the democratic puzzle in every province in this country, every province except Newfoundland and Labrador. Hundreds are describing our Legislature as immature and most agree using standing committees would lead to better public policy.
Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Will she direct the House of Assembly Resource Standing Committee to study Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls project proposal?
MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
What we have is a province with a population of 500,000 people. We have forty-eight members who are all equipped to do their job. As a government, we are elected to govern, Mr. Speaker. It is a Cabinet appointed by the Premier. We will make the decisions in relation to such things as affect our people on a daily basis.
The Committees that we have in place, Mr. Speaker, review the Estimates. They can ask questions. I say to the Leader of the Third Party: If you want to govern, get elected.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!Kennedy, in all his typical hubristic glory, is here arguing for cabinet government by fiat, independent, it seems, of the "forty-eight members who are all equipped to do their job." Whatever that job is; at least on the government side of the aisle, the job consists mainly of being the first, loudest, and last to pound the desk at every minister's every vacuous question period answer.
"If you want to govern," Kennedy, reputed to be a lawyer admitted to the bar of at least one province of Canada, "get elected."
Sound advice in one sense. Utterly arrogant coming from that mouth.
Besides the desk-pounding, MHAs are elected as advocates for their district, whether in government or in opposition.
But MHAs, both in government and in opposition, at least in healthy, functional legislatures, in healthy, functional parliamentary democracies, have an important oversight function.
Indeed, cabinet is dependent on the confidence of the legislature for its authority to govern, moral, political, and constitutional.
What Kennedy is arguing here — and there is every indication that this is the self-appointed theory of government now adopted by the arrogant Progressive Conservatives of Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale — is nothing less than the very repudiation of Responsible Government.
You know, that thing that Ambrose Shea, John Kent, Philip Little, Robert John Parsons, Bishop Mullock, and others agitated for, and won, a century and a half ago.
That thing that so many Newfoundlanders mourned the loss of in 1934, and formed a political party, a "league" — what the devil was its name? — which campaigned for its return in the 1940s.
Bosc and O'Brien, write of the Canadian House of Commons, though the same principle applies throughout the Westminster world:
In terms of ministerial responsibility, Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament. The individual or personal responsibility of the Minister derives from a time when in practice and not just in theory the Crown governed; Ministers merely advised the Sovereign and were responsible to the Sovereign for their advice. The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts. Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it.This is no trifling thing. It is one of the cornerstones of the constitutions of Canada and the provinces. And it is something that Jerome Kennedy dismisses with his usual snide sarcasm and arrogance.
To top it all off, Kennedy, for some bizarre reason best left asked of him, resorts to some population justification: "What we have is a province with a population of 500,000 people."
Prince Edward Island is a province of 130,000 people. It has a healthier legislative committee system than the province across the Gulf of St. Lawrence whose sad-sack cabinet contains Jerome Kennedy.
Nunavut and Yukon are territories, each with a population roughly similar to that of Labrador; the North West Territories is somewhat larger. Each territorial assembly, creatures mainly of federal statute, has a healthier committee system than the sad-sack House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador, a stand-alone and fully autonomous institution whose ancestry goes back 180 years.
In fact, there are many politically active people in the three territories who would jump at the chance for their territory to have the same constitutional footing — an autonomous crown, responsible government — that Kennedy is wishing away.
Jerome Kennedy is not fit to be a cabinet minister in a responsible parliamentary government.
He is not fit to be an elected legislator in a Westminster parliamentary democracy.
Jerome Kennedy is simply not fit. He should be ashamed of himself. But he isn't.
And he won't be.
Jerome Kennedy, like the other charter members of the hubris caucus within his party, is a disgrace.
He is disgraceful — just like the institutions to which he holds membership have allowed themselves to become.