Get out of the clubhouse
First off, there’s nothing as shiny as a fresh Throne Speech after a general election.
A new administration — even a government with a new leader — often means fresh, shiny hopes, promises and good intentions, the sort of things that fade after a few legislative sessions.
Last week, Prince Edward Island got to hear the first Throne Speech from its new administration, and it wound up with an interesting request, one that every provincial legislature should consider: “I would encourage you to show leadership on these issues and in the way you govern on behalf of all Islanders. … They rightly expect that the seriousness of attention and tone that emanates from your work will honour them.”
Now, there’s a concept I could get behind: I’ve been to a fair few provincial legislatures, and honouring the electorate isn’t often on the agenda in any meaningful way. Nor is seriousness.
A colleague of mine lasted mere minutes at the legislature in Newfoundland and Labrador last week: she normally covers business (a beat where people just tell you they are not going to talk to you about something instead of blathering on with an answer completely uncon- nected with your question).
She came back to our newsroom visibly angry after lasting only a few minutes in the playpen (sorry, legislature), fed up with the foolishness.
And she made a good point: every elected representative standing to speak should pause and think of three people they respect from their district or riding — and then speak as if those people were in the room.
Most legislators don’t do that — they speak to the people in the room,
But here’s a plain message to those politicos: all those points you’re scoring? It’s all in the clubhouse, boys and girls. The politicians and the political reporters at each legislature might get all wound up about the latest cheap shot or smart Tweet, but no one out in the great wide world cares — unless they happen to be in the room. Then, I guarantee they’ll be horrified by just how petty the “honourable members” can be.
There’s a term that Ottawa reporters have adopted from their Washington colleagues: “inside the Beltway.” What it refers to is issues and stories that matter critically to political insiders, but not to anyone else. Not at all. And the day-to-day hijinks of many provincial legislatures are so far inside the Beltway as to be meaningless to everyone except the small crowd that’s intimately involved.
A major businessman in Newfoundland, Fortis’ Stan Marshall, was asked, what do you see as the biggest challenge for the province in the next five to 10 years?
The response? “I think, politically, it has to mature. I thought we’d be there by now.”
I think lots of people would say the same thing about all four Atlantic provinces — and just imagine if anyone who wanted to do business in our provinces had to spend an afternoon watching our legislatures before investing. They’d keep their money and walk away.
The P.E.I. Throne Speech? At least it’s a starting point. But deeds are better than words. And the Beltway bad behaviour beckons.