Get out of the club­house

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages

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.

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