Why do we bother to elect members of the legislature to represent us if they won’t, or can’t, or, most certainly, don’t?
So, my question today is this: Why do we bother? Why do we bother to elect members of the legislature to represent us if they won’t, or can’t, or, most certainly, don’t? Let’s start with the latest iteration of the Fangless Five Space Wasters, which is to say the current Liberal members of the province’s human resources committee: Brendan Maguire (chair), Suzanne Lohnes-Croft (vice chair), Bill Horne, Rafah DiConstanzo and Ben Jessome.
The committee is required by law to meet monthly and is therefore the only legislative committee the McNeil government hasn’t been able to completely muzzle, either under the guise of keeping our province’s politicians safe from the pandemic peril of having to meet in-person or even virtually, or because the government is too busy governing to deign to discuss matters of public import in public, or both.
The human resources committee’s mandate — highlighted in yellow on its web page — includes dealing with “issues related to early childhood development, labour and education.”
You might imagine such a mandate would allow — even require — the committee to consider a motion put forward last week by NDP MLA Claudia Chender. She wanted the committee to write to Education Minister Zach Churchill asking him to identify which Nova Scotia school classrooms currently meet physical distancing guidelines, and to share the results of the department’s school ventilation testing.
Reasonable requests, you might suppose, as we prepare to reopen our schools in the midst of a pandemic.
You would suppose wrong.
The five faithful Liberal lapdogs voted the motion down. Chairperson Maguire insisted the committee mandated to deal with such matters was obviously the wrong venue to deal with such matters.
The Liberal MLAs, in effect, voted to prevent you from knowing whether the school your children are supposed to attend beginning Sept. 8 is safe.
It wasn’t the only opposition motion the McNeil Mouth Muppets slapped down during last week’s air-wasting session.
NDP MLA Kendra Coombes asked the committee to write a letter in support of paid sick leave for Nova Scotia workers, including those who may be required to isolate while awaiting COVID-19 test results or who have to care for children who’ve been ordered to isolate.
No, nay, never.
They did almost the same to PC MLA Brad Johns’ motion asking the education minister to explain why two-thirds of the positions at the Centre for African Canadian Education are currently vacant. That motion was deemed too critical and might hurt the minister’s delicate sensibilities, so the Liberals passed a milquetoast motion instead inviting Churchill to offer an “update,” pretty please, rather than an explanation.
And so it went. And continues to go.
Last January, I wrote a tribute to yet another overlapping cast of Fangless Fives — Lohnes-Croft, Jessome, and Maguire along with fellow Liberal backbench back-scratchers Gordon Wilson and Hugh MacKay — “for their unfailingly fearless failure to do their job of holding the government to account” as members of the public accounts committee.
That committee’s Liberal majority had voted not to call witnesses who might be able to shed light on a government privacy breach. That breach, you may recall, involved the release of Nova Scotians’ unredacted personal information using the provincially-funded, privately-designed freedom of information portal. The hear-no-negative committee even said “no” to calling the province’s then freedom of information and protection of privacy commissioner to testify. After all, what could a privacy expert have to offer the committee about a breach of privacy?
Less than a month later, the usual suspects — Lohnes-Croft, Maguire, Wilson, MacKay, Jessome and DiConstanzo, plus the equally superfluous Keith Irving — reassembled themselves into still another combination of the Whatever-You-Say-Boss crew.
This time, the MLAs made up the Liberal majority on a newly formed health committee. It had been set up specifically to consider “matters of access to and delivery of health care services.” Despite that, its Liberal members refused to allow the committee to consider healthcare access and delivery problems resulting from emergency room overcrowding, ambulance off-loading delays and physicians.
Uh… How could anyone consider those fit subjects for discussion by a health committee?
So, back to now. Parents, teachers and the community are coming face to face with an urgent, critical question. Is the province’s Back to School program — as Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union President Paul Wozney puts it — “good enough to keep families and communities safe?”
How can we be confident, given the lack of government transparency, the lack of meaningful consultation with the communities most affected and the lack of legislative oversight?
Which brings us back to our original question, the logical answer to which may be dangerous to democracy: why do we bother to vote at all when the people we elect seem more interested in staying in the good graces of their leader than in conducting the people’s public business in public?
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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