is a parliamentary procedure which permits a minority to obstruct the passage
of a Bill in the parliament, using bluster, to delay a vote. This is the action in which the Liberals and
the New Democratic Parties are now engaged in the House of Assembly. The procedure is permitted in most
parliaments, though limitations on this “obstructionist” process, widely varies
informs us that the term “filibuster” is “derive(d) from the Spanish
filibustero, itself derive(d) originally from the Dutch vrijbuiter,
“privateer, pirate, robber” (also the root of English
“freebooter”. The term in its legislative sense was first used by
Democratic congressman Albert G. Brown of Mississippi in 1853, referring to
Abraham Watkins Venable’s speech against “filibustering” intervention
of filibuster has much earlier origins. The online Dictionary also notes “that
“(o)ne of the first known practitioners of the filibuster was the Roman senator
Cato the Younger. In debates over legislation he especially opposed, Cato would
often obstruct the measure by speaking continuously until nightfall. As the Roman Senate had a rule requiring all
business to conclude by dusk, Cato’s purposefully long-winded speeches were an
effective device to forestall a vote”.
parliamentary device, the filibuster is still a useful tool for opposition
minorities who believe, as this Opposition does, in the case of Bills 60 and
61, that the P.C. Government’s agenda is overarching and contrary to the public
For those of
you unaware of the purpose of the two pieces of legislation, Bill 60 is
designed to exclude the Muskrat Falls Project from rate review by the Public
Utilities Board and give a wholesale monopoly to Nalcor in the Province. Bill 61 permits expropriation by Nalcor of
the land area required to construct the Labrador Island Transmission Link.
Parliamentary systems, less like the bicameral American system, ours is characterized
by very strict caucus discipline. We rarely see Members opposing a Government
initiative. Rather, for most parliamentary
majorities, the antidote to filibuster is “closure”, which under parliamentary
rules, governments may invoke to cut off debate with limited notice. Government takes this action at its
rarely viewed positively by the public because it is seen as an arbitrary
stifling of legitimate opposition. By
the same token, the effectiveness of filibuster is lost on the public if it is invoked
on frivolous matters and used too frequently.
Taking the action places an onus on the Opposition to demonstrate that
the Bill is either offensive to good public policy, that it is defective or
somehow discriminatory. If it fails the
opposition risks losing public support for stonewalling the legislative
of the current filibuster, the two Opposition parties need not fear the wrath
of the public. Even if a majority of people support Muskrat Falls, as recent
polling by The Telegram and NTV indicates, a still larger majority supports
better scrutiny of the Project than the Government has afforded throughout this
entire process. Therefore, on the ‘importance’ scale, the Opposition had little
to do to prove its case, given the level of controversy the Project has engendered.
Opposition would sit through successive nights, during the cherished Christmas
Season, at great personal discomfort and inconvenience, further lends credibility
to its tactics. If the Government invokes ‘closure’ now, it
will aggravate an already uncomfortable public.
It will further confirm its arrogant attitude and its arbitrary
behaviour on all matters Muskrat.
Government knows, as does the Opposition, that the Tories will prevail when the
vote is finally taken. But, the Opposition may throw the Government off its
schedule. It wants the Bills passed by
Christmas Eve; it has no desire to return to the House soon to face a public, now
too busy with festive making, and who may be less inclined to patience when the
credit card invoices arrive, in the cold month of January.
it is important to note this fact; that these Bills are being debated now is no
coincidence. As the Opposition Parties
have correctly noted, these Bills have long been in preparation; they have not
been given basic courtesies. The Bills ought
not to have been tabled at the ’last minute’.
Nor was it necessary to schedule the debate so late in the Sitting when
Christmas would be allowed to cause Closure of a sort and truncate debate.
disclosure of the Bills would have enabled greater analysis by the Parties or
allowed them to alert the public to the implications of allowing Muskrat Falls
to be outside scrutiny or rate setting. Neither does the Government wish to
invite another thousand questions over how Nalcor’s monopoly status might offend
the rules of FERC, the U.S. regulatory regime that requires exporters of
electricity (this Government has talked a good line about send power to the
northeastern U.S.) to not impede the open transmission of electrical power.
Opposition parties failed to use every tactic to oppose and delay these Bills,
they would risk being blamed, at some future date, for failing to perform their
constitutionally sanctioned role.
is a tough job. In the case of Bills 60 and 61 the Government will prevail.
But, we have to give full marks to the two Opposition Parties for their
dedication to the democratic process and for carrying out their
responsibilities when they might prefer to be heading home to be with their
families for the Holidays.
are doing is fundamental. While they will not prevail, their filibuster is important. It is necessary. They deserve our respect.