ahead. See how quickly you can name the Province’s seven Federal MPs. Can you
name even just the one in your riding? If you are having difficulty, it might
not be due to memory loss.
could be that traditional media does not readily seek out our MPs for public
policy comment. Or that MPs prefer the non-confrontational media presence afforded
on social media platforms. Possibly the whole lot are better suited to images than
words anyway. Either way, the seven MPs are seldom part of the narrative of political
life in this province. And that is too bad.
the years, NL has been represented by some very strong parliamentarians who,
while giving plenty of political room to the Premier, rarely shied away from
think for a second that Brian Peckford did not have disagreements with Federal Tory
heavyweight John Crosbie, for example. While they shared the same political
stripe, some of their disagreements still spilled out into the public domain. The
Federal Minister and at least some of the MPs were expected to play a role in
advancing NL’s public policy aspirations. Some of them actually wanted to.
properly, even if criticisms need to be meted out to either level of government,
serious public policy debates can be conducted without affecting their Party, their
legislative role or their ability to grease the wheels of bureaucracy for their
a small province, the pursuit of issues which may run counter to the national
interest — as Ontario and Quebec define them — must forever be advanced.
Otherwise, backsliding is inevitable. Proof is found in the steps the Feds are taking
to reassert control over offshore oil and gas development through the back door,
via the environmental approval process. Some battles simply never end.
that reason, the Province’s agenda at the Federal level needs to be
relentlessly pursued. Weak premiers will forget that fact at the Province’s
one time I recall Brian Peckford having the Intergovernmental Affairs Office
prepare a formal briefing book for NL Ministers and MPs on priorities involving
the Government of Canada. That was thought necessary to ensure that they
understood policy rationales and to, as far as possible, ensure that they were “on
the same page” as the Provincial Government.
the current Ball Government has laid out any such agenda, we are left to guess.
It may, in part, be the reason our MPs are so silent. A proactive Premier would
constantly prod them to help reinforce locally overarching themes and
recently, successive Federal Governments have made it clear that discussions
around constitutional issues are not on offer. That is unfortunate, especially
given the Province’s failure to exert better control over fisheries
jurisdiction. That approach may be thought to maintain a longer peace with
certain provinces, but it doesn’t make the problems go away.
the past year, the Federal Minister of Fisheries used his arbitrary power to reassign
25% of the Arctic surf clam quota in open violation of the adjacency principle —
which confers rights to people and communities having geographic, cultural and
historic links to the resource. The Minister chose to give the quota to groups
that have no history of fishing the resource or any other traditional attachment;
Nunatukavut having been included seemingly to justify its award to native
groups in other provinces. The case confirms why we should worry just how
tenuous our hold is on resources deemed to be in the provincial domain, rights
which are not constitutionally inscribed.
surf clam issue exhibits the brute force of an arbitrary political agenda and
the little influence which weak and highly partisan MPs bring to bear on the
national stage. With this Province in
economic decline, especially on the Burin Peninsula, one might expect more from
our Federal Reps. But, like the Coast Guard sub-centre, the surf clam issue was
only kept alive by sparse local leadership.
weak Premier could be seen giving licence to the seven Federal MPs to stay mute.
As to Gerry Byrne, the Fisheries Minister, he was out of breath long before
anyone thought that he might be building a head of steam. Former MHA and MPBill Matthews — who was elected as a Tory locally and a Liberal in Federal
politics — commented that Burin Peninsula representation is the weakest it has
been since Confederation. He could have extended that criticism far beyond the
our MPs claim leadership on any other major issue of public policy?
Maritime Rescue sub-centre is the exception but, truth be told, ex-federal
official Merv Wiseman performed much of the heavy lifting on that issue. In
proportion, as important as it is for marine safety, it was arguably a small
accomplishment anyway. In no way is its reinstatement suggestive of a group having
confirmed the real political power that follows a provincial sweep of Federal seats
in the province.
it stands, the public will have to be satisfied with tweets that advertise $2.6
million for road paving and widening in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, $3.19
million for sewers under Kenmount Road, $3.94 million for the Goulds Pumping
Station, $45.4 million for paving the TLH, $100 million for Memorial’s new Core
Sciences Building — funding which in its many incarnations is claimed by every
MP across the Country. MPs representing rural ridings have similar boasts.
our MPs post lots of photo ops that promote everything from seal products to school
about the hell-hole that the Federal Loan Guarantee for Muskrat has created?
What about fiscal solvency issues? Do the MPs have any ideas for goosing this
economy with Federal support? Are Seamus O’Regan and the other six MPs suggesting
by their silence that those are matters solely in the provincial domain, and
not for mention by them?
the current Lieutenant Governor, Judy Foote, sat to the left of the Prime
Minister in Parliament, one could be confident that major policy issues might
get dealt with even if she, too, wasn’t exactly willing to vocalize some of the
more pressing issues. She had earned that place not because she represented NL
but because she possessed considerable intellectual heft and sound judgement,
as well as political influence.
contrast, Seamus O’Regan is still showing off his training wheels. His close
relationship with the Prime Minister will account for little if he is unable to
articulate critical issues or is content to follow the lead of Premier Ball;
helping him, in the process, keep a lid on issues that are integral to our
public should be wary that the era of the ‘selfie’ hardly requires any MP to
stand, let alone take a stand.
seven MPs should be concerned that when the economic climate really turns sour,
their decision to pass over major issues in favour of smiles might be the image
that the public best remembers.