Fredericton — In the Gallant government’s fervour to reduce the size and cost of government, it is also slashing sitting days in the legislative assembly. While some decry this measure as an affront to democracy and a reduction in accountability, some others are OK with fewer opportunities for politicians of both leading parties to bicker and grandstand on the public dime.
Last week, the government announced that there would be no regular sessions of the legislature for 6 weeks while committees complete departmental estimates. The number of daily sittings of the legislature, including question periods, are now planned to be at record low levels. This change means the government will only face 26 question periods before it adjourns for the summer in May.
“In theory, sitting days in the legislature are to conduct government business and hold the government of the day accountable,” said political scientist Malcolm Richardson. “In reality, huge chunks of time are wasted during sitting days. Over the years it’s evolved into a partisan bitch-fest where very little actual work is accomplished during a large part of these sessions.
“For example, let’s look at a typical agenda for a sitting day,” continued Richardson. “It usually starts 15 to 20 minutes late with a prayer, and then the MLAs spend another 10 minutes introducing people in the gallery who come to watch the shit-show.
“Then, they spend about 15 to 20 minutes on ‘opening statements,’ which is when MLAs basically get to say just about anything they want. Each side — the government members and the official Opposition — mostly criticize each other in long speeches full of snide partisan commentary. The government talks about how wonderful it is, and the Opposition talks about how terrible the government is. Kind of pointless, right?
“Then, the hallowed Question Period, otherwise known as ‘Oral Questions.’ For 30 minutes, the Opposition grills the government on the issues of the day, and the government replies with generalized press release-ready answers. Usually, the same questions get asked over and over again, and the government provides the same sanitized non-answers over and over again. Both the Liberals and Conservatives are equally guilty in this respect; it’s just become how it’s done by both parties.
“Aside from discussion of government bills which is the most useful part, there’s also the opportunity for proposed policy from the Opposition to be heard. It’s nice to be listened to, but in almost every case the government quashes these motions into oblivion. At the end of the day, it’s not that useful either.”
Richardson concluded, “Hey. I’m not saying we don’t need more sitting days in the legislative assembly. I’m just putting it out there that there’s a lot of precious time and taxpayer money wasted on partisan fights, writing and reading self-congratulatory statements and the same copy-paste questions and answers. Every once in a while, someone loses it like when Abel Leblanc gave the finger to Dale Graham, but for the most part it’s dreary, pointless bickering to which virtually no one pays any attention. And, can you blame them?”
The Manatee asked voter Stephanie Smith for her reaction to the reduction in question periods. Smith looked puzzled. “Question period? No idea. At the end of a sentence? It’s called a question mark, if that’s what you mean.” Once explained, Smith was unconcerned. “Honestly, I don’t pay attention to politicians. I can’t stand to listen to them.”