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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 health care access and delivery problems resulting from emergency room overcrowding, ambulance off-loading delays, and physician shortages.

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?


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Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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4 Comments

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  1. There is a solution to this. But will Nova Scotia voters embrace it?

    No.

    As long as Voters cannot see the Party system for what it is — then only the faces in the Legislature will change. Not the actual system that creates these problems.

  2. And the next time we vote there will be 55 electoral districts – four more potential rubber stamps/lapdogs.

  3. Why do we bother? Perhaps because we have no other system in place.

    That said, I count myself among a select few in that the elected officials who represent me at all levels actually know my name and will (eventually) answer my email or texted questions and/or will pass my questions on to those who can provide me with answers.

    Lastly, if it is safe for children to return to school then surely a group of adults can get together for a meeting or two. After all, adults will physically distance and mask up when required, won’t they?

  4. Not that it needs any more ingredients to get worse, but lest we forget, Hugh MacKay was still on those committees last year because of an (alleged) coordinated effort involving the riding association, the premier’s office, and constituency assistants to cover up incidents of him drunk driving. Not that there’s a shortage of lapdogs, but that’s literally putting people’s lives at risk to protect a yes-man.

    And once the incidents came to light, the premier offered his own reward for loyalty: yes, Mr. MacKay had to give up the enormous privilege of being in the Liberal caucus to deal with this “very serious matter”, but certainly there’s no need to step down as MLA, a minor deal. No need for any changes at the riding association.

    My point is that the issues raised in this article have ripple effects, all of which serve to further degrade the effectiveness of, and trust in, government. The actions described are awful, but presumably sit on a foundation of favour-trading and back-scratching that prioritize loyalty over serving their province.