When we last saw Miss Scarlett (oops, Ms Notley) she had just informed Professor Plum (sorry, House Speaker, Mr Kowalski) that the former Health Minister Mr Zwozdesky (oh the heck with it…Colonel Mustard) had misled the House when he said that the source of the July 2010 power point document (which outlined the government’s future plans for increased privatization of healthcare) was the people of Alberta and not the government itself.
Let’s pick up the thread and see how Miss Scarlett, I beg your pardon, Ms Notley, made out…
You’ll recall that the Speaker postponed Ms Notley’s motion on the point of privilege because Mr Zwozdesky was away from the House attending to a family matter. So Ms Notley waited patiently until Nov 21, 2011 when the House reconvened following an unexpected (and unnecessary) recess.
Painstakingly she laid out her case; an allegation of misleading the House (also known as lying) is a very serious matter. If proven, the former Health Minister would be in contempt of the House. In my view any elected representative caught misleading the House—the only assembly with power to enact legislation—should be drawn and quartered, but I digress.
Ms Notley had to meet the test established by Mr McGee, former Clerk of the House of Representatives in New Zealand. (Mr McGee from New Zealand…I love it!) She had to show that (1) Mr Zwozdesky’s statement was misleading, (2) he knew it was misleading when he made it and (3) he intended to mislead the House when he made it.
She was 17 minutes into her presentation when the Speaker cut her off in mid-sentence. He said: Hon. Member, please excuse me for a second. Would you please take your seat? What? That’s like a judge cutting off an attorney’s summation to the jury in mid flight.
The Speaker reminded Ms Notley of the rules governing standing orders. They are to be “brief statements”. He acknowledged that “brief” was a subjective term, but in his view “brief” meant “several moments”.* Mr Speaker, might I direct you to the Oxford dictionary which defines “moment” as a very brief period indeed, in fact an instant? So much for procedural fairness, but perhaps it doesn’t matter if you’ve already made up your mind. But I digress.
Ms Notley, being the spunky gal that she is, stood her ground: she had 4 minutes left and wanted to present the document underpinning her case. The Speaker responded graciously—“You just wasted 20 seconds. I’ll give you 4 more minutes”.*
Ms Notley replied with a snarky comeback. Well no, she didn’t, but I’m sure she wanted to.
Ms Notley showed that a Confidential Ministerial Report written in May 2010 represented the views of the government. Mr Zwodesky was aware of these views because the May document was created by his ministry on his behalf. These views reappeared in the July power point document and Mr Zwozdesky said that the July power point document represented the views of Albertans, not the views of the government. This was not true and as a result Mr Zwozdesky misled the House and should be censured (or drawn and quartered, take your pick).
The Speaker gave Mr Zwozdesky some time to respond. Two days later Mr Zwozdesky replied in classic bombastic fashion: “This is absolutely false and otherwise totally incorrect.”**
Apparently the problem isn’t Mr Zwozdesky’s misstatement, but rather Ms Notley’s “fundamental lack of understanding of government processes and misinterpretation of some facts”.** Mr Zwozdesky offeredthis convoluted explanation. The government routinely consults with the people and compiles, collates, categorizes and otherwise organizes their feedback in a report to the Minister. The May document is such a report and represents the views of the people. The May document became the foundation for the July power point document. Ergo, the July power point document represents the views of the people and Mr Zwozdesky did not mislead the House. Sorry Ms Scarlett, it’s not Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the wrench afterall. Try again.
But wait…think about the logic of Mr Zwozdesky’s explanation. If the May document reflects the views of the people, then they’ve told the Government that they want a two-tier system, extra billing, queue jumping and doctors to be able to opt in and out of the public system! That’s Mr Zwozdesky’s explanation of how those statements made it into the May report and were ultimately carried forward into the July power point document…or maybe, just maybe, the May document represents the views of the Government just as Ms Notley alleged and Mr Zwozdesky misled the House yet again.
The Game was put on hold for a day while the Speaker ruminated over what he’d heard. It came as no surprise that the Speaker ruled that Ms Notley failed to meet the McGee test and the matter was concluded in favour of Mr Zwozdesky.
Only a fool would fail to see that the Game of Clue is rigged. The opposition will never catch Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the wrench because the Government will simply grab the dice and pack up the board. So why do Ms Notley and others like her bother to raise a point of privilege in the first place?
Simple, the opposition isn’t playing the Game with the Government. They are playing the Game with the people. The opposition wants the people to see how the Government has misused its power in order to circumvent the democratic process.
So thank you Ms Scarlett! We see the real game being played out beneath the veneer of government consultation. And we’ll remember that game when we step into the voting booth next spring because we’re on the same side.
* Hansard, Nov 21, 2011, 1206
** Hansard, Nov 23, 2011, p 1299