Premier Ball chooses silence as opposition lectures, filibusters budget bills
On a day filled with windy debate and bold proclamations, Premier Dwight Ball fell silent.
The besieged premier, fresh off a very bad day — and a very bad week — bit his tongue on Tuesday. He didn't answer any questions from the opposition in Question Period; he said nothing to media afterwards.
Around him, though, there was all sorts of chatter.
The Progressive Conservative opposition spoke at length, pushing their overnight filibuster for hours and running out the clock on the government's attempt to move forward with the deficit reduction levy.
- MHAs pull all-nighter, take afternoon break in filibuster over deficit reduction levy
- Opposition blasts away on government's handling of protest signs, negotiation notice
- PCs hammer premier on 'incompetence' during Ed Martin scandal
The filibuster, which started at 8 p.m. on Monday, lasted until 1 p.m. on Tuesday. It stopped only when Government House Leader Andrew Parsons stopped debate to "report progress" of the committee.
Outside the house, the PCs — who spent the night speaking of gas prices, sales taxes and pensioners — wanted to know why the premier said nothing.
"If I had a dollar for every time that Premier Dwight Ball said 'we're going to be open'....they probably wouldn't need their levy," shot Tory leader Paul Davis.
"I don't know how this can be accountable, open, or transparent or accessible. It's none of those things."
Ball's quiet was near-complete: for the second straight day, he didn't face reporters and, in the house, he spoke only once.
For one brief moment, he couldn't contain his emotion. When Mount Pearl North MHA Steve Kent accused the government of cutting stickers to sick children, the Liberal benches erupted.
"You did that!" Ball shouted back.
- Snacks, stickers for Janeway kids trimmed in budget cuts
- Dwight Ball needs to change tack to win back public trust, says political scientist
After question period, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told reporters that he knew of no concerted effort to shield the Premier from questioning.
In a statement, the premier's office insisted that Ball was, in fact, being accessible — despite the day's relative silence.
"(He) will continue to make himself available on matters that are currently with his office," said spokesperson Nancy O'Connor in a statement.
"Yesterday, the premier answered five questions during question period, and last week he offered up extended scrum opportunities to media."
Opposition members said Monday's overnight filibuster was a chance for them to air the province's grievances against the Spring budget.
We've got more to say.- Paul Davis
Either reading emails from constituents, or speaking on their own, opposition members including Paul Lane and Gerry Rogers lectured for about 17 hours — often to a sleepy, distracted, half-empty chamber.
At one point, near the end of the marathon session, PC MHA Tracey Perry pulled up a definition of debt on her smartphone and read it into the House of Assembly record.
"If you'll humour me, Mr. Chair, I'll read into the record the difference between [net debt per capita and net debt to GDP]," she said, to no objection.
By Tuesday evening, the opposition took to their feet again, this time drawing out debate on Bill 19, the government's initiative to tax insurance premiums.
"We've got more to say, and more to debate, and more to discuss … It's not just about the levy," said Davis.
"People feel that government has not been listening to them, and they want government to know how they feel about what's happening in the budget."
NDP Leader Earle McCurdy agreed.
He said the changes to the deficit reduction levy, which were announced in May, wasn't enough to deflect the filibuster efforts.
"I think the filibuster is really about the entire budget."