House of Assembly will rule on Steve Kent's Twitter stream

Speaker Tom Osborne says he’ll soon issue a ruling on whether it was appropriate for MHA Steve Kent to point out, online, that some government members were absent during Wednesday’s budget vote.
PC MHA Steve Kent is one of the most active Twitter users in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. (Peter Cowan)

The Speaker of Newfoundland and Labrador's House of Assembly will be forced to rule on one politician's particularly active Twitter account this week.

Tom Osborne says he'll soon issue a ruling on whether it was appropriate for MHA Steve Kent to point out, online, that some government members were absent during Wednesday's budget vote.

Kent, who is one of the most frequent tweeters in Newfoundland and Labrador politics, sent a note Wednesday afternoon asking why a Liberal cabinet minister was absent for Wednesday's proceedings.

He later retweeted some reporters who pointed out that Advanced Education and Skills Minister Gerry Byrne was absent, and Placentia-St. Mary's MHA Sherry Gambin-Walsh had entered the House partway through.

Tweet of order

In response, Education Minister Dale Kirby took to the floor of the House on Wednesday, asking the speaker to investigate the matter.

He said it was against House rules to say, in debate, that someone was absent — and claimed it should be against the rules to tweet it too.

"The member from Mount Pearl North is once again trying to do through the back door that which he is explicitly prohibited from doing from his seat in the House of Assembly," Kirby accused.

Kent shot back that he didn't break any rules, and said the point of order was an attempt by the government to "change the channel" on a bad week.

"Anything that I wrote myself does not reference individual members of this house," he said.  "I think the honourable member knows quite well that retweets do not necessarily equal endorsements."

He said he'd await the speaker's eventual ruling.

Rules exist for online behaviour

Osborne said he'd review the incident and rule either late Wednesday or Thursday.

He did say that there are rules governing MHAs online behaviour.

"Doing something through social media which would be considered unparliamentary if done on your feet is still considered to be unparliamentary," he said.

In fact, there are fairly strict rules governing the use of electronic devices in the House of Assembly — even if they are not strictly followed.

Devices such as smartphones must be on silent, cannot be used for "consultation purposes" during debate and must not be used during votes. You're also not normally allowed to take photos during proceedings.