They’re looking a little bit worse for the wear, but MHAs are still at it in the House of Assembly, continuing a marathon session debating key Muskrat Falls legislation.
Debate has been going virtually uninterrupted since Tuesday afternoon, and it looks like they’ll keep going through the weekend. It will be virtually impossible for politicians to finish their debate before Christmas Eve, and there’s a solid chance that things could last quite a bit longer than that.
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons hasn’t shaved since the filibuster began.
“I figure I’m going to start the filibuster beard, just to do something interesting. The other thing is you don’t really have a lot of time when you go home,” he said. “When you skip out you try to sleep and eat and, in my case, I try to call home once in a while just to check in on my family.”
All three political parties are rotating their MHAs on shifts. PC politician Paul Lane said that he’s currently spending 16 hours in the House, and taking eight-hour breaks for sleep.
“Obviously as time goes by people are getting tired, but we have a lot of numbers so we’re able to sort of transition in and out,” he said. “Everyone thus far has been very positive, upbeat. There’s good camaraderie; it’s a really great team-building exercise, actually.”
New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby agreed that things have been pretty friendly.
“Most of the time it’s been fairly collegial, even more so than it is during question period, or other points in debate,” he said. “There’s a lot of banter, a lot of heckling, but it seems to be all in fairly good sport, and that’s helpful because people tired and their nerves are a bit frayed.”
Technically, because the House of Assembly didn’t take a formal break, Tuesday lasted for more than 47 hours in the legislature. Politicians are now looking at the prospect of an abnormally long Thursday too.
The government has now set things up so that if necessary they will sit all the way through the weekend, but if opposition politicians choose to bow out, they can end debate at any time and go home for Christmas. However, government has not taken the necessary steps to invoke “closure” and shut down debate.
The move puts the ball in the Liberal and NDP court, and forces them to decide how long the filibuster lasts. Unless the opposition parties give up, or the government moves to shut down debate, there is no real limit for how long the filibuster could last.
Kirby said he’s in for the long haul.
“I knew what I signed up for when I asked for this job, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that all the views are heard and if that means I have to sit here through Christmas Day or through New Year’s Day or through Valentine’s Day, I’m willing to stay as long as it takes,” he said.
“It’s a bit unfortunate — perhaps very unfortunate — for staff who didn’t run for election like I did, but I blame government for that.”
Lane said the government won’t stop as long as the opposition wants to keep going, but he said he’s finding the debate very repetitive.
“You’re hearing the same questions over and over and over,” he said. “Both opposition parties are asking the same questions. You’re getting people of the same party asking the same questions, we’re even getting the same person asking the same question.”
Right now MHAs are theoretically debating Bill 61, a piece of legislation which concerns exempting Muskrat Falls from consideration by the Public Utilities Board when it comes to setting provincial electricity rates.
Before the House wraps up for the year, MHAs will eventually have to get to Bill 60, a separate piece of Muskrat Falls legislation which concerns land expropriation and an easement for the electrical transmission lines which will be run from the Churchill River in Labrador across Newfoundland to Soldier’s Pond outside St. John’s.
But thus far, the debate has been fairly wide ranging, touching on all aspects of the Muskrat Falls project.
On Thursday morning, New Democrat MHA George Murphy and Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy spent more than an hour going back and forth discussing natural gas as an alternative to Muskrat Falls.
Lane said that in many ways, this is the big House of Assembly debate on Muskrat Falls that didn’t happen in late November because MHAs couldn’t agree on a format.
Kirby agreed with that assessment.
“Because we didn’t have a special debate on Muskrat Falls, our caucus members are able to get another of points on the table that we were not permitted to previously,” he said. “That’s been a positive development.”
Parsons lamented the fact that there was no formal special debate on Muskrat Falls under the Liberals’ preferred format — they wanted to see expert witnesses in the House of Assembly fielding questions from politicians — but he said this is probably as close as they’ll get to a real Muskrat Falls debate.
“It’s not going to be what we wanted, because even though we get to stand up and say stuff, it’s still a lot of the same old talking points coming,” he said. “This is as close to it as there will be, given that there was no special debate.”