By: Graham Lane
Published by the Winnipeg Sun on October 5, 2017
This week, speaker of Manitoba’s Legislature Myrna Driedger showed off changes to the chamber making it wheelchair accessible. The only wheelchair-bound MLA, Steven Fletcher, rejoiced, not just for his own improved mobility in the chamber but for opportunities now available for future wheelchair-bound MLAs, cabinet ministers and even premiers.
Yet, this same week, with physical barriers in the chamber removed, Fletcher still has no freedom to speak and associate freely within in it. The legislated “floor crossing” restriction stands until it is either struck down through Fletcher’s court action or by legislative action. The current law — which unconstitutionally removes his right to free expression — places him in an odd state of limbo as a kicked-out conservative independent.
Despite previous comments including an announcement by the Pallister government that it intends to amend the currently existing restrictive law, suggesting it will not fight Fletcher’s application to lift the restriction preventing him from finding a new political home, the situation remains unclear. So far, the government has acted to mute Fletcher in the legislature. Now, as the “play” continues, Fletcher may not have his day in court and final “freedom” until late November, and perhaps much longer.
Fletcher remains an independent — kicked out by Pallister for having the temerity of opposing two of Pallister’s biggest policy duds so far. One, a carbon tax money grab that will damage private investment and taxpayers’ disposable income without any impact on the climate, the other an energy-conservation crown corporation that will subsidize well-off folk to buy solar panels (to lower electricity demand just as more surplus power from the NDP-driven Keeyask dam looms).
Except for raising issues of privilege, independents have few opportunities to speak in the legislature and committees, and are denied supports such as research budgets. The rules make it difficult for them to serve their constituency and province.
Steven Fletcher may be the only real fiscal conservative in the chamber. His “platform” is closer to the platform Pallister ran on during the election. Fletcher has extensive federal cabinet experience and strong public policy “chops” — something that a government with pathetically little serious cabinet-level policy capacity should welcome.
The trouble is, Pallister has proved to be the ultimate “NDP-lite” policy dilettante — his my-way-is-the-highway leadership model has caucus members functioning more as potted plants instead of experienced or knowledgeable colleagues/advisors. Single-handedly, he tries to run a sprawling public sector like a small town insurance office. The result is near paralysis morphing into desperate “Hail Mary” actions, the opposite of the transformative policy-making Manitoba desperately needs. For example, the new health tax being proposed, which is precisely the opposite of what our costly and low-performing health system needs.
Fletcher opposes carbon and healthcare taxes. Ditto with respect to more crown corporations and closed-shop privileges for unions on government capital projects. He finds Hydro’s rate proposal much too high, noting that government action brought about the boondoggle. He seeks an expanded regulatory mandate for PUB (to provide the regulator a say on large capital projects), and a proper inquiry into the debacle.
Fletcher is a compassionate conservative who is seeking reduced bureaucracy, taxes, and fees.
Continuing to clip Fletcher’s freedom of association should stop, now.
— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward.
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