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EDITORIAL: Permission not needed

Bush Dumville, left, chats with Premier Wade MacLauchlan during the opening of the P.E.I. Legislature.
(The Guardian)
Bush Dumville, left, chats with Premier Wade MacLauchlan during the opening of the P.E.I. Legislature. (The Guardian) - The Guardian

Speaking to the press, constituents or anywhere, comes down to the same thing - freedom of speech.

There was one particular incident in the Bush Dumville affair which stands out above many others. It highlights the modus operandi for this premier and his government: Wade MacLauchlan is in firm control and it’s his way or the proverbial highway.

Shortly after winning re-election in the May 2015 Liberal romp, Mr. Dumville decided to put his name forward as speaker of the house. The veteran MLA was still smarting from a hotly-contested district convention where he just eked out the party’s nomination. He had been told by Premier MacLauchlan earlier that year that he would never be in cabinet, so what did he have to lose?

Apparently, a great deal.

The premier decided to allow the selection of speaker to go to the floor of the legislature. It’s likely that Buck Watts was the premier’s preferred choice and it came as no surprise when the Tracadie area MLA was elected over two other Liberal hopefuls – one being Mr. Dumville.

Mr. Dumville was later quoted in a Guardian article about the race and the premier’s chief of staff quickly chastised him for speaking to the press “without permission” and that, “You’ve got a bad attitude.” It was suggested he go see the premier to make amends.

Rightfully, Mr. Dumville refused and replied that he would speak to the press anytime he wanted. It sealed his fate within caucus. Other elements of the story – either from Mr. Dumville’s recounting of events or the premier’s perspective – pale in comparison to this lecture.

Speaking to the press, or constituents or anywhere, comes down to the same thing - freedom of speech. It’s essential that our elected MLAs guard and defend this basic tenet of democracy. MLAs must speak out against injustice wherever they see it. Open discourse, dissent, challenge and argument all depend on unfettered freedom of speech.

Whether you agree or disagree with the premier’s decision to freeze Mr. Dumville out of cabinet, or the MLA’s decision to leave caucus, it’s part of our parliamentary system. Trying to curb freedom of speech is certainly not and should never be allowed or even suggested.

That being said, the chain of events with the Dumville affair appeared inevitable.

When the recent founding meeting of the revamped district saw Mr. Dumville’s supporter lose the presidency, the MLA realized he would finally lose his seat – not at the polls but in another convention fight.

It was time to leave. He had tried his best to be a loyal party man from the back benches butut there was no reward coming from the premier or his party. Other political parties would have to consider Mr. Dumville an asset with his three election wins and overcoming some big odds to hold his seat the last time.

Islanders expected more acrimony when Mr. Dumville finally told his side of the story but his comments were measured and under control. They also showed a man concerned with cabinet, power and money. He was more disappointed by not reaching those goals than showing concern for his constituents whom he barely mentioned.

The premier was also far from gracious, saying, “Mr. Dumville has struggled to share the values of our Liberal caucus and Liberal party." More importantly, Mr. Dumville didn’t share the values or future plans of the premier. There is a big difference.

Mr. Dumville said he felt like a junkyard dog chained up in a corner, but he still has a lot of bark left, which he is vowing to use in the legislature to challenge the premier on questions of character and ethics. It should add some extra bite to future proceedings.

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