Capital beat column
Being an independent MLA is a lonely life.
There is no office budget, no formal recognition in the legislature order of business, and you can’t accept any donations to help with costs. Under the Election Act rules, donations can only be made to registered political parties outside of an election period.
Despite these considerable hurdles, Morell-Mermaid MLA Olive Crane turned in a commendable performance during the fall legislature session. The former leader of the Progressive Conservative party found herself without a political home when interim leader Steven Myers kicked her out of caucus for granting media interviews in the wake of the defection of Hal Perry to the Liberals.
Crane calls herself an “independent Progressive Conservative,” although as far as Speaker Carolyn Bertram is concerned, she is simply an independent.
The veteran MLA has made no secret of the fact she wants to return to the Tory fold after a new leader is elected next year.
In the meantime, she is making the best of her new status. Crane has recruited a number of volunteers to help her – one of the most high profile being Pat Mella, the former provincial treasurer.
Mella has some appreciation for what Crane is going through. She served as a one-person Opposition from 1993 to 1996. It is not quite the same though, since as the Opposition leader, Mella had access to a research and staff budget. Crane doesn’t.
Limited to only six oral questions a week, Crane turned to submitting written questions. Any MLA can submit a written question at any time, but it has been a little used technique, mainly because the government of the day usually takes their time in answering them. The Liberals have taken a different approach with Crane – she submitted 105 questions and ministers answered 73 of them.
The government also agreed to second any motion Crane wanted to bring to the floor. Obviously, they don’t necessarily support it – the seconder is needed to bring it to the floor for debate.
While she asked pointed questions of government ministers, she also had more flexibility than the party system allows – that was brought home by the fact that she voted in support of the Speech from the Throne – a rare move for an opposition member. She said that was largely due to government’s support for an expansion to the Wyman’s blueberry processing plant in her community.
That flexibility would have also allowed her to speak out against a raise for MLAs recommended by the Indemnities and Allowance Commission. Despite the optics of taking the raise in a climate of cutbacks, she was as quiet as the 26 MLAs with a party affiliation.
For as long as she remains an independent, Crane says her goals are simple: “I will continue to work hard because that is what I have been elected to do.”