Wednesday, February 2, 2011

MLAs to star in Nova Scotia television

Traditionally the dog days of summer mark the silly season in politics. But thanks to a long-running debate here on whether to allow TV in the provincial legislature Nova Scotians have been entertained this holiday season by new twists and turns in the saga. To outsiders it may seem like a simple problem. Ottawa and several other provinces have already proven that television coverage of debates can easily be arranged.
Premier John Buchanan, however, remains opposed. He's often gone on record with worries that hot lights and cameras would somehow alter the cherished nature of Province House, a Nova Scotian heritage building. That argument has lost effectiveness with the advent of smaller video cameras that utilize existing light sources.
So now the government has turned to new tactics - cost and decorum.
Though the issue has been studied to death the legislature's rules committee looked at it again this month. After some thought the government majority on the committee decided that yes, TV was possible, but it would cost $1.5 million.
Driven by a sudden reluctance to spend taxpayers' money the speaker, Arthur Donahoe, announced the government would ask local TV stations to help pay the cost.
That's a doubly ironic twist because two of the stations, CBC and the Irving family-owned MITV, launched a suit in November to gain access for their cameras. Named as defendants were all 52 members of the legislature.
As to the issue of spending taxpayers' money, few MLAs seemed concerned when the rules committee jetted off to London to study the new TV system in the British House of Commons earlier in the month. That junket, costing close to $35,000, drew angry reaction in the letters section of newspapers.
It's no wonder. The MLAs were hard-pressed to defend a trip to one of the world's most expensive cities when a trip to Ottawa would have accomplished the same.
Perhaps the government's reluctance for TV was most honestly expressed with a bit of candor from a backbencher with a propensity for quotable quotes.
Al Mosher, a Tory from the province's south shore, said allowing TV stations free rein in the legislature would only embarrass the members.
He said camera operators might zoom in on some member "dozing off in one of the seats."
Most members of the legislative press gallery would probably agree that, on many days, such events would be more newsworthy than the debates.
Three weeks ago in this space, I wrote about a proposal being studied that would have seen the Technical University of Nova Scotia move its campus adjacent to Dalhousie University in Halifax.
The cost of the move, which would have eliminated the 15 minutes to 20 minutes it now takes to walk from one school to another, was priced at $150 million. That figure was expected to be reduced, however, by the sale of the existing TUNS campus.
After a week of almost universal condemnation of the proposal from commentators, municipal politicians and residents who faced possible expropriation of their homes, Technical University President Peter Adams killed the study.
He said the proposal needed community support to be feasible, something it obviously wasn't going to get.

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