Playing politics with the dead

MLAs spent 90 minutes debating a $25,000 donation to devastated Burma, a country wracked by death and human suffering made worse by the ruling…

MLAs spent 90 minutes debating a $25,000 donation to devastated Burma, a country wracked by death and human suffering made worse by the ruling military junta’s refusal of international aid.

Nice sentiment? Indeed.

Necessary? Probably not.

The emergency motion was forwarded by Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

The debate started just 10 minutes into Thursday’s sitting, before Question Period.

Within 10 minutes, Premier Dennis Fentie announced the Yukon Party government had sent $25,000 to the Canadian Red Cross on Wednesday.

Politicians then spent another hour patting themselves on the back for their good deeds — all nine Yukon Party members spoke, as did both NDP members in attendance.

The Liberals simply let Mitchell speak for the party.

The government probably felt obligated to speak to the opposition’s emergency motion.

One can imagine the response if Fentie and Co. refused to allow the debate, or failed to participate — “The Yukon Party has the blood of 100,000 dead Burmese on its hands!”

Not exactly good for public relations.

But the whole debate should have been wrapped up in 20 minutes.

Then the House could get back to debating its legislation and the $900-million budget the opposition is so worried will be forced through, with little discussion, when the session ends.

Half the departmental budgets still require thorough debate, including the massive Health and Social Services books.

Only four sitting days remain.

Both Liberals and NDP have criticized Yukon Party MLAs for wasting time with useless, self-congratulatory motions: three-hour, plagiarized speeches on uranium, four-hour-long debates that are actually laundry lists of accomplishments.

The Liberal Party denies the Burma debate was rigged to waste more time and eventually embarrass the government when it forces through its budget — with little opposition review —  next week.

Burma is a human tragedy requiring immediate action, say Liberals.

Exactly.

And the government already cut a $25,000 cheque to the Canadian Red Cross, the same amount given during the 2004 tsunami crisis in Southeast Asia.

The United Nations, governments and non-governmental organizations have accused the military leaders of playing politics with the cyclone-caused, junta-enhanced humanitarian crisis.

Today, the UN announced it’s suspending aid because Burma’s generals are seizing the shipments.

MPs in Ottawa passed a motion condemning Burma’s leaders for its “deplorable” response.

Here, our elected representatives spent an hour and a half debating a donation that already happened.

Are international issues something our legislature should be debating?

In March, NDP Leader Todd Hardy introduced a motion condemning China’s action in Tibet when the country violently cracked down on protests in the small nation.

Outside the legislature, the NDP’s frequent motions on far-flung international issues are ridiculed by the Liberal Opposition.

And, yes, even reporters are guilty of rolling their eyes.

Yesterday, it was the Liberals who, through a questionable motion, pulled time and attention from pressing local issues.

But they had help.

Each Yukon Party member stood up and spoke at length about the appalling situation in Burma.

Hardy listed his tax receipts, naming a string of charities he’s supported.

Cardiff introduced an amendment requiring all MLAs to personally donate to aid efforts, but he later had to withdraw the motion after respectful protests were made about the unnecessary publicity of personal donations.

The Liberals showed restraint in letting Mitchell speak for his entire caucus, and the party blames the wasted time on the government and the NDP.

The Official Opposition knows very well the indolent habits of the government and the NDP’s penchant for long-winded, awkwardly passionate speeches.

It opened the door.

And this well-intentioned but misguided motion spiralled out of control.