After 31 years, and many backaches, the House of Assembly is retiring its sealskin chairs

·3 min read
These green sealskin chairs had been in the House of Assembly since 1991, but were recently replaced for more comfortable black leather chairs. (House of Assembly - image credit)
These green sealskin chairs had been in the House of Assembly since 1991, but were recently replaced for more comfortable black leather chairs. (House of Assembly - image credit)
House of Assembly
House of Assembly

Political watchers with a keen eye at the House of Assembly may have noticed the most recent sitting looked a little different.

It has nothing to do with political debate or which politicians are sitting where in Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature. In fact, it's actually the seats they're sitting on.

The green chairs have been in service since the House of Assembly moved to its current ground-floor location in Confederation Building in 1991.

Beside matching the green carpet, the chairs also have a unique bit of provincial history: they're made of seal leather.

According to the legislative library, the furniture was chosen to recognize the importance of the seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador.

They even served as an voucher for product quality during one sitting in December 1992, when Walter Carter, at the time a minister in Clyde Wells's Liberal cabinet, spoke to the House about a lowering demand for seal leather.

"I do not think anybody can doubt or question the high quality of seal leather once you have witnessed what it has done for the chairs in this legislature," Carter told fellow MHAs.

Darryl Murphy/CBC
Darryl Murphy/CBC

But while the chairs hold more than three decades of political history, current Speaker Derek Bennett says the time came to retire the withering leather.

"The condition of all the chairs, most of them the leather or the sealskin has torn. A number of the bottoms have been welded over the years, and obviously the ergonomics of the chairs are not for today's health and wellbeing of members," Bennett said in an interview.

Bennett and the House's management commission decided to swap the chairs out for new black leather chairs, which made their debut during the most recent sitting. They cost the province $37,500.

While they might be more comfortable, Education Minister Tom Osborne said it was tough to get rid of the legislative chairs he has used since beginning his political career in 1996.

Darryl Murphy/CBC
Darryl Murphy/CBC

"For me, there's a lot of emotional attachment to these. We've had some pretty significant legislation, debate, many filibusters, long hours sitting in these chairs," Osborne said.

"Because they're made of seal leather and they were intended to show support for the seal industry, there was some attachment to the chairs for a lot of members. But being 30 years old, it was time to get some new chairs, I think."

Osborne said it hasn't been decided what will happen to the old chairs, but he hopes a few can be preserved or used in another fashion to mark their history — such as how how a few chairs from the former legislature on the Confederation Building's ninth floor sit in the media scrum area of the current chamber.

Some MHAs have also offered to buy their chairs to keep for themselves, but Osborne said he isn't sure he'd be able to get away with that.

"I'm not sure what my wife would think," he said with a laugh.

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