Monday, October 30, 2006

Bye election blues

I don't live in the District of Signal-Hill Quidi Vidi but, If I did, I would vote for the NDP for what would be the first time ever in my life as a voting adult. My reasons have to do with disquiet over generally giving government another seat.

The fact that Mr. Jerome Kennedy is the candidate on the other side makes that inclination a whole lot easier for me to swallow.

I have never hidden my disquiet with the political skills, positions and abilities of the NDP but, for good or ill (and don't get me started on the ills), generally what you see is what you get.

And while Mr. Kennedy continues his self-definition as the independent man of action and thought, at least in the political sense (and that is really what's germane here) his record does not indicate anything like that.

You see Mr. Kennedy pins his persona as the outsider through his very laudable work as a director of the highly respected Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, and he was pivotal in getting the wrongful murder convictions of Greg Parsons and Ronald Dalton overturned.

Great work that was too - I tip my hat to him.

He also finds much traction for his "little-guy" role in his
charges of professional misconduct after a speech in July, 2003, where he opined that judges who "don't know what they're doing" are one of the many reasons why innocent people are found guilty.

Coincidently, that action echoes Premier Williams' attack on Judge Halley over the Ruelokke affair but no matter

But neither his work with AIDWC nor the attack on the judiciary nor his friendship with the arts community has anything to do with his appointment to the nomination of the PC Party in the seat of Signal-Hill Quidi Vidi.

It appears, from the perspective of an outsider, that it probably has to do more with his work on behalf of an organisation which, in effect has protected the financial interests of Premier Williams' former law firm and law partners as well as his past service to the PC caucus when it was still in opposition as their pet legal opinion for hire.

This work has received much less attention than his AIDWC and it's worth exploring in order to get a fuller view of the landscape.

To start, Mr. Kennedy is legal counsel to the Coalition Against No-Fault Insurance and their spokesperson.

Behind that organization is an interesting story.

You have to cast your mind back to 2002 when car insurance rates were climbing and the Grimes administration started an effort to reform the system. The response to those efforts was the rise of Coalition Against No-Fault Insurance headed by then-councilor Kevin Breen.

If that was all there was to it then it wouldn't be a very interesting story and I promised you an interesting story. The odd part about all this was that the Grimes administration never proposed a no-fault insurance system and was never going to; that was just never in the cards.

But that did not stop the coallition from waging a massive public relations war over the issue anyway.

At the time the leader of the Opposition was Danny Williams who was fresh out of his firm of Williams Roebothan MacKay and Marshall. That firm enjoys a wide reputation as the largest accident/injury law firm in the province and the overwhelming proportion of the firm's millions of dollars of income each year come from one kind of accident/injury in particular - car accidents. Therefore any substantive changes to the auto insurance system in this province would jeopardize this revenue stream.

Putative head Kevin Breen was always very careful to avoid revealing where the considerable sums of money came from to carry out their expensive campaigns.

Local rumors put the source of cash at the door of those with the most cash to lose.

In the end, the Coalition Against No-Fault Insurance was really a coalition to protect the car insurance litigation industry status quo, to preserve the income of accident/injury law firms and to take some pokes at a government already on the way out for partisan ends.

And today, Mr. Kennedy is their spokesperson.

Alone that would not establish a pattern of having carved out a secure place in premier Williams' pocket. There are also Mr. Kennedy's other forays into provincial political issues where he filled the role of Williams' apparently independent legal opinion for hire.

On December 3, 2001, the then-Opposition Environment critic Tom Osborne said in a news release that the Opposition has obtained legal advice that the Environmental Protection Act then before the House of Assembly violated the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable searches set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In that release, St. John's lawyer Jerome Kennedy stated: "In my opinion, Section 94 of the proposed legislation empowers law enforcement officers to conduct warrantless searches in violation of the protection against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the subsequent Section 95 does comply with constitutional standards for search and seizure, in my opinion, Section 94 can be used to obtain grounds to seek a search warrant under Section 95, thereby rendering the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure meaningless."

It's odd that the matter has not been raised since by either Osborne nor Kennedy. No House amendments have been proposed by the new government to right this wrong. I guess the matter just wasn't all that important an issue or principle.

But while one can easily accept Kennedy's expertise in the matter of Charter issues, Mr. Kennedy really stretched his credentials as an authority when he weighed into the matter of the House of Assembly debate on Voisey's Bay.

On June 18, 2002, the Western Star reported Mr. Kennedy's considered opinion that the House should not be debating the issue unless and until there was a legal agreement before it. In the story he stated "This agreement as it now stands is not worth the paper it's written on ... Why is the Premier engaging in a massive propaganda campaign to try to convince the average Newfoundlander that this is a good deal. Why not simply provide the information and let the people decide."

However, a cursory review of Mr. Kennedy's legal career would not lead you to believe that he has any special expertise in reviewing complex government-industrial mining benefit agreements. With all due respect, I'd call Mr. Kennedy in a heartbeat if I were wrongly accused of a heinous crime.

But his name would not be at the top of my list for reviewing complex industrial benefit agreements simply because there are just too many other names with much more experience and who do that kind of work all the time

Coincidently his position was almost identical to Mr. Williams' so it's hard to escape the conclusion that he traded in on his legal reputation to dispense an opinion for nakedly partisan reasons as an unofficial extra-opposition spokesperson.

All this makes the overall situation, and Mr. Kennedy, more complex and interesting than it first appears.

Other complexities has been the PC advertising and messaging machine aggressively taking dead aim at the NDP support base while the NDP play a defensive game of fighting to keep the arts community base.

Driving around the district you can't help but notice that no matter how good the PC air war is, the ground war has been weak. For many weeks, while NDP signs were hanging in windows, off houses and on lawns indicating true and deep party support, the PC signs were relegated to public lands. It looked as thought there has been a break in communication with previous PC campaigns in the district while the NDP's can rely on a continuity of campaign information over several elections - the NDP already know where there support is while the PC's started from scratch.

Some have mentioned to me that the campaign machinery is a "by-election in a box" run from outside the district.

No real surprise.

But in the end the factor that would decide where to place my vote is that I'm not sure the City of St. John's needs another MHA on the government side apologizing for their leader's policies, puffing wind up his skirts and passing him his shoe lifts to make him look even bigger than he is.

I think MHA Skinner already fulfills that role more than adequately I certainly wouldn't want to deny Mr. Skinner the opportunity to practice his skills when he does it so well.

The real voting question is this: How many independent voices from the government side have you heard lately?

I'd vote for Lorraine.

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