Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shameful performances & distorted priorities

This morning Minister Shaw Skinner called to "clarify" his previous remarks made to the media yesterday. For the record, here's the remarks Skinner felt he had to clarify:
CBC TV, Jonathan Crowe: But I mean, your boss is saying "Anybody But Conservative" in the next election. That's gotta be difficult when you meet Minister Hearn out in the lobby and shake hands.

Hon. Shawn Skinner: Not for me, it isn't. My boss can vote for who he wishes. He can mark his 'X' where he wishes to mark it. From my perspective, I have a job to do. I'm elected by the people of St. John's Centre. I'm in cabinet representing the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and I have a job to do. And I'm going to do that to the best of my ability.

If and when there is a federal election, we all as individual citizens can make up our own minds what we want to do. I'm here today as a provincial minister and I'm carrying out my duties as a provincial minister.
Sounds abundantly clear to me. I'm not sure what really needed to be clarified. And not only that, these views reflect what other ministers, I hear, have said privately.

And in the end, what do these remarks really indicate other than what most people believe: that it's time for the two levels of government to get along and that the Premier's Ottawa jihad should not get in the way of normal federal-provincial cooperation on essential issues of importance to NLers.

When I heard Skinner's statements of yesterday, I was impressed. In a cabinet with a reputation of obsequious bowing and scraping to the boss, here was an honourable gentleman who had the courage of his convictions in speaking out.

I've crossed paths with Shawn Skinner on more than one occasion and always found him to be sharp, articulate, well-briefed and knowledgeable, combative when need arose (and sometimes even when there was no need) and never one to back off when he felt he was in the right.

So then Minister Skinner called Open Line this morning. Though the host, Randy Simms, wanted to talk about yesterday's announcement of the older workers' adjustment program, Skinner had another agenda.

His goal for the call was to perform a lightspeed backpedal from his statement of the previous day thought an abject bow and scrape on province-wide radio to make it clear that all the media reports of what he said were gross misinterpretations. He said there there was no light between he and the Premier and of course he totally and wholly supported the Premier on every position and in every way.

He even felt obligated to include the fact that he issued a private apology to the Premier for any confusion his remarks caused in the minds of others.

Wow. How can you describe this kind of public action of a minister of the crown of swallowing his dignity and performing this sort of public bow and scrape as anything other than shameful? On a personal level, it's uncomfortable to listen to and it really makes me wonder what kind of regime requires ministers of the crown to behave that way.

But beyond that, there is a more important public issue at hand. When Skinner called, he felt obligated, and considered it important, that this craven activity in trying to work himself back into the warm glow of the Premier's approval take precedence over what really should have been the most important matter for him to deal with today - the announcement of the older workers' adjustment program.

When an administration forces a minister of the crown to choose between deals with what is really a very minor political matter over addressing an important issue of public policy upon which hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the province are depending for their future livelihood, then we have a government with a truly distorted set of priorities.

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