AMATEUR HOUR IN THE PREMIER’S OFFICE

When a
Member defects, as Tom Osborne did last week, there are always repercussions
for the party leader. 

When the act
is by a Member on the Government side, as Osborne was, the ensuing questions
and concerns are magnified.  Why?   The defection speaks less to the defector,
personally, than to the message he sends regarding the condition of the ‘ship
of state’.
Cartoon Credit: John Meaney, Rant and Roar

For that
reason, the political fallout must first, be understood, and then, skillfully
(intelligently) handled.

People are
unnerved about any political upset; but, they are alarmed when the Premier’s
response is perceived as one that diminishes her person and her office.

Unfortunately,
most people do not engage politics except on a superficial level; they should
not be judged too harshly, for life intervenes and there are mouths to
feed.  But they are never completely
tuned out; that is why, intuitively, people take note when they feel ill at
ease by the very government they have put in charge.

Tom
Osborne’s decision to quit the P.C. Caucus is a clarion call, a call to
action.  Skillful leaders know that, in
these circumstances, the public wants re-assurance, expressions of intelligent
thought and consistency, overlain with a reasonable rationale for what has just
transpired.  None of that was on offer,
last week. Indeed, the sheer scale of the vituperation emanating from
Government Members was truly appalling.  

Osborne, it
must be remembered, is not just any MHA. 
He was the longest serving member of the P.C. Caucus. Both he and his
family boasted a record of Party service that outshone every other Member. He
held three Cabinet posts. He enjoys respect in his constituency and has been
returned to the House of Assembly a total of five times. He has not quit over
any point of principle or singular issue, except for, as he clearly stated, a
lack of confidence in the Premier. 


A
party stalwart with that record, is not one that you should mindlessly pillory
or denigrate.  He has not defected to
another Party; hence, with the leadership problem fixed, he could possibly be
back in his usual seat within months. 
These are the facts.

Let’s look
at the Government’s response.


The first
battalion of MHAs took to Twitter, that denier of thoughtful expression; Sandy
Collins uttered: “when you remove the weakest link…“.  The Telegram Reporter, James McLeod, soon  noted an overuse of the phrase
“disengaged from the Caucus”. MHAs Steve Kent, Paul Lane and Clyde Jackman had weighed in.  Joan
Burke, headed to the Open Line Show with a message to Osborne of “good
riddance”, and to the public that he was “deadwood”.

It was then the Premier’s
turn: she had to make sure she was on the same level as the worst skeet in her
caucus.  Throughout her CBC “ON POINT”
Interview the Premier chose to play to the negative view of Osborne; her most
disturbing line was contained in a lecture she had given the MHA, some months
earlier: “…you have to rebuild your relationship with me…you have to rebuild your trust
with me…”. Foolish me, I thought those things were mutually shared!

If this script was the
reflexive lingo of the dullards in the backbench, you would roll your eyes and
try to countenance the trials of a young democracy.  But, MHAs Steve Kent, Paul Lane, Sandy
Collins and others did not think up those lines alone; they were told to utter
them. Perhaps, they and the Premier thought they were tightly scripted! Oh My!
Oh My!  

Think about
it.  The Premier is being battered in the
Polls, she needs public support for an expensive megaproject of declining
repute, she has just lost a Member from her caucus who retains ample
credibility.   She has treated him poorly.
 What does she do?  She takes advice from a bunch of lazy “PR”
types whose kneejerk lines are better suited to “Morons ‘R’ Us”.  She and the elected Members buy it and run to
the airways, including Joan Burke, who should be one of a group of Ministers the
Premier can count on for sound advice in a crises! You are surprised this
Government is in trouble? 

What should
government’s response have been?

First, it
should have reflected the role of Government, and how Osborne’s departure
impacted its agenda and its essential message (assuming they know either).  It should also have been considerate of the
‘dignity’, of the Office of Premier and I would submit, the person who holds that Office. 


The Government’s
message should have been one of reassurance to a skeptical public. The Premier
ought to have been able to say that she has been busy on her agenda and that perhaps she
should have been in closer touch with her back bench.  She could have added that she is going to
try harder, that Tom Osborne is an important Member and that she wants him back
in her caucus; that she will do everything possible to earn his trust.  Might she have added anything more? Yes.  It is that
she wished him good luck. 

For good
measure, a careful Premier might have added, in a voice that bespoke knowledge of
public antipathy to the Amendment, that Bill 29 was really a bad idea, that it will
be repealed as soon as the House opens.

Who could
have disputed such an open, heartfelt and honest response to a very
embarrassing and tricky problem? No one!

What was its
cost? Nothing; on the contrary, it might have netted her some respect and
sympathy for her situation. The whole Osborne affair could have been a 24 hour
wonder.  Instead, it was a debacle.

One final
point: creating acceptable public policy is a complicated and difficult job; it
always has been. And, why shouldn’t it be; afterall, we live a complex, modern
society where people share opinions and have a fundamental right to influence
the political process.  That political process also gives Osborne the “right” to defect.

Such
complexities imply that any strategy of communications cannot be ‘kneejerk’; it must always follow a plan which necessarily must withstand
challenges, including the current one; hence, it has to be thoughtful.  It should reflect common values; those to which most people subscribe, like common decency. 

As much as
some politicians prefer to default to secrecy and pillorying critics, that is
the intellectually lazy method of governing; it will only work short term, if
at all. No self-respecting Member would want to be part of that deal. Not Tom Osborne,
not the next MHA who is tired of ‘amateur hour’ in the Premier’s Office.

Is the
Premier capable of re-setting a failed administration?  Should citizens feel that they will be spared
further missteps? The events of the past few days are not reassuring.    
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. It is very interesting that one of the reasons Osbourne left was that he was not permitted to talk to the media by the Premiers office. This is at the same time that other MHA's are phoning in on open line, and Labrador radio and at times really making an arse of themselves. Others such as Lane, Collins, and Kent are on twitter making statements which would make any communications director have nightmares. Why would Kent, Lane, Russel and Collins have unfettered access to the media but yet Tom was muzzled? Would the deputy speaker talk to the media about issues of the day? Many questions remain.

  2. Is it just me, or does it seem that we have an inverted hierarchy where all things must please the Premier rather than the premier must please the populace? I'm tired of the move to blatant secrecy, spin from marionettes, and blind faith in somebody who has yet to show us exactly why she is leader, other than the fact that nobody else wanted to spend the money on a leadership campaign.