Reporters must at all times remain objective in reporting a story. The news must be presented straight up, without bias. Contrary opinions should be expressed in the editorial page, or perhaps within the confines of a column.
So, allow me the indulgence of saying this, on behalf of David Cochrane and Deanne Fleet:
"Minister Denine, are you stunned, or what? If you are going to muzzle the Fire Commissioner, the least you can do is speak knowledgeably on his behalf! If I was Danny, I'd drop-kick your ass right out of Cabinet."
Reporters can't say that. But I swear they were thinking it during a scrum yesterday, with Municipal Affairs Minister Dave Denine.
This began in February, when the province announced that 22 personal care homes had to comply with fire safety regulations or be closed. But then it was revealed that there were serious safety issues at many of the province's own health facilities. Denine assured us that hospitals were safe despite the sprinkler issues. Then Fire Commissioner Fred Hollett, normally very open and available to media, was gagged by the government.
It has since become apparent that problems at certain health facilities are extremely serious; critical enough to require 24-hour fire monitors walking the hallways.
This is a major public health issue. However, our government is putting spin control' and message management ahead of public health in this matter. I say this with some conviction, based on the way that Denine stumbled through yesterday's scrum, a portion of which you can read below. Denine's comments are pretty murky at first, and it doesn't make great reading, but it gets better as Cochrane drills in and puts him on the spot. Here's some of the transcript:
David Cochrane: But some of these problems were long-standing, obviously: the lack of sprinkler systems, the lack of proper training, exit issues and things like this in some of your major hospitals. Were those not found in previous or just not reported in previous
Dave Denine: When I stated that there was nothing brought to my attention or to the Fire Commissioner, that is what I mean there was nothing brought to my attention at that time. Now, the inspections were done into the sprinkler system, we have found these deficiencies, they will be corrected, to remove concern about the fire alarm system.
Deanne Fleet: The question was, were the local fire stations checking to see, about the fire exits that didn't work? Did the local fire stations find out? Were they checking?
Denine: This is not about blame. This is not me going out and saying someone didn't do their work. This is me reporting on the facts that I've found, I'm going to now institute protocol that will prevent that from happening. The Fire Commissioner found out that there were some fire alarms not working at the time, as you know, it was in the report, and he immediately acted upon those right away, and they were corrected.
Cochrane: Right. But this is not about the (inaudible) on down, this is about the local authorities that have been charged by government to do this work and something is breaking down, so that health facilities didn't have working fire alarms, didn't have proper sprinkler systems. How long did that go on and not be reported to Fred Hollett?
Denine: Well, obviously there was no reports given to the Fire Commissioner so it could have gone on for a while in terms of that. But the thing is, again, when they go out to do the inspections, I would assume, my best recollection, is everything should be done. Anything to do with life safety issues, our government is committed to getting fixed. And I think if there was any issue that (inaudible) should have been brought forward at that time.
Cochrane: Why didn't it?
Denine: That I can't answer.
Cochrane: You can't answer?
Denine: No. (inaudible) My thing is through the Fire Commissioner, and that is who I get my direction from. You've got to remember that this has been the protocol for 30 years. The protocol, I was talking to the Fire Commissioner this morning, is that if it is brought to the attention of the Fire Commissioner then he doesn't act upon it. What happens is, if it is done by a local area, they are the ones who act upon it.
Cochrane: Have you asked Fred Hollett why he wasn't getting these updates from the regional authorities and the people who were asked to do it, as he explained it to you?
Denine: Uh, again, the thing is, all I can say is that, I have had a number of discussions with Fred Hollett and he is concerned also.
Cochrane: But has he explained to you why he wasn't getting the updates about what are serious deficiencies, the type of deficiencies you've closed personal care homes for?
Denine: Well, the thing here is that, just go ahead and ask the question again, please.
Cochrane: Has he given you an explanation, or has he gotten an explanation why he wasn't being told about this?
Denine: The issue is that you would be working with all the stakeholders. Every one of the stakeholders that are involved here, whether it be public services inspectors, fire department, and health care facilities, he's going to be working with them. Now, the issue is that The issue No, that never came up in the conversations.
Cochrane: Can we talk to Fred Hollett?
Denine: No, I will be speaking on behalf of the Fire Commissioner.
Cochrane: With all due respect Minister, he can answer these questions you can't.
Denine: Well, I can give you the answers that I have, David, in terms of that happening, and the issues. I've been up-front with everything that has happened here and I gave you the answers as I see it.
Cochrane: There are technical process questions here about the interactions of Fred Hollett's office with the regional authorities that you can't answer right now. If we could talk to Fred Hollett we could get a much clearer picture of how this massive crack happened in the inspection process. Maybe it's time to lift the gag on Fred Hollett and let him talk to the public.
Denine: Well, the issues of which you speak, I will speak to Mr. Hollett on that.
Cochrane: So there's no way we can get to talk to the Fire Commissioner about something this important?
Denine: We'll talk about that after.
Kudos to Cochrane (and Fleet) for their aggressive questioning and refusal to accept hollow answers.
My crack about removing Denine from Cabinet is facetious, since the problem can be traced back to this government's overall approach to communications. Open and transparent they are not.
If this government worked as hard at addressing the reality, as they do in attempting to control the message, we'd all be much better off.