At vocm.com yesterday, a remarkable story; not for its resourcefulness, but for its lack of disclosure.
The story was headlined More Debate Over Cameron Inquiry (link may not work for much longer) and it begins with opposition complaints that Premier Williams's and Minister Kennedy's attacks on the inquiry are totally inappropriate. This was followed by Kennedy's defence of the attacks, which, I should add, are not convincing in the least.
Then, there was a quote from "a St. John's lawyer" who defended government's bizarre behavior. VOCM described Steve Marshall as "a taxpayer" and "a private lawyer who has practiced for 25 years." It didn't disclose that Marshall is former business partner and major supporter of Danny Williams.
Here's the relevant chunk of text:
"A St John's lawyer is calling the lawyer's fees associated with the Cameron Inquiry outrageous. Steve Marshall is a private lawyer who has practiced for 25 years. Marshall says he wants to know, as a taxpayer, what the total tally will be. He says the key issue is what's in the best interest of the patients affected by the botched breast cancer hormone receptor tests."
If the reporter was a novice and didn't know this, fair enough but the item should be amended nonetheless to include this balancing information. If a seasoned reporter did the interview, he or she should have asked Mr. Marshall about his close personal connections to the premier.
They could also ask Mr. Marshall how much his firm makes every month from its cut of accident settlements that it wins on behalf of clients. Is that "outrageous" too? And who pays for those insurance settlements, through higher insurance premiums? That would be the rest of us.
Meanwhile, testimony from today's inquiry proceedings reminds us that "many cancer patients could have benefited from more appropriate treatment before they died."
That's what this inquiry is about the fact that people who died might have lived, had they received the right treatment. The medical mistakes are part of the problem, but so is the manner in which the errors were managed' after being discovered.
Finally, kudos to Bill Rowe, host of VOCM's Backtalk call-in show, who discussed this issue on his program Thursday afternoon. As Williams's former man in Ottawa, Rowe has worked closely with the premier, and is perhaps even more of a nationalist than Danny. However, it was clear from today's discussion that he is not in Williams's back pocket.
Rowe pointed out and I am paraphrasing here that the province must have known the lawyer's hourly rates, and a rough approximation of the work involved, before the inquiry began. What then, are Williams and Kennedy alleging? That the inquiry counsel are somehow charging more than they should? If so, these are serious charges that require some degree of evidence, Rowe said.
As popular as the premier is, it's safe to say that the vast majority of the population are against him on this issue. They were several weeks ago too, when he first began interfering with the business of the inquiry, and they remain so today. The issue is not likely to bring Williams down in flames, but it is definitely leaving some dings in his armour.
The question is: what is he really trying to accomplish with this?
Note: I see this item has also been picked up over at Nottawa.
Here is the full text of the VOCM story, in case the link goes down:
More Debate Over Cameron Inquiry
June 19, 2008
The Liberal Opposition House Leader and Justice Critic Kelvin Parsons says the attacks on the Cameron Inquiry by Premier Williams and Justice Minister Kennedy are absolutely inappropriate. Yesterday the justice minister raised more concerns about the legal fees being charged by the Commission's lawyers. Parsons says its hard to determine what message the criticism is sending. Parsons says the Inquiry is doing what it was meant to do and he says the government doesn't like the approach. He says the money issue is being used by the government to stymie the commission or perhaps influence the outcome. Parsons says the amount being billed by the lawyers at the inquiry is not unusual for attorneys of their stature.
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael is also calling on the government to stop meddling in the inquiry.
Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy says government is just doing its duty bringing the cost of the Cameron Inquiry to the public's attention. Jerome Kennedy says the legal fees appear to be exorbitant. Kennedy says during the month of March, Sandra Chaytor's law firm billed $93-thousand dollars, Bernard Coffey's firm billed $67-thousand dollars for a total of $160-thousand dollars for one month. He says by any stretch of the imagination that is certainly extensive if not exorbitant. Kennedy says the questions about the inquiry costs are valid. He says on May 8th. Justice Cameron requested the extension. He says at that point there were 80 witnesses left to call and at this point there are still 65 left.Kennedy says then the other parties have the right to call witnesses. He says all they are trying to do is determine the cost of the inquiry and that is legitimate. Kennedy says in a letter to the Commissioner Tuesday he indicated the deputy minister of justice and finance officials could meet with Inquiry officials as early as today to discuss the budget.
A St John's lawyer is calling the lawyer's fees associated with the Cameron Inquiry outrageous. Steve Marshall is a private lawyer who has practiced for 25 years. Marshall says he wants to know, as a taxpayer, what the total tally will be. He says the key issue is what's in the best interest of the patients affected by the botched breast cancer hormone receptor tests.