I heard a bizarre call to Bill Rowes Backtalk yesterday afternoon, on VOCM.
A caller named Kevin was picking up on the Danny Williams/Open Line fiasco. He told of an experience he had some time ago, after submitting a letter to the editor to the Telegram.
After the piece was published, he received a call from an unidentified woman, asking if he was the Kevin who wrote the letter to The Telegram. Kevin confirmed he was. Moments later, he received a phone call from his MHA.
He was telling me off for writing the letter, Kevin said (and I am paraphrasing quotes from rough notes). He was very intimidating and his voice was raised at first. It was like Look how well were doing. Were doing this for you. How dare you complain about it? But I said, I thought we had free speech in this country and then he backed down and changed his tune. But I was shocked by it.
This floored me. Since when did our members of the House of Assembly become thought police, calling members of the general public to tell them off for exercising their right to free expression?
Kevin was anonymous, of course, and did not say who the MHA was. This could therefore be fabrication, though the caller sounded quite credible to me.
So Kevin, if you read this, please get in touch at the email address above. I would like you to confirm this incident, identify the MHA in question and, ideally, go on the record. If you have a good reason to go off the record, I can work with that, as long as I can confirm your identity. This is no minor event, and I would like to learn more about it.
During the same program, Bill Rowe himself made a startling revelation that he has been told, by a reliable source within the upper echelons of the provincial government, that Cabinet Ministers and MHAs have been instructed not to call Rowes program. The reason, Rowe speculated, may be his straightforward cut-to-the-chase approach in dealing with political types.
This may or may not be accurate. The last time a minister called Backtalk was June 12, a week ago. The caller was Charlene Johnson. However, the lines were ablaze at the time on the gravel pit camping issue, so she was calling to put out fires.
The most recent MHA call prior to that was Clyde Jackman on June 1, so there seems to be some truth to what Rowe is saying. Normally, the lines would be plugged with calls from politicians. By comparison, during this same time period, MP Gerry Byrne called Backtalk too many times to count.
I sent a note to Bill Rowe, inquiring about this and asking for more information. Rowe declined an interview, but did offer the following:
I heard it from someone on the inside some time ago, Rowe wrote. He said it was based on all the flicks I take at the premier and some other ministers. It certainly had the ring of truth to it, but I have no idea if it was a just flippant remark or perhaps just one of those passing piques at the top, or what. Remember the blacklisting of David Cochrane a few months ago? Yet the premier was on with him yesterday, so I also got the impression from my informant that ministers are irritated by my constant remarks that I dont want politicians calling my show with their self-serving rhetoric and b.s., because Id rather use the time hearing from normal mortals. Perhaps they are taking me, correctly, at my word. However there are still two or three who ring in from time to time.
So whats up? Why is government so hypersensitive about contrary views? Why are they afraid to engage in debate, in a forum where questions may be probing and tough?
One can find a clue in this quote from Justice Minister Tom Marshall, who called VOCM Nightline June 16 to defend the tongue-lashing his boss gave Randy Simms that morning on Open Line.
I can tell you this one thing about Danny Williams, Marshall said to Ryan Cleary (who apparently has not been subject to boycott yet). Every day, the thing that drives him, is his desire to protect and advance the hopes and the dreams and the aspirations of the people of this province. And if youre willing to help the people of this province, he is working with you. If you are against this province then he and rightly so is going to be your worst enemy.
Lets not forget, Marshall is defending the Premiers attack on Randy Simms, not Stephen Harper. Simms is a Newfoundlander, and a journalist who made the mistake of asking a tough question. Apparently, so did Bill Rowe and Kevin.
And isnt it frightening that asking tough questions is equated with being against this province? For the record, I love this place. But weve had a tough past, with some pretty inept political leadership. Thats why I ask questions. Its why we all should ask questions. All the time. Of everyone.
Am I alone on this? Or are you, too, repulsed and sickened by what Marshall said?
In defending the premiers behavior, virtually all of his supporters have been saying look at the $10 billion.
For the record, I think Hibernia South is a great deal. I think the premier has done a good job. It looks like prosperity is on the horizon. I would like to give him my unconditional approval.
However, if the cost of that prosperity is free speech, then the premier can take that $10 billion and ram it where the sun dont shine.
I would rather be a free pauper, than a rich servant.
Postscript: Those who think my sun dont shine language is too strong should consider this: the premier routinely accuses people of being stupid, offensive, traitorous, and (insert your favourite Williams attack word here). As our leader, he has set the tone for public debate in this province. I am merely following his lead.