Oram's Odd Departure

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Comments make you wonder:
why did he really leave?

He could have bowed out gracefully.

But no, Paul Oram had to take a shot at media, blaming them and CBC in particular for being partly responsible for his resignation as MHA and health minister.

Such nonsense! Fortunately, CBC did not take these accusations to heart, and is not likely to change course in any way, in terms of how it covers this government.

I say that because, in Orams scrum with media, David Cochrane of CBC did not back down. He challenged Oram to be more specific, and pointed out inconsistencies in his story. (Interestingly, NTV made no reference to Oram's attack on CBC in its Early Edition at 5:30, though I did not see their full newscast at 6:00 pm.)

Here is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Oram scrum, which was broadcast yesterday evening by the kind folks at On The Go. (You can also watch video at the link above.) You will note I have inserted some of my own comments into the proceedings...

Oram: This life has a huge impact on your family. And when I talked to my daughters about this actually last night, they were elated because this has been a tough time for them. People need to remember the media needs to remember this that its alright to tear the strip off a member or minister, because we go into this racket realizing that is going to happen, but my little girl is home sitting down listening to the radio or watching television, and responsible reporting is something that has to be looked at. So from my perspective, I do this for health reasons, I do it for family reasons, and its time to move on. And, you know, there are some great days ahead.

Cochrane: Are you saying that the media is part of reason you are leaving here, that we have done something that was unfair to you?

Oram: I am saying that the reason I am leaving here is because of health issues that Ive had, and because my family has taken a really hard hit in terms of the way the media has reported things. I could stick around for another couple of years and continue to expose them to that stuff, but Im not doing that.

Unidentified reporter: What is that (inaudible, but she asks for specifics).

Oram: A lot of things. Watch the news. Do you watch the news at all?

Cochrane: We do watch the news. Im not sure we do know, because Im not sure the sentiment youre expressing is necessarily

Oram: Let me give you an example, David. You know, first when I became a minister, it was my business interests plastering my wifes name all over the television, and my fathers name all over the television. Is that appropriate? Well I guess the media thinks it is. Im fair game, but I dont think my family are. That played a huge role in terms of where theyre coming from, and its been a rough time for them, in terms of issue after issue after issue. Quite frankly, Im not going to expose my family to that anymore, and Im going to move on. Its been a good go, but the time has come to move on.

Cochrane: Minister, that story youre talking about was because of a conflict of interest clause that exists because of connections between politicians and their families.

Oram: David, theyre all conflict of interest, very clear. The Commissioner of Members Interests was very clear. Any time that you or anybody ever asked the question, he was very clear that there was no conflict of interest. None. Zero. Never.

(If I may interject, this is where Danny Williamss poor judgment something Ive mentioned previously comes home to roost. The commissioner to whom Oram refers was a political appointment; Paul Reynolds is a former President of the PC Party. Therefore, any decision he makes is highly suspect. If Danny had appointed someone impartial to that post as would be the norm Oram would be able to honestly say he had been exonerated. -GM)

Oram: In fact, it was so bad that CBC had come out to Glovertown and chased my family around the community. So I take exception to that. Yknow, were all adults and we move on. Im just saying that Im not going to expose my family to that anymore. What Im trying to express in terms of the media is very simple Remember, when you attack me, or a minister, or an MHA, you have a family who sits at home watching this on television. And that takes a huge toll. I have gone home, night after night, with my daughter laying on her bed crying because of something that was said on Open Line or on the media. Thats not appropriate folks. Its just not appropriate. And it might be alright to come after me, or it might be alright to come after some minister, but their families are still there at home.

Cochrane: Doesnt that cut both ways? Do you read what you and your Cabinet colleagues, your caucus colleagues, say about other politicians in Hansard? Some of the nastiest comments Ive seen in my 12 years of politics have happened inside that chamber, where the media is not allowed to go, so if you want to talk about a civil tone in politics and how the media is hurting peoples families, dont politicians have to look at how they treat each other and how they treat their families too?

(Hooray, David Cochrane. You didnt mention how the premier also badmouths private citizens, like Mark Griffin, because they ask tough questions, but you didnt need to I think everybody who heard this exchange was thinking it anyway. -GM)

Oram: Theres a difference David in what happens inside that house and what happens on the airwaves when families can listen to it and watch it.

Cochrane: It is broadcast live on TV.

(You go, David! One moment, Oram is coming on strong, the next he is backtracking and stepping in his own bullshit. This is what happens when a reporter asks a politician a tough question. We need more of this! -GM)

Oram: And the fact of the matter is that everybody knows what happens in the House of Assembly, and its a tradition, its always been, the heckling and the things like that. We also know that, at the end of the day, politicians walk across the hallway and shake hands. Its just the reality of it. (Did the premier shake hands with Mark Griffin? Did he shake hands with Tom Rideout, after castigating him right on the floor of the House, stunning his own caucus into silence? -GM) To even suggest that that is even close to what weve seen in the media in the last little while is absolutely silly.

Cochrane: Is that a double standard?

Oram: No, its not a double standard Dave.

Cochrane: How is it not a double standard?

Oram: Its not a double standard Dave.

Cochrane: I have heard the premier say things about Lorraine Michael that are far worse than anything a reporter has ever said about you. (One could, in fact, compile a long list of individuals and organizations who have been slagged by Premier Williams, the most insolent premier in this provinces history. -GM)

Oram: Well I can tell you right now that from my familys perspective and I can speak for my family what they have seen said is what theyve seen in the media, its not what theyve seen in the House of Assembly. And they watch the House of Assembly as well. But what they see in the media is what really hurts them.

Unidentified reporter: But are you saying that the public shouldnt criticize any government members or the premier?

Oram: No, Im not saying that at all. I think the public has a right this is democracy to criticize anything that we may do in terms of where we should, or decisions we make and such and such, but in terms of publicly trying to, or even if youre not trying to, discredit a person personally is completely wrong. (Okay, that last sentence is so disjointed it doesnt really say anything at all. Oram = fail. -GM)

Thats only half of it. Oram was just getting warmed up here. At 10: 23, mere minutes after his 9:30 news conference, Oram called Randy Simms of Open Line, where he really laced into the CBC, calling it the most irresponsible reporting mechanism in the province. He accused CBC of being one-sided and distorting the story over and over again.

But Orams story doesnt add up. He seemed most concerned with the conflict of interest allegations, which happened back in July. Why now? During a by-election? And if health is such a concern, why not resign his portfolio for the relative calm of the backbench, while still serving his district? As for the media being mean to him, thats just a load of hooey.

Orams only point with a potential shred of merit was the accusation that media chased his family around the community. I checked with a source at CBC, who said they went to Glovertown to get videotape of Orams businesses. There was no intentional chasing of family members.

In Thursdays Telegram, there was an interview with MUN political science prof Matthew Kerby (not online), who theorized that Oram was damaged goods and was dropped from Cabinet for three reasons: conflict of interest allegations against Oram, his refusal to use briefing notes upon becoming health minister, and the handling of cuts to Flowers Cove and Lewisporte.

Kerbys assessment is simplistic and difficult to accept. First and foremost, it is based on the assumption that Oram had some autonomy as health minister; that he was responsible for all these boneheaded decisions. However, it should be obvious to all and sundry that Danny is in charge, and precious little happens without his blessing. Second, in the case of Lewisporte and Flowers Cove, we have a paper trail that begins in February, long before Oram was in charge. This was in the works long before Oram came along.

And the contention about the briefing book? If its such an issue, why is Joan Burke allowed to get away with it?

No, just as with Trevor Taylor, there seems more here than meets the eye.

Taylors resignation created big problems for the Williams Government in general, and Paul Oram in particular. It must have taken them by surprise. Suddenly, the people of the Northern Peninsula had a golden opportunity to hit back, not with impotent protest, but at the ballot box, where it really hurts.

The by-election changed everything. In the days since Taylor resigned, it must have became apparent to the Williams Government that they were in trouble on the Northern Peninsula.

Danny Williams hates to lose. And my theory is that Williams got cold feet. I think he told Oram there was going to be a change in course. Oram, having borne the brunt of criticism on this issue, might have been unhappy about that. He had staked his authority as minister on Lewisporte and Flowers Cove being a done deal, reiterating just last week that the decision was final. To backtrack would have been a major credibility hit.

What we do know is that Oram resigned on Wednesday and, on the same day, Jerome Kennedy was the new health minister. Immediately, the tone changed. Suddenly, a solution could be found in Flowers Cove. The premier himself was even involved in the discussion.

Kennedy denied, with a straight face, that this had anything to do with the by-election. And you might believe that if you are retarded. And by hinging this decision on Orams departure, he becomes the scapegoat.

People have been speculating on whether Oram quit, or was pushed. It may have been either, in my opinion, but I do think it was connected to this about-face on Flowers Cove. If Oram did stand firm, he would deserve some measure of respect for finding some backbone.

We may never know what happened, of course.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall on that eighth floor of Confederation Building

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  • Geoff
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    I have received one comment from an anonymous reader, expressing surprise at my use of the word retarded . Regular readers know I don't normally stoop to such language. However, I use it here to make a point about how the level of public discourse has been reduced and cheapened by this premier's continuous verbal attacks on individuals and organizations. As noted above, Williams is the most insolent premier in our province's history. And if he can do it, why can't the rest of us? No, he hasn't used the word retarded , but he has called into question the intelligence of MHA Wade Verge with his pfft remark. Any citizen of this province can easily come up with three examples of where the premier went over the top in slagging others, and you know what? I think that is an intolerable situation.

    Also, anyone who thinks this government's about-face on Flower's Cove has nothing to do with the by-election is... well, let's just say they have serious mental health issues.