UPDATED on February 19, with content from Helen Fogwill Porter.
Just when you thought it was safe to read this blog again, yet another entry in the Heart of the Issue series.
But take heart I didnt write this one.
Since beginning this series on February 5, I have received a fairly steady flow of messages from readers, offering their perspectives on this story. For various reasons usually involving place of employment most could not voice their opinions on the record in the comments section. So they wrote me directly.
And today, I am posting all of these messages, to air some views that, sadly, were not commonly heard in the frenzy that erupted February 3.
On reviewing these various messages, I made two startling observations.
First, the vast majority of notes received agree more or less with the points being made in my blog entries. This is in stark contrast with calls received at VOCM and CBC, which expressed unconditional loyalty to the premier, and attacked media for covering this story. Which raises an obvious question: why did they not bother to comment on my blog? Is it because I wont allow anonymous comments? Or perhaps they werent willing to debate the issues in a forum where they would be challenged and their opinions particularly the assault on free speech be exposed as tripe?
Second, if you compare the writing in these entries with typical fare in the online comments section, you will see the level of debate and quality of writing is much higher here. These people actually seem smarter - and more tolerant - than the typical anonymous commenter online. Whats that about?
There are some thoughtful, insightful comments here. Please feel free to add your own, in the comments section. - GM
Geoff, I believe if you have the cash you should be allowed to go wherever you want, to whomever you choose, for the healthcare that's best for you - for whatever reason. However, as Premier and as a man who has actively promoted himself as the image and symbol of government and the Province, DW should be forthcoming about his level of confidence in the healthcare system in the province he leads and his rationale for going outside it. He should man up and state his views on private vs public vs two-tier. If his treatment is leading edge or not available in NL for some other reason, that's one thing. If he wants to get it done quickly, at his own expense, without jumping the queue at home, that's one thing (and a thing I respect). If it is I want the best care or newest technique I can afford, which is not available to the people I represent and whose healthcare system I ultimately manage, then that is another, and he should admit that and be prepared to defend that. Anything else is hypocritical: he is projecting a false image of his character and values, which he has pushed to the forefront of his political career and has made his trademark in political success. In short he has made his wealth and how he chooses to spend it a political virtue. Americans would, on balance, respect and reward a rich man for paying for the best in life - private education, legal advice, healthcare, possessions - regardless of how far away from possible it might be for most US citizens. Canadians less so. I don't know about Newfoundlanders - I'd like to see it put to the test. People admire DW for being wealthy and unselfish enough to not take a salary, which he touts frequently. Would they feel the same about him being wealthy and selfish enough to spend some of his vast wealth to obtain medical care his fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have no access to? Again, he cannot, if dealing fairly and honestly with the electorate, take refuge in personal privacy: he has made his wealth a very public political asset (wealthy enough not to need the job so he does it out of the goodness of his heart, despite ungrateful Danny haters; wealthy enough not to be bribable/influenceable, so we know hes never going to misspend public money on his own selfish needs; wealthy enough not to take a salary a claim that offends me for so many reasons. Ive seen the argument about DWs heart surgery being a legit topic for public enquiry because he is the ultimate decision-maker regarding a healthcare system that many NLers say is in crisis, but I havent seen any discussion about the deliberate release of some information (about his finances and his family) and deliberate concealment of other information (about his finances and his family) in order to create/control a political image. I think the latter is as legit a topic as the former, as it speaks to the Premiers public image, popularity and tools for vote-getting. Id like to see that come into the media discourse at some point, especially since rumour has it that it is not the general treatment (bypass or valve surgery) that is not available in NL/Canada, but the particular technique (a leading-edge less invasive technique). But I cant come out publicly. I leave it to you to pursue this avenue in the public discourse, if you see fit.
I was tempted to comment on your story, but (reason for anonymity given). So I'm sending these comments to you in confidence, and not for publication.
The reason the media (and the public) have every right to ask what he's having done is because his government, of its own volition, held a press conference in order to publicly announce that what he was having done could not be done in Newfoundland.
That well may be the case. But having opened that Pandora's box, themselves, the Premier and his government, cannot claim the issue is then a private matter. They offered up a public statement of fact, and the media have every right, even an obligation to test the veracity of that factual statement. To do anything less would be an abdication of their role.
Nobody forced Kathy Dunderdale to tell the public that Danny Williams' surgery couldn't be done in Newfoundland. But once that argument was offered, the public have every right to examination of its premise.
While this is a medical issue, it really is no different from the way Williams and his allies have treated other major public issues - here's our argument, now go blindly accept the premise upon which it is based, and if you question that premise you are (choose one: a traitor, an enemy, mean to the premier, a Liberal, a hater of Newfoundland, insensitive to his state of mind, health, etc.)
It's bulls**t. And they brought this on themselves.
If it had been Ralph Klein going to the US for treatment, the media (including those in NL) would have went ballistic. Treating Williams any different is tantamount to journalistic flag waving.
I wasn't around in Joey Smallwood's time, but for the first time, I'm beginning to understand the cult of personality that surrounded him. It's being repeated under Danny Williams. I have to say, it frightens me a bit. The media has been very respectful of the premier's privacy. Every reporter in every newsroom knows that, Kathy Dunderdale knows that, the premier knows that. For the likes of Tom Hedderson to suggest otherwise, to stoke the fires like he did on VOCM is pathetic and small. A better communications strategy at the outset would have largely avoided all this. Great blog Geoff. I think you've covered this in a fair and comprehensive way....
- Anonymous journalist
The problem is that it is a sancrosanctcy of convenience (if that's not a word, I'm inventing it).
His charitable giving is public as long as its helpful, but it's private if you ask where it goes.
His salary going to charity is public, until you ask how it's received and spent.
His brilliant legal opinions on expropriating assets and fighting Quebec are public, until you ask him to back them up.
His wealth is public, as it establishes his public credibility, but don't ask any questions of where it came from.
And now his need of US healthcare is public, by way of Dunderdale's press conference, until, naturally, you dare to ask a question.
It's bad enough that the premier's Office and government have kept the lid on the facts in a way that ensured lots of misinformed speculation filled the vacuum. It's worse to see their clumsy orchestrated partisans flooding the airwaves and media comments sections, lambasting the media for doing their jobs and discouraging people from expressing a point of view other than the officially sponsored one. That really rubs me the wrong way.
Good morning, Geoff, I've been enjoying your Heart of the Issue series. I came across an interesting reference in Ray Guy's The Smallwood Years this morning: March 28, 1968 - He has the same gift, on a smaller scale, that Adolf Hitler had ...Witness the fascinating emotional binge at St. John's Airport last fall when Mr. Smallwood came home after his operation. He was enveloped by a sea of Liberal women. Some laughed, some shouted, some waved handkerchiefs or tried to touch him. A few burst into hysterical tears. Smallwood came well before my time, and so I don't pretend to know anymore than this - did he stay in Canada for surgery? What kind of surgery did he undergo? More relevant to today's circus is how, and what, he told his constituents prior to departing and upon his return. (Because we already know his supporters would be flooding the Open Line with well wishes and prayers). All the same, I wonder if there are any comparisons to be made to Danny Williams' stint South of the boarder.
- Anonymous Journalist
And here are the only two critical emails that were received:
David Cochrane your buddy should get a job with the National Enquirer the way he got on at the first press scrum. And Ramona Deering got a tongue lashing from listeners = well deserved on the radio for their nosiness. You media types are public figures too and you would HATE if we pried into your health files!
- Anonymous (with a fake email address)
If the media continues with its current disregard of responsibility for its actions, it will destroy democracy. The Media itself has set its self up as a God that cannot be touched. It can do anything ,say anything and it is free speech. The Public does not have a right to know everything and the public did not need Tom Hederson to tell us what is right and wrong. You are not right in this instance and this cop out saying the Government did not give the correct announcement at the beginning is pitiful. The media is trying to ditch the blame it has for this issue. The Media can stir up hysteria quite easily. Look at the H1N1 issue. It costs the Government millions which all went to a Quebec company. This money could have been used for more urgent medical issues which could have saved a lot more people. If the media needs to look at itself and see what's a true benefit to the people and what is just intrusions into private lifes. - Doris
UPDATE: Finally, here is an original poem by author Helen Fogwill Porter, which was inadvertently omitted from the original post. This one can be hummed, obviously enough, to the tune of Danny Boy.
Revised version by Helen Fogwill Porter
O Danny boy, the Yanks, the Yanks are calling
From Florida, and other states beside
Theyre all lined up to fix your ailing ticker
Tis you, tis you, must go and we must bide
To wait our turn at the Health Science Centre
And hope our hearts wont break along the way
For we have nothing but our MCP cards
We cant take off, weve mortgages to pay
And if we die, well really, thats the breaks by
That you can go, the rest of us must stay
So lets shut up, and stop all this complaining
Accept our fate, its always been this way
When you come back, with all the big flags flying
Your fans will cheer as your bright face they see
Then well recall the words of Scott Fitzgerald
The rich, the rich, are not like you and me.