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Weak editorial is offset by strong citizen commentary

Todays editorial in The Telegram is a bit of a disappointment, I must say.

The paper seems to have capitulated to the tyranny of the mob. The premier has spoken. This issue is over. Move along now. Nothing more to see here.

The editorial makes no mention of our right to know, and our right to ask tough questions, when the politician in charge of this provinces health care system sneaks away for his own surgery elsewhere. It fails to mention the mess created by the premier, for the poor way he handled the communications around this situation. It does not remind the premier that his health care decisions do have ramifications, locally, nationally and internationally.

For those who require more fibre in their bowl of morning commentary, I offer the following letter from Mark Evans, a citizen of St. Johns. Evans sent this letter to the CBC Radio Morning Show, in reaction to yesterdays post-surgery panel with Bob Wakeham and Janice Wells.

A good portion of this letter was read on todays Morning Show, enough to get my attention and whet my appetite for more. So I contacted Evans, asking if I could post the full text of the letter here, in my blog. He kindly agreed.

This gutsy bit of commentary helps restore my faith in the ability of my fellow citizens to think critically, and stand up for what they believe in.

Premier is accountable for his actions

In regards to your discussion this morning about Premier Williams, I thought you missed the most important dimension of this issue: Premier Williams is first and foremost a public figure and representative of every man, woman and child in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is the very definition of the title that he has fought and argued to have bestowed upon himself. By definition, he is accountable to every man, woman and child in this province for all of his actions. These actions reflect for better or worse on all of us as citizens. Much as the private actions of Ralph Klein, Gordon Campbell and even Bill Clinton reflected on their constituents, the actions of Premier Williams reflect on us. For this reason, it is not just the right of media to hold him and our other politicians accountable, but the responsibility. Like all citizens, he has the right to seek his health care wherever he wishes. However, unlike all private citizens, he has a responsibility to the public to explain his actions and choices where they reflect on the province or the province's ability to provide adequate health care to everyone. Even to those that haven't earned the nickname Danny Millions. This issue is no longer his right to seek health care, it has gone beyond that. It is now his failure to get ahead of this story. It is now his failure in competent management and public relations. It is now his failure in his responsibility to represent the people and the province. In his childish refusal to answer to his critics (for example refusing an interview with CBC on the grounds he found their criticism insulting) he is refusing the responsibilities of his office and acting wholly unprofessionally. Argument, discussion and compromise are the foundations of democracy, and if Premier Williams supports democracy, he must defend his decisions through reasoned discussion rather than immature acts of ego. If we want the rest of Canada (and the world) to stop making newfie jokes, we must demand our leaders act professionally. This means that if they wish to trumpet their successes, we demand they defend their decisions, actions and mistakes. It means we take them to task when they refuse to do so.

The actions of our leaders, be they municipal, federal, provincial, or industrial not only affect our lives economically, but they also reflect who we are to the world. If our leaders act in a puerile pursuit of their own self interest, thumbing responsibility and calling infantile names at their detractors, we can hardly blame the world for thinking that's who we are. After all, by allowing this behavior, we condone it. - Mark Evans

As a footnote, the comments section to the Telegram editorial referenced above is generating quite a bit of commentary, and a surprising number of them disagree with the editorial. Maybe the tide is turning... perhaps the people who watched this debacle unfold in silence, dumbfounded by the reaction of their fellow citizens, have now found their voices.

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Recent comments

  • Winston
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Far from being time to move on, as some have suggested, this story seems to be generating more momentum with each passing day. In what is probably a first, the Drudge Report, one of the most popular web sites in the world, linked to the Premier's health story this morning and even had his 'my choice' quote on its spash page. So in a single day the story captured the triple-crown of journalism: a positive editorial in the local paper; a negative one in the Globe and Mail; and a link to an American web site, visited by millions of people, which is stridently against President Obama's health care initiative.

    The problem with the Telegram's editorial is not that it defended the Premier's choice. The editorial board can make its own choice, though it's interesting to note that today's tone is markedly different from the 'gasoline on fire' editorial just a couple of weeks ago.

    The problem with today's editorial is that it conflates two separate issues: the Premier's choice, on the one hand; and how he justified that choice, on the other hand. I agree that his choice is his own personal business, and if he said he simply preferred to get treated in the US because that was his own private preference, so be it. That is where the final line of today's editorial applies.

    However, if the Premier justifies his choice by inferring that a particular medical procedure is unavailable in Canada, then it's a matter for public debate. Saying it's a personal choice, period, is one thing; saying it's a personal choice because of the Canadian health-care options offered to him is quite another matter.