He threw us a curve ball in 2008, when Craig Westcott announced he was running for the Conservative Party.
Now, he’s thrown us another. He is going to work for the provincial Liberal Party.
Westcott, the Publisher and Editor of the Business Post and the Irish Loop Post, called last night to drop this bombshell. (I had just had an email from a reporter not two hours prior, asking if I’d heard this rumour.) At the time, I was up to my neck in other work, but he agreed to send me written responses, if I fired a few questions at him.
And I am not the first to break this information – I understand it aired last night on CBC Here & Now, and you can read about it on the What Odds blog at cbc.ca/nl. (I would link to it, but that function isn’t working here yet.)
“Yes, the rumour is true. It was a very difficult decision,” Westcott wrote. “If it’s possible for anyone to have newsprint in his veins, I think that I do. I’ve loved newspapers since my mother taught me to read The Telegram when I was four.”
My first question to Westcott was, how do you reconcile joining the Liberals, with running for the Conservatives in 2008?
“When I ran two years ago, it was a direct reaction to the ABC campaign. I said at the time that Danny Williams was trying to isolate Newfoundland and Labrador from the rest of the country. And that’s exactly what has happened.
“The issue was being missed in the media and so in a futile bid to bring attention to it, I ran in the election, hoping it would get some people thinking. I thought it was reprehensible for Danny Williams to tell people not to participate in the federal government. Why would you give up the right to govern yourself? I don‘t think that‘s what my grandfather fought for in Europe during the Second World War.”
Westcott’s theory is that Danny Williams wants the place “all to himself.”
“He’s done his best to eliminate any hint of a federal presence in the province and he’d also like to eliminate the Official Opposition. He wants to ice a full team and shoot at an empty net and not have to answer to anybody. And that’s one of the main reasons I’m taking this job. It’s a chance to even things up a bit. Even kids playing street hockey have enough sense when they’re picking teams to try to make both sides even. I guess that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to help the Liberals get back in the game for the next election and give the people of Newfoundland and Labrador a strong choice next year.”
Westcott is also excited about working with a new team of people within the Liberal Party.
“In addition to me, Yvonne has just hired three new researchers to join the several she already had on staff. One of them, Andrew Mallam, is a lawyer with a Masters degree in law. His dissertation focused on NAFTA and the Chapter 11 bankruptcy provisions affecting AbitibiBowater.
“Peter Miles has a Bachelor of Arts from MUN and a diploma in environmental assessment. He’s done work on the Lower Churchill project, the Long Harbour nickel plant, and a refining project here in the province.
“And then there’s Natasha Farrell, who will be joining us in a couple of weeks. Natasha has a master’s degree in journalism and a BA in political science. She’s done research for the Canadian Medical Association, is bilingual and is presently handling communications for the Council of Atlantic Premiers.”
Still, if you guessed that Westcott’s decision to run in 2008, and, now, to join the Liberals, has less to do with party ideology and more to do with enmity against the Williams Government, you’d probably be right.
“Since I started these papers I’ve been lucky to have had maybe 20 minutes a month to think about Danny Williams and write a column about his style of government," Westcott said. "And from what I understand, that was enough to have him down on the floor of his office, chewing the carpet. Well, as of Monday coming, my job will be to watch Danny Williams and his government full time, seven days a week. And I’ll have a six-person research team helping me. So maybe the Premier should order some new carpet, something maybe in a ju jube or Reese’s Pieces flavour. With the team we now have in place, we’re going to be very effective when the House opens.”
Westcott said he is excited about the opportunity to develop and communicate Liberal Party policy, with an election bearing down in 2011.
“I think you’re going to see a platform that strongly contrasts with the spendthrift style of Danny Williams. He’s been acting like money grows on trees. I realize we have our work cut out for us. But I’ve always rooted for the underdog. And who knows? Come next fall we might elect not only the first female premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, but also the first premier from Labrador. That’s a more appealing prospect to me than re-electing a bully who has been trying to shut down democracy in Newfoundland and Labrador, someone who accuses ordinary Newfoundlanders of being traitors or saying they don’t count. We all count and we all have a right to speak our minds.”
So what will become of the newspapers that have been keeping Westcott busy for so long?
“You can imagine the biggest concern for me before taking this job as Communications Director with the Liberals was the future of my two newspapers. I started The Business Post nearly five years ago and the Irish Loop Post nearly three years ago and I’ve given them everything I’ve got. In fact, since I returned from vacation in July I’ve only taken one day off work, including weekends, and that was to clean up from a flood in my basement at home, caused by the hurricane.
“So this will be a chance to spend a little more time at least with my family. It’s funny, because the past few months the papers have returned, financially speaking, to where they were before the recession started, which was around the same time as the 2008 federal election. So now’s the right time to hand them over to people who can take them to another level.”
The new Editor is Kerri Breen, someone I’ve interviewed before on this blog.
“Kerri was editor of The Muse and has worked at The Telegram. I think she will bring energy and a fresh perspective to both papers,” Westcott said.
Lynn Emberley, from the Southern Shore, will look after advertising for both papers. “Lynn is a retired teacher with years of experience in fundraising and organization of community events.”
As well, Shannon Duff has agreed to act as Publisher in Westcott’s absence. “Shannon has a lot of experience in community newspapers, having worked with another very good friend and a man I respect tremendously, Frank Petten at The Shoreline News.”
The only person I know personally on that list is Kerri Breen, and I have a lot of respect for her. There can be no question that Craig has left the paper in very capable hands.
However, there is one question I neglected to ask, and it needs to be aired. Will Breen have editorial independence? Or will the publication be turned into a mouthpiece for the Liberal Party? I sent off this question late Wednesday evening, to both Breen and Westcott.
I will update you when I receive a reply from both.
In the meantime, the next general election just got a lot more interesting.