I heard an astounding call this morning on VOCM Open Line, in which Kevin O’Brien, the newly-minted Minister of Municipal Affairs, lobbed a nasty at Craig Westcott, the newly-minted Director of Communications with the provincial Liberals.
“This is a guy (Westcott) who sent an email to the premier, asking if he was bi-polar and suffering from the latter stages of syphilis, because of the way he was acting,” O’Brien said. “This is the kind of action that he takes. He also asked in that email if (Williams) is being treated for a mental illness.”
Host Randy Simms asked O’Brien for a copy of the email - and so did David Cochrane of CBC. Government promptly released the email, which Westcott sent on February 27, 2009 to Elizabeth Matthews, the premier’s Director of Communications. Here is the actual content of the email, as read at 12:05 pm by Cochrane on CBC Radio Noon:
“Elizabeth: Please excuse the nature of this question. I regret to have to ask it, but it may be germane given the premier’s behaviour. It has been suggested to me that Mr. Williams is bipolar. Another person has suggested to me that he acts as if he is suffering in the later stages of Syphilis. Given that a growing number of intelligent and observant people are growing concerned about his actions, the question arises: Is the premier being treated, or has the premier ever been treated, for a mental illness, or any illness that might influence his behaviour in the handling of this office? I realize that, normally, this would be a private matter. However, he is the premier of the province and if his behaviour is the result of an illness, the subject is relevant to the public welfare.”
“I see a hatred in regard to the premier,” O’Brien said, on Open Line. “I don’t know why it’s there, but it’s there. It’s sad really to see the Opposition take that path because what I see is a fellow that can’t even contain himself with regard to expressing that hatred.”
O’Brien then goes on to point out that mental illness is highly stigmatized in society, and is not something that should be talked about in such a mocking way.
As soon as O’Brien hung up, I called Westcott for reaction.
“I didn’t suggest it (that Williams had syphilis),” Westcott said. “There was some (media event) where Williams was losing his composure again, and as I was leaving someone said to me, ‘Jeez, that guy, is he bipolar or what? He’s getting on like a feller in the later stages of syphilis.’ It was just a private conversation and we were having a laugh, so just for a lark, when I got back to the office, I emailed Elizabeth and said, ‘Someone just asked me if the premier is bipolar or in the latter stages of syphilis. Can you confirm that the premier has never been treated for mental illness,’ or something like that, just for fun, to get her going because you know how serious she is… It was just for badness, a bit of fun.”
Westcott said he didn’t think Matthews would take his email seriously, and can’t recall if she replied or not. (She didn’t.)
With the controversy that’s erupting now, Westcott allows that the email “is probably not the smartest thing I’ve done.”
Westcott said he is not surprised about the release of the email. After all, he did the exact same thing a few years back, when he released an email exchange between himself and Matthews that was reproduced in this blog. That exchange reveals a lot about the origin of the tainted relationship, between Westcott and Williams, and you can read it here (sorry, but there’s no date stamp on the entry):
“I’m sure they’re going through everything (all correspondence with that office) now,” he said. “I’ve become public enemy number one for Williams, so there you go. I guess we’re affecting them – they’re worried.”
Westcott may have a point there, as O’Brien did suggest on Open Line that the Liberals reconsider their hiring decision. “If I was in Kelvin Parsons’s position, I would take some action, in regards to that (hiring) process,” O’Brien said.
The premier’s office will attempt to make his hiring an issue as often as they can, Westcott said.
“It deflects from their own problems,” he said. “They always need an enemy. Danny Williams always has to be demonizing somebody, whether it’s Stephen Harper, Quebec, or Mark Griffin in Grand Falls, who asked questions about the Abitibi expropriation, or Sam Synard in Marystown… He always has to be at war with somebody, and I guess today it was my turn.”
Westcott said staff in the premier’s office are a “serious, humourless bunch,” and that he likes to take shots to try to get a rise out of them.
“There was another time, when the Coors Lite commercial first came out, the one where the mountain turns blue when the beer is cold,” Westcott said. “What I did was, I referred in my (Business Post) column, to the crowd in the premier’s office as being like the guys in the Coors Lite commercial, who were so stunned, they were expecting the mountains outside the window to turn blue, rather than the can. So, I got this nasty email from Elizabeth saying, ‘Who are you referring to? What do you mean by that?’ or something like this. I just emailed back and said ‘it was a joke, Elizabeth,’ and left it at that. I think what’s happened in the premier’s office is, everyone has had their humour glands removed. To quote John Steinbeck, one of my favourite writers, ‘They are as humourless as chickens’.”
I asked Westcott if he had any comment on the George Murphy situation.
“Only this: I can understand where George is coming from. He’s been a long-time member of the party, and he ran for the party, so he’s paid his dues and earned his stripes as a Liberal, so I can understand him being upset about it. I just think it’s regrettable that he expressed his disappointment in the way that he did. But I wish him no ill and every success with whatever party he goes with.”