MP blasts Burke’s office for cold shoulder

Barb Sweet
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

‘This level of politic is unheard of,’’ Cleary says

Joan Burke

St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary says he’s had to resort to filing an access to information request for answers to help a constituent because Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke’s office is being unco-operative.

“We’ve been dealing with this case now for weeks. It’s been incredibly frustrating,” the NDP MP told The Telegram.

He said it’s the worst he’s encountered.

“We’re fighting (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper tooth and nail on every front up here,” Cleary said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“But even with the Harper agenda, my office has never experienced this type of frustration. Even Harper isn’t as bad as the (Premier Kathy) Dunderdale administration. … This level of politic is unheard of.”

Cleary has had to step in because he said his office was getting the cold shoulder from Burke’s executive assistant in trying to deal with a plea by Mary O’Dea, a woman on income support who wants to use a stranded persons repatriation transportation policy to go back to Alberta.

Cleary’s office has written permission from O’Dea to deal with her issue.

“Should the minister have to deal with a case like this? No. That’s the whole point. This should be dealt with from a caseworker perspective. They are keeping us away from people who are actually working in the field,” Cleary said.

“The fact we have to go through an executive assistant is another level of politics. It’s not good enough. It doesn’t work for the people we represent. I’m an elected official. I have a job to do.”

Cleary said he also tried speaking to Burke’s official.

“It was cold and almost a bitter attitude when, again, all we are doing is trying to help this person,” he said.

When Cleary took the next step of asking for a meeting with Burke, he was told Burke would only discuss general policy, not the specific case, even though he has that written permission from O’Dea.

And he was told he would have to provide an agenda.

“We’re being blocked from doing our job. I don’t want to go down this path, but it’s a wake-up call to the minister and her department. It should be people first, politics second,” Cleary said.

O’Dea is emotional when talking about her situation. She said she moved to Alberta in 1998, but returned to this province in 2006 for a family funeral and got stuck here. Now she’s being evicted. She said she withheld some rent for road money because if income support won’t help her get back to Alberta, she’ll hitchhike across the country.

“I’m getting out before the snow comes. I want out and I’m going,” the 52-year-old diabetic woman said, explaining she’s suffered a heart condition, depression and various other medical problems since she has been here.

“Nothing but hell and misery. I belong where I came from. I had a life up there.”

“She’s a troubled woman, make no mistake,” Cleary said.

“But from every angle we look at this — we spent a lot of time on this case — she deserves to be helped. She’s being ignored. We can’t even get a reason why the decision on repatriation was turned down.”

O’Dea’s family doctor has written a letter in support of her returning to Alberta, saying it’s in her best interest.

Cleary said the department was told O’Dea is being evicted, but a letter was mailed to her apartment anyway, with no explanation offered to Cleary’s office why she was being turned down.

According to that letter, the department’s internal review has decided O’Dea does not fit the definition of a stranded person because Newfoundland is her home province and she’s been here six years.

O’Dea said she did not have the money to return.

“They’re forcing me to stay here and die,” she said.

Burke said Wednesday there’s been no communication snafu with Cleary’s office and the department has delivered its reasons to O’Dea for turning her down, like any other client.

“If some people don’t like the policy and they just don’t like it, well that’s fine, but there’s no breakdown here,” Burke said.

She said she can’t discuss specifics with Cleary because it would be inappropriate to run political interference in the appeal process, noting the rules and policies need to be consistently applied to be fair to everyone across the province.

After a failed internal appeal, she said a case can be appealed through an independent external appeal process and Cleary’s office can act as O’Dea’s advocates there. If that doesn’t work, there’s the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

But who would appeal to the courts over a plane ticket?

Burke said it’s not always as “simple as a plane ticket.”

She said the income support program can’t be delivered with politics determining who gets what out of the pot.

As for requesting an agenda, she said that’s basic so she can be prepared on what policies are to be discussed.

She said she’s willing to meet with Cleary to talk about policies and the direction he feels the department needs to go in to have better policies.

“We can talk about policies. … But I can’t sit down and talk about individual cases, because it’s inappropriate to expect me to run political interference when there is already an established appeal process that we would hold every other individual  to follow in this province,” Burke said.

But for Cleary it’s about getting someone timely help.

“I can’t stress this enough. This is not politics. This woman needs help. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “This is about immediacy. This is about  a person who needs help right now.”

Organizations: NDP MP, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Alberta, Ottawa, Newfoundland

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • dickie
    November 11, 2012 - 11:39

    Hey Cleary. Sick of hearing from you. All you are interested in is getting elected next time so you can qualify for your Govt Pension

  • Tim Jamison
    November 08, 2012 - 14:30

    Oh, this story is about Ryan Cleary's incessant whining. Moving on...

  • Julian Maytum
    November 08, 2012 - 12:56

    Unfortunately I am not at all surprised. This province has treated my children horrendously. One of them almost died. Twice. Not only is there a complete and utter lack of understanding of mental health issues by this government, there is a callous lack of regard as well. If it weren't for the interventions by Ryan Cleary and his office on my behalf, I have no doubt my children would be in big trouble. I am grateful to have him as my MP as he seems to be the only person in a position of authority out here that understands. He also appears to be the only politician in NL that I have seen that has this thing called empathy. Some of these idiots running this place could use an infusion. Keep speaking your mind Ryan and speak it loud! I'd rather hear your opinion right or wrong other than something contrived which is apparently what some of the other folks commenting would prefer.

    • Tony
      November 09, 2012 - 09:34

      Julian very well said and great point. It appears the government along with many posters don't understand mental illness is a major problem. I think a closed door reaction by Ms. Burke is something that needs to be openned and public should be aware of the quality of work Ms. Burke is doing. Which tax payers are paying for her to do.

  • Lovely Tell Your Mother
    November 08, 2012 - 11:36

    The arse went out of NfLd many years ago and judging by some of these comments, the heart is gone out of her too now. The poor are to be despised; the rich revered. At least that seems to be the mantra of some of our leaders. Best wishes to Ms. O'Dea. I sincerely hope that things work out for her in these unfortunate circumstances.

  • EDfromRED
    November 08, 2012 - 11:05

    This is proof positive that this current government is clueless. It's like they read 1984, Catch-22 and Kafka's The Trial, and thought they were excellent guidebooks to crafting policy & bureaucracy. What a bunch. They don't give a damn about anything but obfuscation... and Muskrat Falls!

  • Tony
    November 08, 2012 - 10:12

    I see this lady has medical issues and has requested assistance from the MP to look into it for her. Mr. Cleary is doing his job as he was asked by this lady. When he contacted Ms. Burke's office for direction and assistance he has experienced rude and cold shoulder results. How is this in any way tax payers paying for this ladie's trip back to AB? Ms. Burke is great at not doing her job, ask anyone she represents in her riding of Bay St. George. I am sure mr. Cleary will receive a response sent to the Telegram by tomorrow from Ms. Burke defending herself, that is about all she knows what to do. As an MHA she does nothing, and once someone complains she writes a letter to either the Western Star or Telegram to defend herself. It amazes me how she maintains her seat in the House of Assembly. Oh that's right, Ms. Dunderdale didn't open the house til the Spring after the last election. Obviously she supports the idea of ignoring her own job. Regardless of Ms. Burke's actions or lack of, I am sure the voters of Bay St. George will re-elect her 3 years from now. For some reason those people do not like change for the better in their area. Mr. Cleary has obviously been ignored to the point he had to write this detailed letter to the Telegram. To out Ms. Burke for her lack of concern and lack of doing her job. I wish mr. Cleary best of luck dealing with Ms. Burke because he will need it. I have never wittnessed anyone in government with an assigned file who sits on her behind and does nothing the way she does. If only we all had her job, I guess nothing would ever get done.

  • crista
    November 08, 2012 - 09:58

    we are after posting comments ,we are after telling any BODY that got a brain to read these comments, what we got to say and not allowed to say what was done to our family for years because the government ,not just the government are afraid what we got to tell society,you if you are human would not come out of shock,and the MONEY that has been spented stopping this from coming out ,you would not defend who you are defending.Now we will talk about as you would SAY wasting taxpayers DOLLARS, IF WHAT YOU SPENTED AND PAID OUT of your hard working dollars you would understand what cleary is saying,but we know why that is,you and your comments are so full of b.s it is insulting,and we do not like to be insulted. and if you have concerns of what we are saying complain to your government as to what we are telling you ,until you know what is going on and what has gone on we suggest what kind of lives you live ,and you have already paid for this for what we are talking about, and do not try to guess.And we will say once again PROOF,AND STILL PAYING FOR IT and it is not the cost of a plane ticket,and we will leave it at this for now???? remember in your own words your hard working taxpaying DOLLARS????

    • Jay
      November 08, 2012 - 10:22

      We have two real beauts playing petty politics to the hilt. Cleary obviously subscribes to the theory that there's no such thing as bad publicity. He'll complain about anything to get his name in the media. Then you have the arrogance of Burke. No public employee in his or her right mind would dare question this queen. After seeing her eviscerate Tom Osbourne, one can only imagine what she'd do the the public employee who didn't kneel meekly at her feet. Politicians like this make me wonder about democracy.

  • saelcove
    November 08, 2012 - 09:55

    Stranded is bit of a stretch, Cleary should by her ticket, the man is to stupid to know when he is been used

  • Alex
    November 08, 2012 - 09:37


  • Scott Free
    November 08, 2012 - 09:24

    Come home Ryan, and bring Peter with you! Keep your mouth closed and leave them guessing, instead of opening it and removing all doubt.

  • t
    November 08, 2012 - 09:13

    Regardless of the final decision, I think the issue is that he shouldn't have to to through the minister's office to deal with the issue. He should be allowed to look into the situation himself, as an elected representative. Personally, I think the woman should be given a plane ticket. Not because she deserves it, but for the common sense reason that a one-time ticket is cheaper than supporting her entirely, indefinitely. Not to be insensitive, but she doesn't sound like a productive member of society, so take the cheaper option, even against policy, and send her on her way.

  • Newfiegirl
    November 08, 2012 - 09:05

    I'd love to go to Alberta, will the Government buy a ticket for me? Get a grip Cleary, don't be such a bully.

  • Maggy Carter
    November 08, 2012 - 08:59

    Like posters Mark and Deano, Minister Burke is missing the point. Whatever the merits of the case, Cleary is merely attempting to do his job a duly elected member of parliament. Burke's refusal to talk with him, and her apparent refusal to allow officials to talk with him, constitutes obstructionism. Burke would do well to read constitutional expert Peter Russell's book on the decline of parliamentary democracy in Canada, and Michael Ignatief's speech at Standford University a couple of weeks ago on the re-emergence of fascism. As Mr. Ignatief pointed out, "The opposition performs an adversarial function critical to democracy itself....But when politicians look upon each other as enemies, legislatures replace relevance with pure partisanship. Party discipline rules supreme, fraternization is frowned upon, negotiation and compromise are rarely practised, and debate within the chamber becomes as venomously personal as it is politically meaningless.” The arrival of the Harper government in Canada is widely associated with a marked decline in respect not only for the role of the opposition, but for parliament itself and indeed even for the rule of law. It is unfortunate that the government of Kathy Dunderdale has apparently decided to embrace and emulate Harper's style of democracy rather than that practiced by Pearson or Diefenbacker. Her motto - like Harper's - appears to be that you are either a friend or an enemy - with us or against us - and if you're against us then all the powers of government will be employed to thwart you, no matter how legitimate your purpose. Beyond this small example involving Clearly and Burke, is the far greater and far more worrisome spectre in which the Dunderdale government has fought a guerilla campaign against anyone who dares question the largest expenditure of public monies in the history of this province - Muskrat Falls. I have watched her minion Darin King, a minister who has already demonstrated his small-mindedness in previous roles, appear before the microphone to announce with that there would be no debate on Muskrat in the people's assembly because the opposition wouldn't agree to all the restrictions he, Kennedy and Dunderdale wanted to impose on that debate. I couldn't help but think that, although Ignatieff's treatise was based on the sorry state of American politics, he could just as easily have been referring to Newfoundland and Labrador.

    • Breton
      November 08, 2012 - 10:04

      I believe Minister Burke agreed to meet with him did she not? We have case workers who work cases. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Minister should start dealing with specific clients because some one kicks up a stink. They went through the proper process did they not? Are you suggesting that the government should just break the rules anytime it's convenient? I'm an NDP supporter but Cleary is off on this. You can't just change policy on a case by case basis to make everyone happy. But of course if the government did start doing that Cleary would be the first one to the media complaining about the political favors being handed out. He's a political opportunist and unfortunately I voted for him. "Her motto - like Harper's - appears to be that you are either a friend or an enemy - with us or against us - and if you're against us then all the powers of government will be employed to thwart you, no matter how legitimate your purpose." Would you provide some examples of the government going by this motto?

  • Breton
    November 08, 2012 - 08:36

    Pure stupidity on Cleary's part. If you ask government to break policy and do you a political favor don't go to the media when they refuse. You look like an idiot.

  • P F Murphy
    November 08, 2012 - 08:34

    I was just to Alberta; it cost me $775 for the return flight. One way should cost around $400 so give her a ticket and tell her we expect she will repay it when she can - most people are pretty good like that. Get her back where she can be productive and get on with her life because having her here as a basket case is not doing us or her any good. Be a problem solver instead of a red tape, let the problem fester type of do-nothing.

  • Rita Howlett
    November 08, 2012 - 08:22

    Just read your article concerning Ms. O'Dea and its clear after Ms. Odea revealed in her interview that she is being evicted from her apartment, she clearly done this to herself. She admitted that she kept her rent money to move back to Alberta. Does Ryan Cleary and his staff feel that if every person wants to move out NL, that the person like Ms ODea, not pay her bills and then Government step in and move them. Seriously, Ryan...did you know that she was hoarding her money? Did you ask questions as to why she was being evicted? This is not acceptable. Speaking about cold and bitter attitude, whenever you speak in the media that is all that I hear from you. You talk down to people. You get more flies with honey, why don't you try that approach next time you call on your clients behalf!

  • Jim
    November 08, 2012 - 08:22

    As the minister herself has always appeared to be rude and unapproachable, why would we expect her staff to be any different? As for paying for a plane ticket to get this lady to Alberta, the government should be happy to pay for her plane ticket to get her out of here and off our taxpayers coin! Let Alberta support her then. It'll cost us a lot less to pay for her plane ticket than what we'll dish out if she stays. Another option, she could get a job and earn some cash to buy a plane ticket!

  • Leah
    November 08, 2012 - 08:21

    What is the "immediacy" all of a sudden? I guess because she's been evicted, and I hesitate to believe her reason why. This lady has been here for SIX years, and is now saying she's stranded. Has she not even worked in all this time to gradually save a tiny bit each month for a one way ticket to Alberta if she wanted to return that badly? Or even living off OUR tax dollars for six years, she could have put aside a little each month. And the nerve of her to to now ask taxpayers to pay her way back to Alberta after living off us for such a long time. If she wants to return to Alberta so badly that she is considering hitch-hiking, she should have done that in June or July when the weather was suitable. But this time of year, she's expecting pity because she may run into cold or snowy weather. For heavens sake, Mr. Cleary, you've just proven how gullible you are, or you're only making a big issue out of this situation to make Burke look like the insensitive one. However, you just allowed this lady to make a a fool out of you.

  • Harry Coates
    November 08, 2012 - 08:03

    Congratulations to Minister Burke; thumbs down to MP Cleary for using such a situation to get his name in the paper during the "off season." We must never forget that the primary role of all politicians is to get reelected, and to that end, every line of public print is a plus. Fortunately for us however, some must subvert their primary aim and govern. If they do that well, they get reelected.

  • MBC
    November 08, 2012 - 08:00

    This lady should get a job and save money to buy a ticket. Why shoiuld my taxes pay for her ticket?

  • Ben
    November 08, 2012 - 07:56

    Is Cleary really serious? Blaming Burke for this situation! As people we have to take some responsibility ourselves...can't always expect someone else to take care of it. Plus I am not sure Cleary is even looking in the right place...actually says alot about the MP. In this situation i think Burke is handling it the correct way...don't be bullied by an MP looking for a few brownie points.

  • CHris
    November 08, 2012 - 07:48

    Time for Cleary to go, his constant shouting and screaming is like the boy who cried wolf, No one pays attention to him any more. He wants to win his second election so he can get his pension, that he works so hard for!!

  • Geta Grip
    November 08, 2012 - 07:48

    Really? Stranded for six years?Get a grip Cleary. If it's exposure and free press you're looking for, at least find a legitimate battle to fight, like that poor family from Stephenville with the daughter being forced to take up residence at the Janeway because the government won't provide additional home support.

  • Mark Noel
    November 08, 2012 - 07:04

    "But for Cleary it’s about getting someone timely help." More accurately "for Cleary, it's about securing his paltry pension... by getting someone timely help."

  • Deano
    November 08, 2012 - 07:00

    Why should we the taxpayers pay for this lady to return from Alberta. She had been here 6 years and expects us to pay for her return. Is Cleary dumb enough to spend his time fighting for this woman. Maybe he can use St John's airport and save his gas money driving to Gander, and buy this lady a ticket himself. Good on the government for doing what is right with our tax dollars