Protocol slowing down attempts to help constituents: Osborne

Barb Sweet
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Daphne Walsh is shifting between aerial maps and surveys that trace her grandmother’s home on Blackhead Crescent in St. John’s.
Lucy Evans died 40 years ago and it’s tricky for a newcomer to keep track of the branches of the family lineage as Walsh explains the land dilemma to The Telegram in her Shea Heights home.

Daphne Walsh looks over aerial photos to trace the history of family land on Blackhead Crescent in St. John’s.
— Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Trickier, according to St. John’s South Liberal MHA Tom Osborne, is the job of an elected representative who can no longer directly contact civil servants to sort out constituency matters for someone like Walsh.

It started a couple of years ago when the government decided MHAs would have to deal with ministers’ executive assistants on such matters, rather than contact civil servants directly as they had done in the past, he said later Monday.

Osborne said the rule was first imposed on the Progressive Conservative backbenches — of which he was then a member — but was subsequently applied to the opposition parties.

While the government attributed the policy two years ago to protecting people’s privacy, it was more about managing the message from the departments, Osborne said.

And he said the step of going through the executive assistant bogs down the job of an MHA in addressing constituent concerns.

“MHAs of whatever political stripe shouldn’t have to go through a political staffer,” Osborne said, explaining the political staffer’s first job is to help their minister and have the ultimate goal of seeing their party re-elected.

Osborne said executive assistants have enough duties in that role and not enough time to deal with MHA concerns, although he said some are better than others at responding.

“They have enough on their plate to deal with. Some of them are really, really busy,” he said.

“This slow-down racket … that’s horrible,” Walsh said of the length of time it’s taken to see her issue through.

Osborne has been dealing with Walsh’s problem for several weeks, he said, and finally did get a meeting with the executive assistant and Crown Lands official. 

But he said he was expecting an answer a week ago whether Walsh can get access to enough land for her brother, who has a disability, to build a home on the Blackhead Crescent site — whether Crown Lands can assist in sorting out entitlement to a building lot in the absence of a deed.

“Right now we’re in limbo,” Osborne said. “Daphne started asking me about this two months ago.”

Under the old protocol, Osborne said, he could call someone in Crown Lands and get a speedier answer.

He said he’s left several messages, and if it’s because the issue is complicated, the executive assistant should at least tell him that.

“I don’t know if they have dropped the ball or if they’re working on solving it or not,” Osborne said.

In the meantime, he said there’s no hope of the family building on it this year, because of the matter being bogged down.

The old homestead is gone, but aerial photos from the early 1970s indicate its presence.

Walsh’s father, Stanley Evans, was the last born son of Lucy and Allan Evans, she said, who owned the old house on Blackhead Crescent, and was the heir to the property.

She said her grandparents actually had several acres in the area, but the papers, tucked away many years ago by her father in a green trunk, can’t be located. But Walsh said the aerial photos prove they are at least entitled to a building lot. A survey completed by a neighbouring relative in subsequent years has complicated the question of whether there is enough to build on.

“We’re after where me grandmother’s house was,” Walsh said.

“We only wants one building lot. I already told them, ‘Listen, I know she had seven or eight acres out there. I seen the deeds (years ago). ...(My dad) was told at the time, ‘Stan, go in and put your corner post in on your land or they will take it all.’ Dad said, ‘I’m not going to bother, where the house is to is good enough.’ Back in the day, see … my dad only had Grade 2.

“Back in the day, God love them, they did the best they could do.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Conservation said Monday officials including the executive assistant responsible for the file met with Osborne and informed him they will work on it.

In an emailed statement, the spokeswoman said the issue is  complex and requires a lot of technical work and research, but when all of the information is gathered, Osborne will be contacted.

Organizations: Crown Lands, Department of Environment and Conservation

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Recent comments

  • Terry
    September 26, 2013 - 11:38

    There are still enough of these situations (where there have been more recent 'taking in of land under, for example, the guise of a Quieting of Title) that there should be some sort of arbitration process. Some 60 years ago, when I first came to Nfld. (in the mid 1950s) land was bought and sold, or transferred among family members, who often could only read/write their own name, if that! Now that land is valuable some of those old customs-practices are not being recognized; and that is unfair.