Missing in action

Gerry Phelan
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I hope Peter Penashue gets to read this, but I fear he won’t. He has people who do that, staff who spend hours combing through headlines from radio shows, news programs and newspaper articles that mention their minister’s name.

They brief him on what he needs to know, but may leave out anything he might not want to hear. They should tell him that some people are saying Peter Penashue is the most ineffective minister who has ever represented this province in Ottawa. I’ve heard stronger words, including incompetent, but I won’t go that far.

The man I interviewed over the years impressed me as dedicated, caring and intelligent, but the question deserves to be asked: what has he done for us lately? The Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s is about to close. A year-long battle has gotten us nowhere, thanks in part to Penashue’s position. He told CBC late last month, “That decision is final. That’s been made, so we’re moving forward.”

He took great pride in announcing a third helicopter for Goose Bay that might be used for search and rescue. Of course, they used to have three choppers there, so it is nothing extra, especially when one is apparently down for long-term maintenance.

The “additional” chopper also does little to resolve the dozens of questions still unanswered about the Burton Winters tragedy. One would think Penashue would be more demanding for Labrador, especially given that a full search and rescue mandate would be a reason to keep CFB Goose Bay operational.

The minister who represents us at the federal cabinet table is apparently standing by while we lose jobs to the mainland.

Let’s see. The position of district director for Canada Border Services is cut. Guess we’ll answer to upalong in that role. St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe told The Telegram last week that Penashue has indicated the decision has been made and he will not interfere with it. Hmmm … this is starting to sound familiar.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab in St. John’s is closing. About a dozen people are being offered transfers to other provinces. We likely won’t see any interference there, either.

It’s not the first time there have been changes and cutbacks in federal departments and Crown corporations. The weather office in St. John’s was shut down and never did come back. It took years to get services restored to Gander after reductions there.

Heck, we even had to fight to get Marine Atlantic brass in Newfoundland, where most of the service is used.

Our minister needs to develop a reputation for being someone who  will not stand for cuts to jobs and services in this province. He must remind the prime minister and federal bureaucrats at every opportunity that they have to prove a Harper government is good for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Our last line of defence when these things happen is Peter Penashue’s office. His staff and Penashue himself have to set the boundaries. I don’t think they’ve done that.

One of the things I miss from my day-to-day reporting life was the personal interaction with politicians and their officials. Reporters often have an opportunity to have private and influential conversations with people who matter. I have records of personal calls from staff in very privileged places asking what I thought would be the reaction to a certain event or decision. I guess someone felt I had the pulse of the public on certain issues.

I understand he has to choose his battles carefully, but if I had Peter Penashue’s ear today, I’d remind him he is a lot like a goaltender in a hockey game. On a TV broadcast the other day, an analyst said the worst disease in hockey is a bad goalie. Penashue has been minding the net for less than a year. It seems he’s missed a lot of pucks.

We expect better.


Gerry Phelan is a journalist and

former broadcaster. He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Organizations: Marine Rescue Sub-Centre, CBC, Canada Border Services The Telegram Canadian Food Inspection Agency Marine Atlantic

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Goose Bay, Ottawa Gander

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Recent comments

  • Scott Free
    April 23, 2012 - 07:52

    Well written article Mr. Phelan with excellent points. Mr. Peneshue is by far the weakest representative we've ever sent to Ottawa but among those missing include Tory senators Manning and Doyle. Where are you? Have you forgotten the phone numbers to the open lines show now that the election is over and you're comfortably nestled into your cushy appointments?