March of the sugarplum ministers

Gerry
Gerry Phelan
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Years ago, some of us in the media used to joke that when the premier is away, the cabinet ministers will play. Last week was like days of old.

While Premier Kathy Dunderdale made her way to a meeting with her counterparts in Ontario, her ministers were up to plenty of good in every nook and cranny of the province. If you stood on the right road, you might have been paved.

It was Christmas in July. You can count them if you want. The announcements are all available on the government website or, for those who follow Twitter, via Paul Lane’s tweets. Here are some of what the summer Santa delivered, through the official news release headlines:

— “Bay de Verde School to Undergo Roofing Upgrades”

— “Value of Care Providers Recognized Through $3.5 million Provincial Government Investment”

— “$2.3 Million Boosts Access to Health Care in Gander Region”

— “Almost $1 Million in New Equipment and Renovations Support Health Care in Twillingate”

— “Nearly $380,000 to Support Health Care Services on Baie Verte Peninsula”

— “Glenwood Infrastructure to be Enhanced Through $713,000 Investment”

— “Province’s Heritage Tourism Attractions Supported Through Provincial Government Funding”

— “Health Centre in Botwood Enhanced with Health Care Investments”

— “Residents of Lamaline Welcome New Playground and Recreational Area”

— “Buchans Health Centre to Receive New Equipment and Facility Upgrades”

— “Recreation Opportunities Enhanced Through $144,000 Investment in Buchans Pool”

— “Twillingate School to Get Roofing Replaced”

— “Eleven Projects to Prevent Violence in Aboriginal Communities Supported by the Provincial Government”

— “Health Care Investments Totalling More than $6 Million Announced in Grand Falls-Windsor”

— “Wabush Child Care Centre Receives Funding Support”

— “Investment of $147,000 Supports Second Phase of Glovertown Marina Project.”  

And I haven’t even touched this week’s announcement sack.

Now, I know even mentioning these things all in one place may mean a bonus for some communications specialist at Confederation Building, but it’s an amazing spectacle — one which, yes, happens every summer. But it appears a little more pronounced this year.

Last week, media agencies were bombarded with these media advisories and photo-ops. The irony is we cover them, even though the chat before and after such events is that we know this is money that has often already been announced, sometimes more than once.

I am not saying these projects are not necessary. The money is welcome, especially amid the preaching that the cupboard is bare and times are tough. But it does give one pause for thought.

It costs a lot to stage the money tour. Someone has to draft, re-draft and approve the final wording of each of those releases. Staff have to organize the various events, complete with coffee and muffins, and make sure all those involved are available on a given day to attend the news conference.

Hospital administrators are busy people. Stealing them from their normal duties to parade before the cameras is no easy task. Little can be left to chance, so even if the media fail to show (and that rarely happens), there are people in the room to hear the speeches and say thanks for the generosity of giving us back our own money, or buying equipment for a school or hospital that is absolutely necessary in any case.

Then there is the followup of media monitoring, to see who carried the story and how much public relations bang there was for the buck(s).

I joked with a colleague last week that the government funding announcements were coming at such a pace, you’d swear there was an election in the wings.

Given our fixed election dates, that won’t happen until October 2015.

There is an exception to that. Under the House of Assembly Act, if the premier resigns her position as leader and as premier of the province before the end of the third year following the most recent general election, the new leader has 12 months to ask for a general election. In other words, if Premier Dunderdale steps down this year, we could be going to the polls as early as next year.

That’s not likely. Is it?

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net.

Organizations: Bay de Verde School, Twillingate School, Confederation Building

Geographic location: Ontario, Buchans, Gander Region Twillingate Baie Verte Botwood Lamaline

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