Crossing the Bar

Ed Smith
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Prepare to cross the Cabot Strait next year by two or three longliners.
After listening to the interview "Here and Now's" Debbie Cooper did with the federal transportation minister on March 5, the honourable John Baird, I am convinced that my dog has a firmer grasp of the Marine Atlantic situation than he does.
One expects certain results from an interview with a federal cabinet minister. The man, after all, is supposed to be a cut above your normal run-of-the-mill politician. He has shown that he's capable of handling important, nationwide portfolios that affect millions of people in their daily lives. He's made an impression on his prime minister, who has placed tremendous trust in him.
The first thing we expect is a tidbit or two of information. We want to know slightly more about the situation after the interview than we did before the interview. Even the stunnedest, the most ignorant (used in its finer sense of the word) will attempt to, or pretend to attempt to, give you one or two facts to make them appear slightly more with it than they actually are.
Our second expectation has to do with sincerity. Every wrinkle in his face should plead, "Please believe me, people, I mean what I say from the bottom of my heart!" Sincerity should dribble from his words like saliva from a bulldog's mouth.
Thirdly, in spite of everything that's been happening in the political world, we expect honesty. I don't know why we expect it, but we do. The voter is the eternal optimist. We send them off to manage the affairs of the nation with truth and discretion and profess great amazement when they do not.
So, we come with great anticipation to the interview with Minister Baird on what will be happening with Marine Atlantic vessels next year. Perhaps you saw it. Perhaps you should stop reading now. I'd rather not be writing about it.
Debbie's questions were not exactly brainteasers. I could have answered each with one of three options: (1) "Yes." (2) "No." (3) "I don't know." Simple as that.
But then, I'm not a federal minister.
Question: Did he tell Gerry Byrne (my Liberal MP) that two new ships were to be purchased for next year?
That's not a difficult question, assuming the minister understood the question, has not suffered a regrettable loss of memory in the intervening time (some days) or is not well into the last stages of Alzheimer's.
Mr. Baird: Well, now, the Liberals had seven years to do something for the Newfoundland people and did nothing. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper came through or stepped up to the plate (or something along those lines).
Picking a pertinent fact from that answer would be like picking peaches on the Funk Islands in February of any year.
Question: Did you tell Mr. Byrne that two sister ships of the Atlantic Vision would be refitted for that run?
Again, tough question. Mr. Baird had to choose between yes and no, always a difficult choice. "Maybe" doesn't enter into it because that would sound silly: "Maybe I did, and maybe I didn't" would be ridiculous.
So, what did Mr. Baird say?
Mr. Baird: Well, the Harper government has come through while the Liberals have done nothing over the years. We're putting $175 million into Marine Atlantic because Mr. Harper wants to do something for Newfoundland although the Liberals did nothing. There are always options and we will be looking very carefully at what they are and doing the best thing for Newfoundland.
OK, dig the meat out of that one! It became increasingly obvious why Mr. Baird was doing this interview in the first place. The main idea was to keep spewing propaganda for the Harper government while, at the same time, castigating the federal Liberals. One would expect him to do that once in such an interview, of course, but he made the same statement in almost the same words at least four and probably five times.
Personally, I think Harper told Baird he'd be watching and poor Baird felt, and not without cause, this might be his only chance for advancement in the party. Forget the government.
Question: Mr. Byrne says you told him that the two new ships, sister ships to the Atlantic Vision, would be named the Mila and Brian Mulroney and the Jane and John Crosbie. Did you tell him that?
Here is another of those extremely difficult questions in which one has to think carefully about the answer. Is it no, or is it yes? You could practically see Vanna turning over letters on the TV screen of Mr. Baird's mind. (Let me see now, did I say that to Gerry Byrne or did I not say that to Gerry Byrne? Hmm. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. What was that question again?)
Mr. Baird: Well, we couldn't very well name them after Gerry Byrne. Gerry Byrne has done nothing for Marine Atlantic, but the Harper government has come through with all this money for the people of Newfoundland because they care.
What bothered me after that particular question was that Ms. Cooper, whom I greatly admire, let him get away with not answering that one, either. The man slip-slided away from everything she asked and did not give one straight answer for the whole interview. The tape of that dialogue should be distributed to every person in any leadership position of any kind in Canada as a brilliant example of how to avoid answering questions you don't want to answer. Absolutely incredible.
Honesty and sincerity? I offer no comment based on the admonition, "judge not, etc." The last little comment about Mr. Baird is that he doesn't seem to know our province is called Newfoundland and Labrador.
So, based on the Baird interview, do you think we might be crossing the Gulf in luxury liners next summer?
How about one longliner and a dory?

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Conservatives

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Springdale

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