Health Minister Jerome Kennedy is so magnificently wrong in his argument with the province’s doctors that, were he back in his old career as a high-profile and overpaid criminal defence lawyer, Crown prosecutors would be eagerly tagging each other so they could take turns delivering whopping body slams to his questionable logic.
Surely, in his previous work as a lavishly reimbursed defence lawyer, Kennedy was accustomed to constructing sophisticated arguments to convince a judge or jury to set his dirtbag client free.
We are witnessing the proverbial dumbing down of politics in action. Kennedy is seemingly drawing on Section 19(a) of the Governing Newfoundland 101 Handbook: “Treat the public with contempt. Voters are stunned.”
We’ve seen this approach before. Whenever politicians have a spat with doctors, the former can score easy points by citing the exorbitant salaries of the latter.
True to form, Kennedy this week trotted out the figures that various medical specialists are raking in, or could soon take in: $180,000, $239,000, $255,000, $276,000.
Any schmuck earning $30,000 or $50,000 or $75,000 must be instantly convinced. Those docs are greedy-guts.
What the good minister ignores, and what he wants the public to overlook, is that the inescapable law of supply and demand affects the salaries of doctors as much as it affects the salaries of other people. If cardiologists were as plentiful as bus drivers, the wage gap between those two professions would be narrower.
Professional athletes are a good illustration. Just as Kennedy laments the earnings of the province’s doctors, many people denounce the huge salaries of athletes as unfair, unjustified and even immoral. (Stock letter-to-the-editor rhetoric: “It’s a sick society that values hockey players so much more highly than kindergarten teachers.”)
Once again, it’s due to supply and demand. Athletes earn what they do because of what they are capable of doing, and because thousands of people are willing to pay to watch them do it. If you could score 50 goals a year in the NHL, while thousands of people paid $100 or $200 per ticket to see you do it, you too could command a salary of $7 million.
Similarly, if you attended med school and spent a decade or so studying to become a medical specialist, you too could command the amounts Kennedy is loathe to pay.
It is strange indeed to watch a cabinet minister display wilful ignorance of the intractable power of the law of supply and demand, but it is even more bizarre to see him so crassly ignore the privacy rights of individual doctors.
Kennedy publicly named a doctor and referred to the $95,000 stipend she earns, over and above her regular salary, for teaching part-time at Memorial University. His explanation was that she is paid with taxpayers’ money, and the public has a right to know where their money is going.
But there is a significant difference between revealing the salary range for a public position and revealing the specific amount paid to an individual. By Kennedy’s argument, MUN should now release a list naming its professors, with an accompanying figure showing how much they each earn.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association said it would file a complaint with the province’s privacy commissioner.
In his own defence, Kennedy can refer to Section 27(b) of the Governing Newfoundland 101 Handbook: “Dirty politics is only ‘dirty’ when it is engaged in by your opponents.”
If memory serves, it was merely a week or so ago that the Supreme Leader of all the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians made an impassioned speech in which he condemned the “dirty” tactics of his critics.
But if Kennedy’s approach is deemed “clean,” somebody needs to see a doctor.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.