When Danny Williams decided two years ago to vie for beatification from the province’s oncologists and pathologists by fattening their pocketbooks, you have to wonder whether anyone in cabinet dared to raise the implications of creating a sizable gap between the beneficiaries (of what appeared to be a knee-jerk sprinkling of considerable public change) and other medical specialists in the province.
Perhaps there was some brave soul or souls willing at the time to do what ministers are supposed to do — at least in a cabinet in which members have more than a token voice — and warn the premier that his public chest generosity, designed to placate a group of specialists, might be a case for the province of (to reverse an old cliché) short-term gain for long-term pain.
While there is no access to the inner communications of cabinet meetings (an undemocratic, troublesome kind of information black-out, if you ask me), it’d be a fair bet to assume that the ministers acted like slumbering puppies aware only of a inviting teat, and raised not a whimper of warning.
And even if there was a minister willing to raise a hand (and not just for permission to take a pee break) to ask whether the payment to the specialists might have inflammatory consequences, he or she would, in all likelihood, have had their reservations dismissed out of hand.
The master would have spoken.
As the deadline for this Saturday piece came and went early in the week, the story of the resignation of 14 specialists was changing dramatically by the hour, and critical developments may have taken place since these modest words of opinion were written.
But one aspect of the crisis that didn’t change, that won’t change, was the crucial role Williams played in its genesis.
Who can forget that photo-op of the cock-of-the-walk premier entering a room full of oncologists and pathologists (some of them looking kinda sheepish, aware, in all likelihood, of the fuss their enhanced affluence would generate) and shaking hands as if he had just arrived from Atlantic Lottery headquarters in Moncton, those oversized cheques practically protruding from his back pocket?
And now, the chickens have come home to roost, their dung has hit the fan, and Williams finds himself in a fiasco of his own making.
His two barnyard gunslingers, Jerome Kennedy and Tom Marshall, have been assigned the unenviable task of trying to explain the inexplicable, to quantify the unquantifiable, to try and put a government spin on a potential disaster for health care (and a public relations fiasco to boot).
That spin just ain’t working. The games of hardball that work so effectively against oil companies and federal politicians appear to have little public support in the battle against the doctors. And the less than honourable attempt by the politicians to play the greed card has fallen flat and made government appear shallow and mean-spirited.
The public seems acutely aware that these specialists are at the top of their game, are vital to the working of a health-care system that already has its share of troubles, that they’re worth every copper they’re seeking, and that their stance on the inequity of a two-level system of salaries for specialists has unquestionable merit.
As well, the sarcasm oozing from Eastern Health Care head Vickie Kaminski in talking about specialists’ workload has only given credence to the point made by the doctors that respect from their bosses is decidedly lacking.
I happen to have had experience with one of the specialists involved, Dr. Mark Stefanelli, who expertly and quickly diagnosed my wife with a rare neurological disease a few years ago, and treated her over a period of months with what can only be described as an incredible degree of professionalism, respect and warmth, none of which could ever be measured by salary.
If Williams, Kennedy, Marshall and Kaminski believe they can find a replacement for the likes of Stefanelli in a hurried-up recruitment drive, they’re sadly and tragically mistaken.
And when it comes down to the crunch, who are you going to believe, dedicated doctors like Mark Stefanelli and his colleagues or politicians and their highly paid bureaucrats out to protect the collective arse of the administration and compensate for the premier’s misplay of two years ago?
I know who’d get my nod.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org