“If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear? Anybody hear the forest fall?”
— From Bruce Cockburn’s “If a tree falls”
Gee, I wonder how many boards I’ve been appointed to in the last little while that I don’t know about.
And how many boards don’t know I’ve been appointed to them.
Does anyone else find it ironic that when the provincial government tried to appoint the premier’s former communications director to a board, they were not able to communicate the information effectively to the people who needed to know?
“There was a communications breakdown,” Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner told reporters in what was surely the understatement of the week.
Which leads to a deep philosophical question: if the board I’m appointed to doesn’t know I’m on it, and I don’t know I’m on it, have I actually been appointed?
It makes my brain feel like a dog chasing its tail.
Caught in the crossfire
There’s been a lot of talk this week about the appointment of Elizabeth Matthews to the Canada Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board, her nomination as vice-chair of the CNLOPB, the subsequent revelation that she had been appointed to the board on Dec. 21 and her decision this week to withdraw as a candidate for the vice-chair’s position.
Now, you can hardly blame someone who is intelligent and diligent from being interested in a challenging career move.
Unfortunately for Matthews, she has become the victim of a system of politics that varies between trying to take care of its own and eating its young.
She’s caught up in a catch-22 — we’ve been told she was one of former premier Danny Williams’ top advisers, yet as she tries to put that experience to good use, she’s accused of being granted favours because of her political loyalties.
She can’t win.
I’m confident Matthews will land on her feet, though, and I think she took the high road by withdrawing her candidacy for the CNLOPB vice-chair position.
But I disagree with her on one thing, and that is her point that this issue has been unfairly politicized by the Opposition.
The whole system is politicized, and that’s the problem.
And the people who suffer are the people who put their faith in elected officials and expect them to act with integrity and in our best interests. When they don’t, it leads to feelings of voter apathy, mistrust, disappointment and resentment.
I’d be willing to vote for any of the mainstream parties in this province if I had sufficient confidence that the candidate had integrity and sound motives and would do what they said they would do. And that includes promising not to play the patronage game.
But that doesn’t happen nearly enough.
A promising start
When Danny Williams rode in on his blue tide, even I got caught up in the possibility of real and meaningful political change. He promised that the workings of government would be open, transparent and accountable and that he would clean up the mess inside the House of Assembly. That seemed to happen at first, but before long he was pulling up the drawbridge at Confederation Building and controlling access to information with a zeal almost equal to that of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
When asked why Matthews’ pseudo-appointment to the CNLOPB on Dec. 21 had not been announced, Skinner’s reply was namby-pamby: “We announce some, some we don’t.”
Surely that practice has to change. Taxpayers have every right to know — consistently — who the government is appointing to boards and other organizations that we support with tax money and that make decisions on our behalf. And those appointments had better make sense.
As for the Liberals making political hay with this issue, well, what would you expect them to do? They are the opposition and they opposed Matthews’ nomination.
Unfortunately, if the situation were reversed, the Liberals would be staunchly defending their own candidate for nomination with just as much hot disdain.
“The trouble with normal is it always gets worse,” Bruce Cockburn wrote.
And the normal in politics in this province has always been reward your friends, punish your enemies, no matter which party has held the reins of power.
Try to keep information from the public if it casts you in any kind of suspicious light. Tell them only the good things you’re doing with their money. Hand over lucrative, untendered contracts to companies with obvious political ties and refuse to divulge any details.
Assure the public the deal you made in secret is in their best interests. Pretend you’d never do the same thing if you were the party with the power.
I honestly thought Kathy Dunderdale’s government would be a refreshing change.
Silly me. The arrogant attitude of entitlement is still alive and well and it still stinks to high heaven.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email