Liberals, give it a rest

Russell Wangersky
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You've got to agree with Premier Kathy Dunderdale on this one - because she's got a point. By Tuesday, she was obviously highly offended with the opposition Liberals - and particularly with Opposition House Leader Yvonne Jones, who Dunderdale clearly can't stand - over the way the Liberals have chosen to turn the death of Burton Winters into a partisan football.

She's got every reason to be offended, even if there is some merit to what the Liberals say they want, which is a public inquiry into Burton's death.

It's bad enough the questions now verge on the insulting; listen carefully to the proceedings and you can hear the opposition members flapping their gums and yelling from the moment the premier stands up to answer. They have no interest in her answers. They have no interest in whether she's willing to agree to an inquiry. And, fact is, if she suddenly did agree to hold such an inquiry, they wouldn't hear her say it anyway. They'd be too busy shouting, "You're the premier, act like one," or any number of other hapless insults.

It is theatre - shabby, tasteless theatre built on someone else's personal tragedy. And it's getting worse every day.

Here are the nuts and bolts, which certainly should not be forgotten: through a series of errors and apparent miscommunications, valuable aircraft support was not made available to help search for Burton, a 14-year-old who was missing on a snowmobile in the town of Makkovik.

There have been contradictory explanations and excuses from a variety of officials and ministers at the provincial and federal levels, and, as with all deaths where there is a realistic suggestion that errors might have been made, there's real value in holding an inquiry to consider the circumstances involved.

The groundwork is pretty simple: legislation lets the province "establish a commission of inquiry to inquire and report on a matter that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council considers to be of public concern."

Judging by the amount of interest in what happened to Burton Winters, you can certainly say there's public concern.

There has been a fair amount of back-and-forth between the government and the opposition about whether the province can investigate issues that involve federal responsibility.

Luckily, the province's own Public Inquiries Act has already addressed that, saying, "Where the scope of an inquiry conducted under this act includes matters within the jurisdiction of the government of another province, or a territory or of Canada, the minister may enter into an agreement or arrangement with that government about the joint establishment of a commission or inquiry and the manner in which the inquiry is to be conducted by the joint commission or inquiry."

So, is there cause for an inquiry? Yes.

Could one be undertaken? Yes.

Have there been public inquiries into issues of much less import? Yes again.

And the premier has said she's open to the idea of examining the issue more fully.

But the way the issue is being handled by the Liberals has gone from overstated to downright deplorable.

At this point, more than anything else, they're actually undercutting their own cause; they've made the call for an inquiry such a political plaything that the Dunderdale government is unlikely to launch one, simply because then they'd have to listen to the Liberals crow about how the opposition "forced the government to act."

It's long ago reached the point of the petty.

A sample from Tuesday? The opposition announced with some gravitas that the premier had not even telephoned federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay to talk about the case.

Then, the premier responded that she had spoken to MacKay for 45 minutes.

So the opposition dropped their hammer: but you didn't call him, premier - he called you!

In the great scheme of things, that means, well, absolutely nothing.

Does it really matter in any way who did the dialing? Clearly, to the Liberals, the question of who picked up the phone first is far more important than listening to whether that call actually delivered any sort of new information.

Should an inquiry be done? Absolutely - and it should be done the way the Transportation Safety Board runs its inquiries: not seeking to lay blame, but to establish the circumstances and see if there are things that can be improved upon, so that, in the future, any errors that might have been made won't be made again.

At this point, the Official Opposition is floundering around looking for an issue, and they can't see that they are trampling around so heavily that they've pounded their moral high ground right down into the bottom of the barrel.

My advice to the clearly gormless opposition, whose members, without a doubt, are unable to hear the sound of their own voices?

Point out simply that the provincial government should do the right thing. Advance the argument. Or move on.

You're not standing up for the little guy any more.

You're just standing up to further your own ends.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Opposition House, Burton's, Transportation Safety Board The Telegram

Geographic location: Makkovik, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Stop the Squandering of our Natural Resources, Please
    April 09, 2012 - 07:50

    I don't want another person to become Premier of this province who thinks the resource base of Newfoundland and Labrador is his/her own to do with what they darn well please. It is shocking how the politicians that we have elected who obtained the zenith of political power in our province over the past 63 years have squandered our natural resources for the benefit of themselves and outside entities. Please Stop this Corruption right this very moment.

    • Stop the Racket
      April 09, 2012 - 12:52

      Not getting your share?

  • Liberal Bayman
    April 09, 2012 - 04:18

    CHARLES. Quite right. Mr Macdonald should get out of the way and let Mr Ball do his thing until this Leadershipo can be sorted out. We only need to know who is a leadership contender when the time arises, and that is not yet.

  • Charles
    April 07, 2012 - 15:44

    Mr Wangersky...Please give the Liberal a little break here...You have to understand they are little confuse right now...Because if they can't get there act together...Concerning Muskrat falls..Then it the fisheries...One minute...they got a plan...Next minutes they don't...Now you got Mr Ball trying to ride on Dean Macdonald coat if he was the Leader...If the liberal make Dean Macdonald leader...the party is gone....So i'm asking you please be GENTLE

  • Mark D
    April 07, 2012 - 11:25

    The Liberal is in desperate need of new blood and new thinking. That's why Siobhan Coady and Danny's number two will travel around the province seeking out new ideas and new people to rebuild the party. The Burton Winters tragedy remains a significant issue in our relationship with Ottawa. The little fella displayed courage and strength to the end while military officials were bound and gagged with red tape. The Dunderdale government did drop the ball early on, particularly the comments by Kevin O'Brien. But the NL gov't has put the questions to Minister Peter Penashue, Peter MacKay and PM Harper. It was federal red tape that delayed even looking for this boy. It is the Harper government that has decided to play spin games, ignore the issue of blame Newfoundland, not our own provincial government. The junket to Ottawa on Monday by Jones and Edmonds to meet with NL MP's was just that - a year end junket. the federal Liberals are in third place and do not count anymore. They should have sought out or protested Ministers offices but they were not clever enough for that. A brave and wonderful child has perished and the opposition makes an ineffective junket out of it. Yes, go to Ottawa and raise Hell but have a plan as to how you are going to do it, not a worthless press conference that no one remembers. Burton's memory deserves better from all of you.

  • Harvey
    April 07, 2012 - 11:02

    I agree that the opposition is looking for political points by' using this very tragic story. But by editorializing it,aren't you causing pain as well? To those in authority...get the inquiry done, and get it done quickly.

  • Roy
    April 07, 2012 - 09:36

    I once had respect for Yvonne Jones, but lately she shows that she is only interested in serving her own end. The Liberal s have nothing to offer, no solutions, nothing to help any situation in NL. They just want to be heard and not listento anything they have gone so far as to use a boys death to further their own ends. They are a sick bunch, .without a brain between them. Maybe its time for Yvonne to quit politics if this is all she now has to offer. I respected her once thought she had comon sense and something to offer.wasn't i fooled

  • Skeptical Cynic
    April 07, 2012 - 09:16

    Yes indeed, I agree most whole-heartedly. This squabbling amongst these loutish clowns over the Burton Winters tragedy has become quite ridculous and sordid. If the current crop of politicians weren't sitting in the H of A, one could easily imagine them filling the role of the shrill, loud-mouthed barker in some tacky carnival side-show.