Duck and weave

CanWest News Service
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If you read a late May story by the Canwest News Service on heart attack rates in Canada - and this province's spot at the top of the risk list - something the reporter wrote might have struck you.

Such as, the fact that the story went out of its way to point out that Canwest couldn't get a living, breathing representative of the provincial government to speak on the record.

If you read a late May story by the Canwest News Service on heart attack rates in Canada - and this province's spot at the top of the risk list - something the reporter wrote might have struck you.

Such as, the fact that the story went out of its way to point out that Canwest couldn't get a living, breathing representative of the provincial government to speak on the record.

Here's what they did get: "'The provincial government has taken numerous measures to address these,' the province's Department of Health and Community Services said in a written statement to Canwest News Service. 'In 2006, Newfoundland and Labrador was only the second province in Canada to put a Poverty Reduction Strategy in place that sets specific goals and actions to reduce poverty.'"

The fact that Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest heart attack rates in the country suggests you might want to put the minister on the telephone rather than hide behind the security of written answers.

After all, the primary causes of high rates of heart attack are lifestyle issues like food choices, lack of exercise and smoking.

The Canwest story ran a few weeks ago.

Why raise it now?

Well, first of all, because this is a government that touts itself as being the most open and accountable in this province's history - accountable, of course, means being able to be called to account, which is hard for anyone to do if you are only willing to answer questions by e-mail.

The second reason is because the House of Assembly will soon close for the summer break - right now, after Question Period in the House, reporters can call ministers out to answer questions.

Once the House closes, cabinet ministers will no longer be directly available to answer questions. Besides that, we are closing in on sleepy-time for elected representatives and many will now vanish on vacations of indeterminate length. Soon, ministers will be reachable only by passing through their wall of communications staffers. And we'll be back to the world of "What do you want to ask the minister?" and "Send an e-mail with the questions and the department will supply answers."

It's not the end of the world. It's not the end of democracy or the triumph of govern-speak over the public's right to know.

What it is, though, is a symptom of something that is occurring with fair regularity with the government of Danny Williams.

It shows a government uncomfortable with its ability to give its own answers to questions, or one that believes only its own carefully-crafted written answers - not its ministers' own words - should be made public.

So as the summer goes along, understand what it means when we write "the department responded with a prepared statement" or "the minister would only respond by e-mail."

In the end, when ministers refuse to answer questions and depend on prewritten scripts, they show themselves for what they are - even if they insist "accountable" is their middle name.

Organizations: Canwest, Department of Health and Community

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Brad
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    James 11 you must be working for the provincial government because the main issue here should be the fact that we have the highest heart attack rate in the country, and the government can't tell how they plan to deal with it because they have no plan. If you have nothing to hide, what difference does it make what media you tell your side of the story to? If they had a plan to address the problem, there would be a news release because we all know they love to toot their own horns.

  • James II
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Being open and accountable doesnt mean you have to be stupid. Why would the NL government waste its breath responding to loaded questions from a news organization that is openly hostile to this province. Canwest Global a.k.a. The National Post is the FOX News of Canada. It is not only an extreme right wing mouthpiece for Bay Street and Upper Canada but is increasingly viewed by many as having a fascist ideology. Accusing NL of having bilked Canada for years through equalization and transfer payments, Canwest publications have openly encouraged the province to get out of Confederation. No government of a small province on Canadas political, economic and geographic fringe is going to get a fair shake from that kind of rag. No, ignoring your enemies is often the best strategy. And it shouldnt stop with Canwest. Why, for example, would any minister of the crown choose to pick up the phone if he knows Russell Wangersky is on the other end? It would be akin to beating your head against a rock.

  • George Smith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    John if you took your head out of Danys arse long enough you might actually see whats going on here. Then again you probably cant handle the truth any more than he does.

  • John
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    So now Danny is responsible for fat, lazy, newfies who smoke and eat too much take out??? Give me a break.

  • Richard
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Good call by James II. Danny and the government are choosing their battles. I think people need to open their eyes and look at the people and communities around them in this province before judging this issue. Newfoundlanders traditionally have poor diets (high in salt, fat, and preservatives). The climate discourages outside activities which are commonplace in other cities - who wants to bike to work in the rain everyday? And the layout of our historic, cramped city of St. John's hampers the civil design of proper trails, sidewalks, and bike paths. It's a perfect storm leading to inadequate physical activity. All I can add is 'good luck!' to the one dealing with these issues, whether it's Danny or someone else.

  • I C Clearly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    John Smith - given that Danny Williams had to jet off to Florida to get urgent heart surgery to prevent an imminent heart attack, by your statement, he must be one of those ' fat, lazy, newfies who smoke and eat too much take out'. Imagine, what a poor example to be leading the province. No wonder our overall heart risk is the worst in Canada. If I were the minister of health with him for a boss, I wouldn't want to talk about it either. I'm sure that he wouldn't appreciate being described in the manner that you describe him.

  • Esron
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    I concur... If you're fat [Gasp, I used the F word], it's your own fault - Not mine, not your neighbours, not the government - YOUR fault, so stop wasting my taxpayer money on your fattiness. People are b'tching about smokers are wasting TP dollars, but it's perfectly acceptable to set fat parents with fat kids eating a load of fatty food which they bought at a drive thru because they were too dàmn lazy to get off their fat asses to walk in to get their meal!? But, remember, it's OK, because they are buying a diet coke with they meal... supersized... I have a new saying: Fat car, fat driver! It seems the bigger the vehicle is, the fatter the occupants. Now, overall, what I said sounds critical, but I can, in some cases see they're [fat peoples] reasoning. St. John's - a bustling capital city of ~200 000 people busy roads, long distances between cross walks... NO SIDEWALKS! And not to mention that drivers aren't exactly friendly to bicyclists, so what other method of transport is there, where they get exercise, but with out being targets for vehicles? It's the person at fault for their fattiness. It's societies fault for the autocentrism that hinders those want to make an attempt at being more healthy. And here is where it's the gov't fault [but can't say that I blame them for this] - For not imposing a luxury tax of 10%/annum/car on car owners to force people off the road, and on to [no existent] sidewalks. That 10% could be used for city beautification, facilities and/or transit. And before you people cry But we pay enough taxes! - NO you don't, no one in this country pays their fair share for the system we have in place. At the rate we're going, we will end up like Greece in a financial nightmare because no one is paying their fair share [In Greece's case, only 27%]

  • James II
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    No Brad, Im not a government shill. But I do agree with you that this story should be about the alarming health stats in this province. Unfortunately thats not the issue being pushed by the Telegram. The Telegram, as it is so obviously programmed to do, seized on this out-of-date Canwest article as a pretext for once again lambasting government for refusing to pass over every scrap of information the Telegram demands. The Telegram like Canwest, I firmly believe, is a proxy for other interests. If its interests were truly the welfare of ordinary Newfoundlanders, then its focus would be on the devastating impact that extraordinary high levels of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in this province are having on families, communities, the health care system and our tax dollars. But if you read the editorial, there is barely a mention of the health implications. Indeed it was only a few weeks ago that another poster on this forum questioned why the Telegram had scoffed and jeered at a study done at MUN which concluded that cured red meats caused colorectal cancer and that Newfoundlanders ate far too much of it. The Telegram ridiculed the study saying that every time you turn around, something else tasty has been given the thumbs downHeck, even bean sprouts get tagged occasionally with spreading salmonella. Hard to get an intelligent debate going in this province about poor lifestyle choices and preventing, rather than treating illness when you only daily newspaper mocks years of medical research by dedicated professionals. No Brad, this editorial was not about that it was about the other thing.

  • Brad
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    James 11 you must be working for the provincial government because the main issue here should be the fact that we have the highest heart attack rate in the country, and the government can't tell how they plan to deal with it because they have no plan. If you have nothing to hide, what difference does it make what media you tell your side of the story to? If they had a plan to address the problem, there would be a news release because we all know they love to toot their own horns.

  • James II
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Being open and accountable doesnt mean you have to be stupid. Why would the NL government waste its breath responding to loaded questions from a news organization that is openly hostile to this province. Canwest Global a.k.a. The National Post is the FOX News of Canada. It is not only an extreme right wing mouthpiece for Bay Street and Upper Canada but is increasingly viewed by many as having a fascist ideology. Accusing NL of having bilked Canada for years through equalization and transfer payments, Canwest publications have openly encouraged the province to get out of Confederation. No government of a small province on Canadas political, economic and geographic fringe is going to get a fair shake from that kind of rag. No, ignoring your enemies is often the best strategy. And it shouldnt stop with Canwest. Why, for example, would any minister of the crown choose to pick up the phone if he knows Russell Wangersky is on the other end? It would be akin to beating your head against a rock.

  • George Smith
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    John if you took your head out of Danys arse long enough you might actually see whats going on here. Then again you probably cant handle the truth any more than he does.

  • John
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    So now Danny is responsible for fat, lazy, newfies who smoke and eat too much take out??? Give me a break.

  • Richard
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Good call by James II. Danny and the government are choosing their battles. I think people need to open their eyes and look at the people and communities around them in this province before judging this issue. Newfoundlanders traditionally have poor diets (high in salt, fat, and preservatives). The climate discourages outside activities which are commonplace in other cities - who wants to bike to work in the rain everyday? And the layout of our historic, cramped city of St. John's hampers the civil design of proper trails, sidewalks, and bike paths. It's a perfect storm leading to inadequate physical activity. All I can add is 'good luck!' to the one dealing with these issues, whether it's Danny or someone else.

  • I C Clearly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    John Smith - given that Danny Williams had to jet off to Florida to get urgent heart surgery to prevent an imminent heart attack, by your statement, he must be one of those ' fat, lazy, newfies who smoke and eat too much take out'. Imagine, what a poor example to be leading the province. No wonder our overall heart risk is the worst in Canada. If I were the minister of health with him for a boss, I wouldn't want to talk about it either. I'm sure that he wouldn't appreciate being described in the manner that you describe him.

  • Esron
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    I concur... If you're fat [Gasp, I used the F word], it's your own fault - Not mine, not your neighbours, not the government - YOUR fault, so stop wasting my taxpayer money on your fattiness. People are b'tching about smokers are wasting TP dollars, but it's perfectly acceptable to set fat parents with fat kids eating a load of fatty food which they bought at a drive thru because they were too dàmn lazy to get off their fat asses to walk in to get their meal!? But, remember, it's OK, because they are buying a diet coke with they meal... supersized... I have a new saying: Fat car, fat driver! It seems the bigger the vehicle is, the fatter the occupants. Now, overall, what I said sounds critical, but I can, in some cases see they're [fat peoples] reasoning. St. John's - a bustling capital city of ~200 000 people busy roads, long distances between cross walks... NO SIDEWALKS! And not to mention that drivers aren't exactly friendly to bicyclists, so what other method of transport is there, where they get exercise, but with out being targets for vehicles? It's the person at fault for their fattiness. It's societies fault for the autocentrism that hinders those want to make an attempt at being more healthy. And here is where it's the gov't fault [but can't say that I blame them for this] - For not imposing a luxury tax of 10%/annum/car on car owners to force people off the road, and on to [no existent] sidewalks. That 10% could be used for city beautification, facilities and/or transit. And before you people cry But we pay enough taxes! - NO you don't, no one in this country pays their fair share for the system we have in place. At the rate we're going, we will end up like Greece in a financial nightmare because no one is paying their fair share [In Greece's case, only 27%]

  • James II
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    No Brad, Im not a government shill. But I do agree with you that this story should be about the alarming health stats in this province. Unfortunately thats not the issue being pushed by the Telegram. The Telegram, as it is so obviously programmed to do, seized on this out-of-date Canwest article as a pretext for once again lambasting government for refusing to pass over every scrap of information the Telegram demands. The Telegram like Canwest, I firmly believe, is a proxy for other interests. If its interests were truly the welfare of ordinary Newfoundlanders, then its focus would be on the devastating impact that extraordinary high levels of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in this province are having on families, communities, the health care system and our tax dollars. But if you read the editorial, there is barely a mention of the health implications. Indeed it was only a few weeks ago that another poster on this forum questioned why the Telegram had scoffed and jeered at a study done at MUN which concluded that cured red meats caused colorectal cancer and that Newfoundlanders ate far too much of it. The Telegram ridiculed the study saying that every time you turn around, something else tasty has been given the thumbs downHeck, even bean sprouts get tagged occasionally with spreading salmonella. Hard to get an intelligent debate going in this province about poor lifestyle choices and preventing, rather than treating illness when you only daily newspaper mocks years of medical research by dedicated professionals. No Brad, this editorial was not about that it was about the other thing.