Most observers agree that Wednesday’s cabinet switcheroo was in part a prelude to tightened purse strings and tough talks with public-sector unions.
Jerome Kennedy is back as finance minister, exchanging his Natural Resources portfolio with Tom Marshall. Marshall will now play closing pitcher on the Muskrat Falls project, while Kennedy takes on a ballooning deficit in the midst of labour negotiations.
Kennedy is not afraid to do battle. And Premier Kathy Dunderdale has been setting the table with constant talk of austerity and belt-tightening. So far, the unions have offered few hints of their strategy.
If past experience is anything to go by, we can expect some nasty fireworks over the coming months. Here’s why.
In the spring of 2010, Danny Williams’ government was entangled in an acrimonious battle with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA). As health minister, Kennedy was front and centre in that dispute, and he was not one to mince words.
In early May of that year, he came out swinging against NLMA executive director Rob Ritter.
“This is the individual who has publicly said he’s going to show Danny Williams who’s boss,” he told reporters. “This is the individual who has shown and demonstrated an inability to reach a deal, and that’s really unfortunate to all those doctors out there who want a deal. But you know something? It’s even more unfortunate to the people of this province.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Assembly, Kennedy called then Liberal leader Yvonne Jones a “fool” for questioning the direction of negotiations.
It was a fractious year, yet it ended with a total reversal in attitude. Williams stepped down as premier in November, and within days, Kennedy was all smiles, inviting doctors back to the table to work something out.
He also announced he was interested in replacing his former boss, an interest that soon evaporated as party forces quashed any internal competition for interim premier Kathy Dunderdale.
Kennedy resumed his confrontational ways until last fall, just before the House was to reopen for a debate on Muskrat Falls. Now in charge of Natural Resources, Kennedy sheepishly told the media that he and other government members may have been too chippy and reactive in dealing with concerns about the project.
That was going to change, he said.
Then, in the fog of the December filibuster, he called Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce a “fool.” Only on the third try did the Speaker manage to extract an unqualified retraction from him.
It all brings to mind the fable of the frog carrying the scorpion across a river. Despite his assurances to the contrary, the scorpion stings the frog halfway across, and they both drown. He couldn’t help it. It’s in his nature.
Kennedy may be the right person to get the job done when the going gets tough. But here’s another little nature-based saying: you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.