It’s time to clear the air. Officially. Because while it sounds like a tempest in a community breakfast, it’s far more than that.
For a couple of weeks now, Municipal Affairs minister and Gander MHA Kevin O’Brien has been at the centre of a controversy over a community breakfast. Here’s the gist: the Gander Chamber of Commerce was having a community breakfast and invited two NDP politicians to serve food. They were subsequently uninvited, apparently at the request of O’Brien. O’Brien first said the chamber made the decision — later, O’Brien opined that he was involved, but that it was all in the interest of taking politics out of a community event.
Now, there are new, more serious concerns.
The problem is that the whole matter is tangled up in politics, a land where the players have no compunctions about spinning things for their own benefit.
That’s particularly the case when the latest complaints about O’Brien’s conduct come from an individual who is also a recent political opponent.
Monday morning, CBC News reported that a former president of the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce had stepped into the fray.
Barry Warren said that his own experience with O’Brien in the past has been fractious: “Basically, the message I got was if you didn’t toe the line, that funding would be withheld, or in the future if you were looking for funding, that you may find it was going to be difficult,” Warren told the CBC.
On this specific issue, Warren says he was approached by current members of the chamber, asking for advice. He says the member were told “Funding would be held up for the new Gander Academy and also other future funding that they may be looking for could be in jeopardy, if they didn’t change their mind and uninvite the people from the NDP.”
Warren did run for the Liberals in 2011, and in the eyes of the Dunderdale administration, that may be enough to simply throw out some lines calling him no friend of the government and to dismiss anything he says.
To repeat: that may be enough in the eyes of the current administration.
Problem is, it doesn’t actually address the issue.
Here’s the challenge for the provincial government and Kathy Dunderdale: if everyone simply sits on their hands and ignores the issue, the message that’s being sent to the public is that political bullying is in some way an acceptable part of governing.
There are plenty of people who know exactly what O’Brien said, and whether threats were made. Some effort at an impartial investigation of the whole sequence of events might do wonders to clear the air, because the allegation on the table now is serious, regardless of who is making it. (If such an investigation finds that there were threats, of course, O’Brien shouldn’t be a minister, and Dunderdale might want to wonder about keeping him in her caucus.)
Clear the air. Find the facts. Take some action. Because taking no action of any kind simply says you have no problem with the approach.