Three men in a boat

Pam Frampton pframpton@thetelegram.com
Published on July 5, 2014

“In the morning you are all three speechless, owing to having caught severe colds in the night; you also feel very quarrelsome, and you swear at each other in hoarse whispers during the whole of breakfast time.”
— From “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome, 1889

Three political allies will soon become political adversaries as they joust and jostle for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party, a position that, as of just two weeks ago, no one else wanted.

John Ottenheimer, Paul Davis, Steve Kent — one former minister and two current ones from a regime that was once buoyant, riding high on a big blue wave, but which has since taken on serious water.

You could say the winner will be the one who bails the fastest, but given the sad saga of the previous candidates who bailed, well, that would be a cruel joke.

Three men in a boat, bobbing on the perilous sea of public opinion. Can they impress PC supporters enough to make them forget the spectacular failure that was the last leadership “contest”? Make them forget that none of them were willing to vie for the premiership then?

It’s depressing to think of the money about to be wasted if — given the spending limit of $350,000 per candidate — close to a million dollars could be spent to pick a fall-guy premier who will likely be ousted in the next election. Not my money, of course, but still it sounds like squander.

And forgive me for my lack of imagination, but nothing about these three candidates screams party renewal. It’s telling that no one on the outside wanted in.

And, if past performance is anything to go by, we shouldn’t expect anything other than the status quo.

All three were happy to be members of a government that likes to preach openness, transparency and accountability, but is piss-poor at practising it.

Lewisporte MHA Wade Verge, speaking Wednesday night in support of Davis, expressed precisely how this party still just doesn’t get it.

“I think what we need to do is a better job of selling what it is that we are doing,” he said.

No, Mr. Verge. Not selling — telling. You need to get better at telling us what it is you’re doing.

Ottenheimer showed his colours with his reluctance to go public during the breast cancer testing scandal.

Kent and Davis are both fond of commissioning consultants’ reports that they then refuse to divulge to the people who paid for them.

(And I ask for the umpteenth time: why do we constantly pay for outside consultants and ignore the in-house talent?)

The latest from Kent was his refusal to release a draft report on the highly controversial topic of — wait for it — compost.

Here’s a bit of double-speak from Kent in Ashley Fitzpatrick’s story in The Telegram July 3 after the newspaper asked to see the long overdue and over-budget document:

“We asked the consultant for clarification on a few details, and until we receive them, the report is still considered draft and we would prefer to release the report in its final form,” Kent stated, also noting “the finalization of these details, however, doesn’t invalidate the remaining primary content of the report.”

Translation: the information in the report is solid, but we don’t want to give it to you yet.

That’s what they call open and accountable?

And here’s Davis doing his best duck-and-weave in a Telegram story from March 27 by James McLeod. In this instance, children removed from their homes were the subject of a report — parts of which a judge agreed the CBC should have been privy to when it fought the government for access to the report in court.

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons peppered Davis with direct questions in the House of Assembly, but Davis preferred obfuscation over giving direct answers:

“I ask the minister: why were you keeping this report so secret?” Parsons said during question period (March 26).

Child, Youth and Family Services Minister Paul Davis provided a response, but did not answer Parsons’ question.

“In 2008, there was a report that was sanctioned, invited, ordered and directed by the minister of Child, Youth and Family Services at the time to review a case file,” Davis said.

“We review case files on a regular basis. It is a really good way to learn how we have done casework in the past and how we should do it in the future. It helps us reflect on what we have done in the past and it helps us determine new ways to advance and improve the services we provide to children and families throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Translation: reports? Yes, I’ve heard of those. Reports are good.

So much for transparency.

But what can you expect from members of a government that kicked access to information back to the Dark Ages?

Granted, at least this time there is an actual contest, with more than one option to choose from.

Still, I can’t help but thinking of three men in a leaky boat, rowing in circles, spinning and spinning but never moving forward.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and

 The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton