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Bob Wakeham: Foote’s movin’ on up to the Palace of Patronage

Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote was in Marystown for Thursday to announce funding for the Skills Link program at Smallwood Crescent Community Centre.
Judy Foote, then a federal Liberal cabinet minister, is shown at a funding announcement in Marystown — SaltWire Network file photo

A few weeks from now, on May 3 to be exact, the unconditional adulation that will pour forth in the Newfoundland legislature during ceremonies formally installing Judy Foote as the province’s newest lieutenant-governor will probably reach a level of nausea that could only be matched in the cabin of a longliner being tossed around like a cork in a mid-February storm on the Grand Banks.

Bob Wakeham
Bob Wakeham

And what will be conveniently ignored (and certainly not emphasized in most of the journalistic coverage of the affair, I would predict) is the fact that the upchuck will have been triggered by the unmistakable stench of political patronage that has enveloped this appointment from the get-go.

Patronage is a dirty word, unspoken in polite political company at the best of times, but, in the case of Foote’s ascension to the lieutenant-governor’s throne, there will be a greater tendency to ignore the pig trough element because of the event’s unprecedented nature: Foote happens to be the first woman to be ordained as head of the household, to be the chief tenant in the mansion on Military Road.

And, in some politically correct corners of the province, it will be considered inappropriate to rain on this particular parade, to allow, instead, the cry to be heard throughout the land that one of the last all-male bastions has permitted a woman to walk through its chauvinistic doors as the lieutenant-governor, a locale whose hallways the likes of Frank Fagan, John Crosbie, Jim McGrath, and other members of the all-boys club of St. John’s have wandered.

(Even hard ticket bars like the Cottage Gardens, the Corner Tavern and the West End Club beat the lieutenant-governor’s opulent dwelling to the gender-neutral punch by 30 and 40 years, allowing the female populace decades ago to tread on their beer-stained and pee-stained floors.)

Government House
Government House

 

Ordinarily, like most level-thinking and fair-minded souls in Newfoundland, I’d probably be shouting from the rooftops, as well, or from this weekly podium, that “it’s about time” we had a lieutenant-governor with a title such as Ms, Mrs. or Miss. (I’ve been described in the past by some of my female friends as a “small ‘f’ feminist,” meaning, I guess, that I treat men and women equally, in a decent way, for the most part, in a shitty way on occasion, but never permitting chromosome makeup to be a factor).

However, call me a killjoy, if you wish, but what is being touted as a gender-busting and ground-breaking appointment has been devalued, big time, by the fact that Foote’s political resumé happens to be the most important rationale, the definitive rationale, behind Justin Trudeau’s decision to have his former colleague represent the Queen in Newfoundland.

And I know for sure there are fans and followers of Judy Foote who will make the point, who have already been making the point, that she’s an intelligent, well-spoken person who will carry herself well in the job, and that her political background is irrelevant.

Well — it should be obvious by now — I beg to differ.

And while many are undoubtedly cheering the breaking of another glass ceiling in Newfoundland, let’s not lose track of the fact that it’s a ceremonial position we’re talking about, part of an archaic and highly expensive holdover from our days as a subservient and exploited people.

Not with the notion that Foote is blessed with a bundle of smarts and public speaking acumen (she certainly is), or for that matter, with the sense you get that she’s also a fairly likable type. (I knew Foote slightly during her relatively brief stint in journalism, and we had a few dealings after she departed for the political dark side, and I was never given any particular reason to dislike the cut of her jib; I also empathized and related to her battle with cancer).

But, and this is the crucial point: Judy Foote is not getting this job because of all of the above factors; it will be Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote as of May 3 because she was a press secretary, a communications flack, for a Liberal premier, Clyde Wells, that she was a Liberal MHA, that she was a Liberal MP, that she was a Liberal cabinet minister, and that the politician making the call is a Liberal prime minister.

That’s the criteria. And it spells patronage. In any language.

Do you think if we put PC, Conservative or NDP in front of those job titles that Foote would be the lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland?

If so, if you’re that gullible, there’s a few rocks on the beach in Flatrock I can sell you for a hundred bucks apiece.

And while many are undoubtedly cheering the breaking of another glass ceiling in Newfoundland, let’s not lose track of the fact that it’s a ceremonial position we’re talking about, part of an archaic and highly expensive holdover from our days as a subservient and exploited people.

Other than scattered old-timers, loyal monarchists to their last breath, most Newfoundlanders — most Canadians I would suggest — are interested in British royalty strictly for their penchant for tabloid headlines: Will Harry’s fiancée Meghan supplant William’s wife Kate on the cover of “Hello” magazine? Will Kate be jealous? Who’s the skinnier? Will poor old Rabbit Ears Charlie live long enough to replace his mother? Does Philip believe the Second World War is still being fought and Winston Churchill is the British prime minister?

As for Judy Foote? No tabloid fodder there, for sure.

But, unfortunately, she’s the main character in still another distasteful chapter in the long history of patronage in this province.

It has always stunk to high heaven.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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