Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Weakest Link

It turns out that the real news during yesterday's question period was not the end of DW's boycott but the performance of Ross Wiseman, who demonstrated, once again, that he is without question the most incompetent member of cabinet.

The Opposition largely ignored Wiseman on Monday, but yesterday they returned to their favourite feeding ground. And the good minister seemed only happy to oblige, as his lengthy exchange with Jones attests.

Below is an extract from yesterday's Hansard. It's been edited to focus on the Jones-Wiseman exchange, and I've inserted political translations of Wiseman's non-answers. For the full transcript, see:

JONES: My question to the minister is: What are the clinical advantages to placing this facility in Central Newfoundland?

WISEMAN: What I find interesting in the House, Mr. Speaker, is how questions have changed over the years. For many years in this House members opposite have raised questions around, what are we doing for rural Newfoundland? Now, all of a sudden, we are getting questions in the House lobbying for St. John’s, Mr. Speaker. They want all services centralized in St. John’s.

Mr. Speaker, I answered questions in this House a couple of weeks ago around this very same point. One of the critical considerations for us as a government was to ensure that we are able to provide quality programming with capable, competent people, and we are very confident – we are very confident indeed - that Central Newfoundland, and in particular Grand Falls-Windsor, is a community in a region of the Province that can attract the kinds of people that we need. We are very confident that we are going to be able to provide the kind of programming that will respond to the challenging needs of those individuals who need that kind of addiction services.
So we stand by the decision to locate this new facility and this new program in Grand Falls-Windsor because we believe it will be successful and the people of all of Newfoundland and Labrador will be well served by that new program.

TRANSLATION: Wiseman cannot answer the question, so he fell back on his favourite defences. He used his "it's interesting/ironic" wisecrack, and then he gave a lengthy statement of the political/regional reasons for putting the facility in Grand Falls-Windsor, rather than the clinical reasons. If he had rattled off the reasons from a briefing note (or remembered something from it), he could have easily dispatched this question; however, his long-winded, disingenuous non-answer only invited more questions.

JONES: Who did your government consult prior to making the decision to place this important residential treatment facility in the Central Region of the Province?

WISEMAN: Again I am somewhat bewildered by the nature of the questions and the persistence, Mr. Speaker, of members opposite.

I do not have any difficulty, as a minister, and none of my colleagues on this side of the House would have any difficulty, meeting with any group in the Province to talk about issues of their concern. So, if there are organizations who would like to come in and talk with me about this decision, I am open to do that at any time of the day. Just invite me, or make the request, and I will have the discussion.

What I find very ironic, Mr. Speaker, is the persistence by not only the Leader of the Opposition but the Opposition House Leader in the continuous questions in this House, bringing into question a decision that we made about a location of a service in Grand Falls-Windsor. An attack, I say, Mr. Speaker, it is nothing more than an attack on the people of Grand Falls-Windsor and the people of Central Newfoundland and Labrador, as if it is a place no one would want to work.

TRANSLATION: Here Wiseman offers up the full meal deal of incompetence:
1) He admits he's bewildered (never a smart thing to do in politics)
2) He throws out another "I find it very ironic" herring to try to deflect from his shortcomings
3) He fails to answer the question
4) He sinks to the lowest form of political insult: he accuses Jones of attacking the people because she is asking a question

JONES: Mr. Speaker, what rubbish I have just heard coming out of the minister!


JONES: Mr. Speaker, the minister has a responsibility, and a responsibility to provide services in this Province based on clinical cases and factual information, not based on what is politically opportunistic for the government –


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
I ask the hon. member to complete her question.
The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

JONES: Mr. Speaker, the minister has trouble defending his actions today - that is quite obvious by his comments – but there are four groups in this Province who provide services and treatment to residential youth, and they have serious questions.

Mr. Speaker, the day treatment program that services addictions for youth is based in the St. John’s region, and I guess one of the questions they have is why government would choose to separate those two facilities and those two lots of services.

TRANSLATION: Jones knows that she has Wiseman on the run.

WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I do not have any difficulty at all, none whatsoever. I have no difficulty at all, or this government has no difficulty at all, in defending a decision to relocate a service in Grand Falls-Windsor.

TRANSLATION: Well, this doesn't need much translation: anytime you end up getting that defensive, you know that you're toast.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

WISEMAN: A community, Mr. Speaker, that has demonstrated their innovative approach to providing health care. They have been leaders on a number of fronts. They have a very comprehensive mental health and addictions program already in existence there. They have proven they have the ability to be able to attract the qualified professionals that we will need to run this program. It is a community that is centrally located, provides easy access in and out of other parts of the Province; because, keep in mind, this is a provincial centre, not a St. John’s centre.

This is purely a provincial centre. It is centrally located, provides ease of access by road or by air, and it provides the professionals that will provide the delivery of those programs, Mr. Speaker.

TRANSLATION: Wiseman not only doesn't know the answer to the original question, but he doesn't seem to know much about the initiative or facility in general. All he had to do was throw out some specific details, in order to redirect the question; but he's just floundering.

JONES: One of the other issues that they raise is around the detoxification services. I ask the minister today: Is that part of the program for this centre, and will the people of the Province who need the service be assured that they will have access, and affordable access, to that service?

WISEMAN: To the first part of the question, yes, it will include a detox program. The second piece, by definition - I have said before, but let me repeat it - this is a provincial program. It is a provincial program and we are delivering it from Grand Falls-Windsor. By definition, every single person who lives in Newfoundland and Labrador will have access to that particular program and that particular facility.

This is not a regional facility. This is a provincial facility, so anyone who needs it will have access to it, just like Humberwood does in Corner Brook.


MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

WISEMAN: This is purely a provincial program, no different than any other provincial program; because we have many provincial programs in St. John’s. People travel to St. John’s to access provincial programs here. Now people will travel to Grand Falls-Windsor to also access a provincial program, Mr. Speaker.

TRANSLATION: By this point, Wiseman just wants to run out the clock, and all he can do is trot out generalities and repeat himself (several times), relying on tautological reasoning. At no point does he offer details about the facility, or the specific estimates or plans that are, no doubt, locked away in his filing cabinet.

JONES: The Native Friendship Centre has also raised an issue around the Aboriginal component for this treatment process. They are asking if it will include an Aboriginal component in the program. I ask the minister today if he will commit to that.

WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, it will absolutely give consideration to the Aboriginal community. In fact, as we develop the program, as we start to look at the design of the building, the programming will be driving the design and the program will give consideration to the Aboriginal needs of this Province.

TRANSLATION: Wiseman knows Jones' pummeling is just about over, so he mailed in a "we'll look into it" platitude

Wiseman wasn't off the hook, however, and Michaels took him to task later in question period. But the damage was done. Not only did Wiseman make himself look defensive and incompetent (again), but his inability to answer a simple question needlessly fed the new cycle another negative story:

DW's other ministers are not exactly paragons of eloquence, but no one comes to Wiseman's combination of incompetence, verbiage, and defensiveness. He's not usually as nasty as DW, but he sank as low as they go when he accused Jones of attacking the people of Grand Falls-Windsor.

After failing to draw blood on Monday, Jones knew where to go. If this keeps up, I suspect that Wiseman will come down with a political flu of some sort which will prevent him from attending question period.

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