16 September 2006

Cat fight!

Former political paramours Andy Wells and federal fish minister Loyola Hearn are locked in a bitch-slapping affray over Wells' allegations that Hearn misled the snarly mayor of St. John's over the likelihood that Danny Williams' new best bud would get appointed to the federal-provincial regulatory board for the province's offshore oil and gas fields.

The Telegram covers the story in fair detail this Saturday, using information supplied by Wells about some - just a handful - of the telephone calls made by Wells to two Conservative members of parliament in an effort to bull his considerable ego ability temper political experience into the non-political job at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

From February to July 2006, Wells made repeated phone calls to Norm Doyle and Loyola Hearn. On March 24, the week before Ruelokke was reportedly supposed to start work, Wells fired off a letter to Hearn asking what was going on.

Wells is accusing Hearn of misleading him about the prospects of Wells getting the job that pays considerably more than the $5,000 he will pocket in the part-time directors job Williams subsequently gave him on the offshore board.

Hearn insists he did no such thing.

Tory councilor Keith Coombs, a long-time supporter of Wells, is quoted by the Telly as supporting some of Wells' contentions.

The whole thing promises to sour relations between the St. John's city council and the province's federal cabinet representative. It should also make interesting the fight for Hearn's seat in the next federal election. Hearn's once-likely successor, Ed Byrne, is embroiled in a financial misappropriation scandal in the House of Assembly that could take two years or more to resolve.

Coombs, whose municipal seat falls partly Hearn's federal riding, may be looking at taking the leap to the political big leagues. By backing Wells, Coombs could count on support from Wells' election machinery and possibly from the Premier's personal posse.

The funny thing about the entire affair is that there never really was any chance Wells would ever get the job.

In July 2005, news leaked that Premier Danny Williams wanted to scuttle the search for a competition to fill the vacant position of president and chief executive officer at the board and stuff the acerbic municipal politician into the job instead. Paul Martin's Liberals made it clear Wells would not be their choice.

A subsequent three-person panel appointed jointly by the feds and Williams used criteria set by both parties and selected Max Ruelokke for the job over Wells.

Evidence presented in a subsequent court case brought by Ruelokke showed that Williams rejected an option that would have put Wells into the new job of full-time board chairman, opting instead for the process that eventually saw Ruelokke appointed and Williams fuming over his latest Homer Simpson moment.

In early 2006, the newly appointed Conservative government of Stephen Harper made it plain - and public - that they would be following the process set down by law and confirm Ruelokke's appointment.

Premier Danny Williams confirmed last week that he had tried to pressure the federal government into appointing Wells to the vice-chairman's job - reported by the telegram to be worth at least $157, 000 per year - but was turned down flat by the feds.