08 November 2007

In his own words: Shawn Skinner on federal-provincial relations

Jonathan Crowe: But I mean, your boss is saying "Anybody But Conservative" in the next election. That's gotta be difficult when you meet Minister Hearn out in the lobby and shake hands.

Hon. Shawn Skinner: Not for me, it isn't. My boss can vote for who he wishes. He can mark his 'X' where he wishes to mark it. From my perspective, I have a job to do. I'm elected by the people of St. John's Centre. I'm in cabinet representing the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and I have a job to do. And I'm going to do that to the best of my ability.

If and when there is a federal election, we all as individual citizens can make up our own minds what we want to do. I'm here today as a provincial minister and I'm carrying out my duties as a provincial minister.

These words are causing Skinner such problems that he apparently felt the need - or more likely was ordered - to call Randy Simms just now and explain that he was completely behind his Leader in the anti-Harper campaign.

And Randy bought Skinner's explanation.

Problem solved.

Not at all.

First of all, Simms seems rather quick to accept one side of a story these days even if the other side is equally plausible and neither side has been proven correct by an independent review. Think fundraising, accountants and a shoe that has yet to drop on that set of ledger books.

Second, Skinner's comments are pretty obviously out of step with Danny Williams' plan to fight against the federal Conservatives. One would have to be willfully blind to miss the sentence "my boss can vote for who he wishes," followed right away by the clear statement that meanwhile I, Shawn Skinner, am elected by the people of my district to represent them.

Skinner's been known to make some ill-advised remarks, but it's pretty hard to imagine in this instance that he didn't mean what he said or that he was taken "out of context". bankrupting the province was obviously out of context and Simms and other news media jumped all over that one.

Here, though, we have another matter. It's highly likely - as in, bet the farm on it - that there is some disagreement within the current administration with the ongoing war with Ottawa.

That disagreement on Williams' policy is reflected in Skinner's remarks. It's blatantly obvious.

Cabinet ministers represent the people of the province and need to have a working relationship with whichever administration is in power in the federal government. Most don't have that right now and the only way to fix it is to get Danny to settle the blood feud.

The problem for local Tories is all the worse given that most of them are good friends with their Conservative counterparts and have been working the same campaigns and same backrooms for years. They certainly wouldn't want to campaign against Tom Osborne, for example, or Jack Byrne should those fellows actually take a run for federal politics. Given the internal Tory fractures, it would very hard for Danny Williams to deploy a cohesive political force behind any Liberal or New Democrat candidate. Williams might be able to force Shawn Skinner to tug the forelock and apologise to Williams publicly because Shawn likes the cabinet job he holds.

But would Shawn be prepared to pull a Scott Simms and go knocking doors for the New Democrat in St. John's South?

This schism within the local Tories is apparent enough that the federal Conservatives are working to exploit it. Loyola Hearn and his federal friends are nowhere near as politically stunned as Lorraine, Yvonne and the other Danny. Case on point: the letters on disaster compensation. Don't think they came from the provincial side of the racket. There are other, less obvious signs, but the signs are there that the Connies are trying to wedge open those cracks in the Danny Williams team just a wee bit wider than they are.

And Shawn?

Well, he just said what other local Tories are saying behind closed doors and in small groups, just like some have started to explore leadership options for the time only a few short months from now when we will be in a post-Danny Dannyland.

The next few months are going to be very interesting.