11 March 2008

Williams contradicts own claim he didn't know secret hospitals report existed

Premier Danny Williams admitted today he knew of a report on the state of city hospitals early last fall despite his claim in late February  [link to March 3 version of story from Western Star] that he didn't know the reports existed.

As he told the Telegram's Rob Antle: "I didn’t know that report existed myself... But this came to my attention this week."

Under questioning from opposition leader Yvonne Jones, Williams said he learned of the reports in a request from Eastern Health to fund a consultant's study on health care in the region.

Williams likely received the memo he mentioned on Tuesday when the provincial cabinet began considering the 2008 budget.

As the Telegram reported two weeks ago [01 Mar 08, not on line]  cabinet approved a $2.0 million increase in the capital repairs budget for 2008 - up from $14 million - but Williams said the budget was increased to $20 million after the scandal became public.

Williams told reporters today outside the legislature that he knew the reports existed but had not read them.  There was no explanation of why Williams didn't probe further, considering that his administration supposedly has a policy of releasing reports within 30 days and of releasing an action plan within 60 days of a report being received.

There's also no explanation of why he said he'd denied knowing the reports existed and yet suddenly admitted he was aware of them all along.

Williams's admission goes a long way to explaining why he has taken no disciplinary action against cabinet ministers and officials for keeping the report secret.

Hansard update:

It's always interesting listening to a lawyer answer questions.  They don't think like normal people and words take on curious properties they don't have when spoken by other humans.

Here's what the Premier said specifically in answer to a question about when he - that is Danny Williams, Q.C. - first became aware of the existence of reports on hospitals and other health care facilities in the province.

Recall that in his first answer - two weeks ago when the issue was hot and the pollsters were gathering data -  Williams said he'd never heard of the reports.

The questions was simple and direct: "When did you become aware of these reports, that they even existed, and the recommendations that they contained?"

The answer was considerably less direct:

From my own perspective, I have never seen that report; but, having said that, the first time that we would have even become aware of it as a government – I remember back – it would have been early last fall when the Cabinet was asked to provide a half-million dollars for a consultant report in order to consider infrastructure issues and site planning, and that was part of that overall plan, but I have never personally seen the report myself over the thirty months.

Right off the bat, he wasn't asked if he'd seen the report.  Williams was asked when he became aware of their existence.

Next he gives an answer which contradicts his public comment in late February.  There's a huge difference between saying you never knew the reports existed and then saying  that "we" as a government became aware of them last fall some time.

It's actually possible Williams himself was aware of the report when it was originally prepared or shortly thereafter.

Notice the phrasing:  "we"  and "as a government".  This isn't the usual royal "we".  This is obfuscation.  Williams is speaking about the reports being brought formally to cabinet. The answer doesn't preclude the prospect that the reports were hidden from view and not formally entered into the budget process.  Cabinet ministers and the premier may well have known about the reports and informally agreed not to deal with them.  Only much later did they notice them "as a government."

Notice as well, that in answer to a subsequent question on the planning and budgeting cycle, the Premier remains vague:

There was no detailed presentation on this particular report as, in fact, as I understand it, it was a buildings assessment - is exactly what it was. So it was discussed in the context of the overall infrastructure program and site planning and maintenance and repair generally.