14 May 2010

Arrogance never impresses

Mr. Speaker, that is the difficulties with letting people see these reports when they do not have the technical expertise to be able to interpret the results.

That’s environment minister Charlene Johnson under fire in the House of Assembly for sitting on environmental assessments of sites related to Abitibi’s operations in the province.

The video  - via CBC - is even less impressive.

At this point in the questioning, Johnson was clearly having difficulty justifying her actions in keeping the reports from the public. What else to do then but to blame the ignorance of everyone else for her decisions.

Yes, folks, the public are too stupid to understand these things so everyone must trust Charlene to do the right thing.

And if there was a problem, she’d tell us.


Just like she and her cabinet colleagues told us they’d expropriated the Abitibi mill, arguable the worst environmental mess of the lot, and they did it completely by accident.

Really, though, that’s just the least of Johnson’s problems in the credibility department.  Take a gander at the environmental assessment for the mill that Johnson released yesterday but only because the same documents were posted to a Quebec court website as part of the ongoing legal wrangles since the expropriation Fubar Follies started last year.

They don’t look pretty.  And given that Johnson tried her damnedest to keep them from being public until forced to do so as a result of a related court action, she also looks like she was trying to hide them for some reason other than the stupidity of the average Newfoundlander.

Her other comments in the legislature surely won’t help.

Take for example, her reference to Buchans where she and her cabinet colleagues acted swiftly to alert the public to potential health issues:

When we had these reports done, Mr. Speaker, if there was anything that was identified as an immediate human health and safety issue we acted immediately. Look at the case in Buchans, Mr. Speaker. [Emphasis added]


The word stands out against the backdrop of Johnson’s other words.


As in, something that can’t be avoided, postponed or delayed.

But otherwise?  Not a peep, if you take the full implication of Johnson’s words.

Trust her.

People might be willing to trust her unquestioningly if only we weren’t talking about hazardous chemicals and other products. They might be willing to give her the blind obedience of a Chris Crocker Brigade member if only Johnson hadn’t tried to keep everything under wraps.

And maybe they might be able to look past even that if  she didn’t try to fall back on a mishmash of pseudo-technical gibberish that perhaps even Johnson doesn’t fully comprehend:

Just to break it down so you can put it into laymen’s terms, there was one single arsenic excedence that was taken between a half a metre and a metre below the soil in the ball field. The excedence was twenty-five milligrams per kilogram. If you compare that to the risk-based number that was done for Buchans on the surface, that was forty-eight milligrams per kilogram.

Here’s how the government environmental analysts described the results of earlier testing on the ball field.  Incidentally, they didn’t do any test work of their own:

A previous investigation completed by JW included the collection of two soil samples from test pits, one borehole soil sample, and six surficial soil samples in the area of the present Ball Fields. The soil samples contained BTEX, TPH, and metals at concentrations
greater than the applicable criteria.

Let’s put that into plainer English:  In a total of nine samples – not one but nine – there were of petroleum, oil and lubricants spillage and metals residue at levels above those allowed by the environmental guidelines.

It doesn’t sound nearly as innocuous when you put it real layman’s terms.  Maybe that’s why Johnson avoided plain English.

Johnson and her colleagues have a huge political problem.  Arrogance – the standard defensive tactic of the current administration – doesn’t make things better.

At some point people will remember Johnson’s abysmal performance over a raft of bridges the public used regularly and which fell to Johnson’s department to keep track of. Public safety was so important to her department – to borrow Johnson’s own talking point – that her department didn’t inspect the bridges. 

At all.

One disappeared altogether without explanation and no one seemed to know it until a federal government inspection of some of the bridges showed potentially very serious hazards.  That prompted a panicked inspection by Johnson and her department.

Something should tell Charlene that with that sort of track record “trust me” is not going to work for her again.