03 August 2015

This is your political life: Ross Wiseman #nlpoli

Anyone surprised by the news isn;t paying any attention to local politics at all.

Ross Wiseman has his pension. It cannot get any fatter.  He likely won’t get re-elected in the November general election and even if he does, Wiseman has no interest in sitting on the opposition benches now that he has been in government.

15 years is long enough, sez Ross, so he won’t be running in the next election.

For those who are shocked and for the entertainment of the rest here are three moments from Ross’ political life over the past 15 years.

Elected as a Liberal,  Ross Wiseman crossed the floor to the provincial Conservatives once he realised his political career would be short unless he jumped to the Tories.

He knocked around as a parliamentary secretary for a while before hitting the big time as health minister.  Wiseman ran the department through the Cameron inquiry.  While that would be worth a post all by itself,  Ross had other proud moments during his time running the provincial government’s largest department.  We shouldn't forget those.

What Secret Report?

Your humble e-scribbler thought a cabinet minister couldn’t frig up as often as Ross did and stay on.  How badly wrong that idea proved to be.

February 2008.

Health minister Ross Wiseman calls reporters together to slam the CBC for a story that government was considering closing one of the province’s hospitals and shaking health delivery in metro St. John’s.

"It is premature, inappropriate and inaccurate today to stand here and try to read something in, or try to speculate about what might or might not happen," Wiseman told reporters, full of all the righteous indignation Wiseman could muster in fine Danny Williams fashion. 

Then things went horribly wrong.

A reporter asked about the Waterford.  In the course of his answer,  Wiseman inadvertently mentioned a "facility report." According to the Telegram’s account, Wise backtracked saying there might be a report but that he had not read it. “Wiseman later acknowledged Eastern Health had completed an evaluation of its facilities, including the Waterford,” according to the Telly.

Eastern Health had to release the report the next day.  The review by an external consultant concluded that in 2005,  Eastern Health needed to do $36.5 million worth of repairs and upgrades at the Waterford Hospital alone.    Eastern Health had asked for $93 million.

As SRBP put it at the time:

“Government thus far has not addressed the problems in the two year old report, beyond offering $500,000 to study the health infrastructure needs in the capital region.

In its 2007-08 budget submission to government, Eastern Health asked for $93 million to deal with critical or near-critical repairs.

The board received $3.6 million, according to [Keith] Bowden, [Eastern Health’s director of infrastructure support].

In December 2007, finance minister Tom Marshall announced the provincial budget would finish that fiscal year with a capital and current account surplus of more than $880 million,  In 2005 - the year the reports were received - the surplus on capital and current account was more than $500 million.”

So, when Wiseman called reporters together to scold them,  the government had already received one windfall injection of oil royalties thanks to a ballooning global market price for crude.  They would get another big boost in 2008 and yet another tidy sum in 2009.  They had the cash.  Wiseman and his colleagues just elected to spend it another way. 

The Secret Deal

In late 2010,  Danny Williams decided to bail out of elected politics.  He picked Kathy Dunderdale as his replacement.  The boys and girls of the Conservative caucus decided among themselves they did not want to have a leadership contest so they decided to let Kathy keep the job as Premier at least through the 2011 election.

In public they denied there was any such agreement.  Some people actually reported that as proof there was no fix.

The Conservatives till had to keep up appearances, though. They announced a leadership contest, in the expectation the fix was in and that none of them would run.

Enter Brad Cabana. 

The self-proclaimed heir to the legacy of Danny Williams announced he would challenge Dunderdale for the Conservative leadership.

Cabana lived in Wiseman’s district.  he had dabbled in local party politics, turning up to a few meetings and going to the annual party convention.

Wiseman’s executive assistant – Chick Cholock – tried to persuade Cabana that running would be a bad idea.  In an e-mail that has since disappeared from the CBC website, Cholock wrote that in ”an ideal world there will not be a leadership challenge [that always hurts the party for years].  Any Party [sic] at all:  PCs in 1979, PCs in 1989, Liberals in 2002.  The list is long.  On the opposite side of the coin, Danny became leader unchallenged, that was a complete success which unified the party as never before.”

Wiseman wound up defending his aide in public.  That involved Wiseman turning around in more than a few knots.  There was an open leadership process, according to Wiseman, but since everyone in the party executive and the caucus had already decided on Kathy, there was no need for a contest.

Asked about what Cabana described as Cholock’s efforts to intimidate the wannabe Leader, Wiseman insisted that Cholock was acting as a private individual when he visited Cabana’s house in the middle of the work week to discuss Cabana’s candidacy.  Wiseman acknowledged that Cabana contacted the Tory caucus seeking support before he submitted his nomination papers.

Wiseman essentially confirmed that Cholock went to Cabana’s house to explain that Cabana was wasting his time, given that everyone had already declared for Dunderdale. But the fix was not in, supposedly.  The e-mails wound up in the news again later that year as they formed part of an access to information request.  The information commissioner had to sue government in an effort to get access to the records so he could review them for an appeal.

Lynch Mob

The year:  2013.

Ross Wiseman, Speaker of the House of Assembly.

On April 16, Government House leader Darin King attacked Gerry Rogers, accusing the New Democrat of being part of a group that advocated violence directed at the Premier. King asked Speaker Ross Wiseman to throw Rogers from the House.

Wiseman admitted there was no evidence that Rogers herself had done or said anything to warrant expulsion but he threw her out anyway.

A week later, and after widespread condemnation for the partisan lynch-mobbing Rogers suffered,  Wiseman apologised to Rogers for his decision to toss her out of the chamber.  What he said in the apology, though, made it clear that Wiseman simply took matters into his own hands, invented an offense and then convicted Rogers of contempt without hearing any arguments. 

The episode was a monstrous abuse of his authority and one for which Wiseman has never been held to account.  Arguably,  Wiseman’s offense was worse than that since he used his authority arbitrarily, and in all likelihood maliciously.  The Speaker is supposed to protect members from arbitrary attacks.