04 March 2016

Jim Thistle, 1954 - 2016 #nlpoli

Most of you have likely never heard of Jim Thistle.

Jim passed away on Thursday after a brief illness.  He was only 61 and until he was diagnosed with a very serious and ultimately fatal illness, Jim had more mental and physical energy than most of us had when we were kids.

Jim was blessed with one of the sharpest minds this country has ever produced.  He was kind, gentle, funny, and generous with his time and his insights. Despite being one of the busiest people around, let alone one of the busiest lawyers around, Jim had time for lots of other pursuits including working on a master's degree in history.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians owe Jim a particular debt of gratitude. Jim would never have put it that way but you really should thank him, just like you should thank all the folks in the picture on the left.

The politicians might get the credit for the Atlantic Accord but it was all the folks standing behind the chairs who made it happen.  The Atlantic Accord was arguably the most significant event in Newfoundland and Labrador's history and it was certainly one of the most remarkable events in Canadian political history.

Jim Thistle played a part in it.

They are the members of the federal and provincial negotiating teams.  Jim is the tall guy with the curly hair on the right-hand side, standing behind federal energy minister Pat Carney.  Jim was around 30 years old at the time.

By the time of the Accord talks,  Jim had already been involved with some of the biggest legal struggles in our province's history,  all of them about resources.  That's a testament to just exactly how bright a guy Jim was.

Four years after that picture was taken, Jim was the deputy justice minister and deputy attorney general. He was up to his eyes in the talks that led to the development of the Hibernia project.   Incidentally, another key player in all that was Cabot Martin.  He's the fellow in the light suit in the centre of the crowd standing up in that picture.  Cabot is another one of those scary-bright guys.

But anyway, Jim used to tell a story about walking up and down Duckworth Street from the Newfoundland Hotel with a key guy from Exxon.  It was August of 1990, just as things were coming to an end.  Oil prices were not too high, were forecast to stay that way for as long as anyone could see ahead, and the cost of the project was astronomical for the time.  Buddy apparently kept saying that they were all nuts, that they were all going to lose their jobs, the companies would go bankrupt and the whole thing would end in disaster.

By the time the two of them got back to the hotel,  the guy from the oil company had settled down.  The teams finished the talks and the grown-ups signed the development deal in September 1990.  All the money the government has been spending,  all the jobs that flowed afterwards, came out of the work that Jim and others on those negotiating teams did.  No one person can get credit for all the good that has flowed from that 1985 agreement, but if it wasn't for Jim, odds are that things might not have worked out quite so well as they did.

Incidentally, one of the people given credit for the Accord and for the oil industry isn't in that picture. There's a good reason for it. The politician didn't make the deal.

But Jim is there for very good reason.

After he left government, Jim went to work for the Hibernia development corporation.  He went into private practice after that and worked on other projects,  including the Lower Churchill.

Jim lost his daughter Gwen in 2011.  As his obit put it, "left with memories of  his exuberance and his love" are his wife Barbara, daughter Rachel, son Michael, son Paul and Paul’s mother Jan Dicks, his parents Jim and Mary (Pugh) Thistle, his sister Laurie (Terry Ryan), and mother-in-law Mary Miskell.

There are no words that can dull the ache they feel. There are no actions that can numb the pain. If it is any solace to them at all, though, they should know that Jim touched the lives of more people than will ever realise it. Most didn't know him or even realise they have him to thank for the good fortune that has transformed our province over the past 30 years.

That's the way Jim would have wanted it. 

But those of us who had the good fortune to know him will remember Jim and all that he did, every day.