Tories have gone too far
Let’s be blunt here. The decision by Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner to nominate Elizabeth Matthews to the post of vice-chair of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is simply too much to stomach. The job comes with an annual salary of — get this — just under $ 200,000.
But before we expand on that, let’s be clear on another point. We’re not out to bash the competency of Elizabeth Matthews, who previously served as the director of communications for former premier Danny Williams. If you work in the media in this province, chances are you have interacted with her, and you’ve likely discovered she’s a very capable, hard-working, intelligent person. She’s a leader in every sense of the word, and those of us who watched her navigate the Progressive Conservatives through a provincial election campaign could not help but marvel at her determination, commitment and creativity.
When Williams stepped down as premier late last year, it left Matthews without a job. Now she wasn’t simply shown the door. The Liberal Opposition has estimated she received some $ 100,000 in severance.
So now, months later, it surfaces that Williams’ successor, Premier Dunderdale, wants Matthews filling a top post at the petroleum board. Not as a communications director, mind you, but as vicechair. Opponents of this nomination have come out in full force, pointing out the fact that Matthews has no experience in the offshore oil and gas industry. It’s also been suggested that the person filling the post should have a strong background in marine safety, given all the controversy and grief that followed the crash of Cougar Flight 491 in March 2009. Only one of the 18 people aboard the helicopter survived the crash. After all, the board is responsible for safety in the offshore.
It’s very easy to be critical of this move, but that’s not why we’re taking this position. This is political patronage in its rawest form, and the government should do the right thing and withdraw her nomination. Barring that, it’s hoped the federal government, which also has a say in the appointment, will exercise some better judgment. There’s too much sensitivity and raw emotion relating to this disaster for the government to try and pull such a stunt.
Remember an earlier attempt by Williams to have former St. John’s mayor Andy Wells appointed chairman of the petroleum board? The feds refused to accept the nomination, and rightfully so. Like Matthews, Wells did not have any experience in the offshore industry.
It’s not good enough for Minister Skinner to argue that Matthews will help ensure a consistent and professional message from the board. It already has a top-notch team of communications experts. And if she was being offered a communications job with the board, it’s our view there would be greater acceptance of the nomination.
Given her background, we have no doubt that Elizabeth Matthews will find meaningful employment, and we wish her the very best. We’re just not convinced it should be as vice-chair of the petroleum board.