Tories have gone too far

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

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.

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