Court­ing the pub­lic

Pol­i­tics has been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace MHA Jerome Kennedy


From his days of spar­ring with pros­e­cu­tors and judges as a sea­soned court­room lawyer, Jerome Kennedy learned how to dish it out.

Now, af­ter three-and-a-half years in the po­lit­i­cal ring, the once feisty crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer has found out, in the larger court of pub­lic opin­ion, you also have to learn how to take it on the chin and roll with the punches.

The Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace MHA has taken his share of ver­bal jabs from all sides — the Op­po­si­tion, open line show call­ers, writers of let­ters to the edi­tor, colum­nists and editorial writers — not to men­tion the e-mails and calls he re­ceives from may­ors and other com­mu­nity lead­ers not en­tirely thrilled with some of the con­tro­ver­sial calls he’s had to make that they feel have neg­a­tively im­pacted their com­mu­ni­ties.

And he has the battle scars to prove it.

Learn­ing curve

The min­is­ter of Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, who has served in three of the gov­ern­ment’s high­est pro­file cabi­net posts in as many years, ad­mit­ted in a re­cent in­ter­view with The Com­pass, “ it’s been a tremen­dous learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Asked if he now thinks pol­i­tics is what it was cracked up to be, Kennedy replied, “I don’t know what I ex­pected when I got into it. But the one thing I did learn is that it’s dif­fi­cult to train some­one as a court­room lawyer for 20 years in an ad­ver­sar­ial sys­tem and then ex­pect such a per­son as my­self to get used to the po­lit­i­cal arena.”

Re­call­ing his early days in the House of Assem­bly, Kennedy said, “ I can re­mem­ber my first cou­ple of times in the House ... I felt like I was in court and I of­ten­times saw the Op­po­si­tion as the en­emy. I would get more agi­tated at the me­dia than I should.”

Op­po­si­tion and me­dia

Over the last three years Kennedy be­lieves he has “ma­tured po­lit­i­cally. I un­der­stand the Op­po­si­tion has a job to do and it’s their role to high­light what they see as de­fi­cien­cies in the sys­tem.

“ I un­der­stand the me­dia has a role to play, and even though there are days I might think the me­dia are be­ing un­fair to me, it’s im­por­tant that they re­port on is­sues that again high­light what they see as de­fi­cien­cies in the sys­tem or how the sys­tem can be im­proved.”

Kennedy also be­lieves he has be­come bet­ter at ac­cept­ing crit­i­cism.

“ The kinds of crit­i­cism I’ve got­ten used to is crit­i­cism I wouldn’t be ex­posed to as a lawyer, be­cause as a lawyer, I could al­ways fight back and I could ba­si­cally tell peo­ple where to go, for lack of a bet­ter term,” Kennedy said with a smile.

Speak­ing his mind

Kennedy is not the type to sup­press his thoughts. That’s not al­ways wise in pol­i­tics,

“ I tend to speak what I con­sider to be the truth. So if you ask me a ques­tion, I an­swer hon­estly and di­rectly, and I’m learn­ing the art of pol­i­tics doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that all the time you be as blunt or as harsh as I can be. But again that comes from my train­ing as a lawyer, and be­ing able cut through com­pli­cated prob­lems and get to the crux of an is­sue.

“ I’ll be the first to ad­mit there’s mis­takes I’ve made as a re­sult of in­ex­pe­ri­ence. But also I con­tinue to learn from my mis­takes.”

Un­der the mi­cro­scope

Of the three port­fo­lios Kennedy has held, he doesn’t hes­i­tate to say health is the most chal­leng­ing. When he first took over in health, the depart­ment was em­broiled in the breast cancer screen­ing scan­dal, which had shaken pub­lic faith in the prov­ince’s health care sys- tem.

He’s had to deal with ev­ery­thing from ne­go­ti­at­ing new labour con­tracts with the prov­ince’s nurses and doc­tors to the con­tro­ver­sial move­ment of air am­bu­lance ser­vice from St. An­thony to Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay.

To say he’s taken his fair share of heat from the pub­lic and the me­dia is an un­der­state­ment.

But Kennedy un­der­stands “ we’re deal­ing with peo­ple in emo­tional sit­u­a­tions — peo­ple who see me as the face of the health care sys­tem. If things don’t go the way they want, they come at me and the crit­i­cism di­rected to­wards me can be harsh. I know it’s no good for me to ar­gue logic or that we spent $2.7 bil­lion in health care, be­cause if my son or daugh­ter, mother or fa­ther is in a sit­u­a­tion where I don’t feel they’re be­ing treated prop­erly, then logic is not go­ing to work. So I’ve re­ally learned to take all of that in stride and to re­al­ize peo­ple are never go­ing to get ev­ery­thing they want.”

Op­por­tu­ni­ties for im­prove­ment

De­spite the bat­tles and the bruises, Kennedy sees health as a port­fo­lio where there is an op­por­tu­nity to do a lot of good work.

For ex­am­ple, he sug­gested, “ we’re cur­rently do­ing some great work in the men­tal health ad­dic­tions field, in re­duc­ing wait times, en­hanc­ing health care in ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador, im­prov­ing cancer care and re­cruit­ing physi­cians for the prov­ince.”

Over­all, he said the pos­tives have out­weighed the neg­a­tives.

“ I feel the op­por­tu­nity I’ve been given here is one where I can achieve re­sults, even though those re­sults may not nec­es­sar­ily be seen for a cou­ple of years out, and I’m think­ing par­tic­u­larly of re­duc­ing wait times.”

Kennedy said there are many “sad sto­ries” in this prov­ince, and he some­times gets frus­trated that he can’t do more.

“ Some­times all peo­ple need is a chance in life. Some­times that chance re­quires an op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain ed­u­ca­tion, or help them look af­ter their chil­dren. Un­for­tu­nately, we can’t solve all of those prob­lems. That’s part of the frus­tra­tion I feel. But it’s on days when we can do some­thing good for some­body that I feel this is worth­while.”

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