MUN squab­ble lights Byrne’s fire

The Compass - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­ham@nl.rogers.com

If he’s as grate­ful as he should be, Gerry Byrne has an obli­ga­tion to take Noreen Golf­man out to lunch.

Not at one of those posh St. John’s restau­rants, a place like Ray­monds, where Me­mo­rial Univer­sity types like to wine and dine with vis­i­tors they hope to im­press.

And cer­tainly not a lun­cheon date of peanut but­ter and jam sand­wiches while pic­nick­ing on the banks of Bur­ton’s Pond.

But per­haps some sort of din­ing com­pro­mise: a fish ’n’ chips at Leo’s or Jiggs’ din­ner take­out from Caines on Duck­worth Street, to be gob­bled down in the park­ing lot at Sig­nal Hill.

Be­cause damn it all, Byrne is be­holden to Golf­man.

Golf­man is the “provost” at Me­mo­rial (a high­fa­lutin word that ba­si­cally means she’s the top ad­min­is­tra­tive dog at the MUN pound), while Byrne, in case you’ve un­der­stand­ably for­got­ten, is a cab­i­net min­is­ter, re­spon­si­ble for “Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion”, and the two have go­ing at it like barflies at the old Cor­ner Tav­ern on a Satur­day morn­ing, a rather en­ter­tain­ing piss­ing match over univer­sity fi­nances.

There were sig­nif­i­cant is­sues to be de­bated, for sure, es­pe­cially if you hap­pen to be a stu­dent at MUN and en­joy­ing a tu­ition freeze that has been in place since — I don’t know — since per­haps weed was be­ing ped­dled in nickel match­boxes at the Thom­son Stu­dent Cen­tre, a time when there was no worry about deadly over­doses, when do­ing drugs was a very pleas­ant, rel­a­tively safe way to spend an evening, cops or the rare hit of para­noia the only real draw­backs.

But what I rec­og­nized, be­ing the jour­nal­is­tic sleuth I am, is how Golf­man, un­wit­tingly I’m sure, man­aged to res­ur­rect Byrne from the mi­nor leagues of pro­file, to give him a chance to brush off the dust nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with a leg­isla­tive back­bencher and emerge to find jour­nal­ists once again ask­ing him to wag his tongue, to per­form be­fore the cam­eras.

I mean, this is a politi­cian who never, ever met a mi­cro­phone he didn’t want to swal­low whole; yes, OK, all politi­cians are pub­lic­ity hounds, but Byrne — men­tored by one of slick­est, most ma­nip­u­la­tive pub­lic fig­ures we’ve ever seen in these parts, Brian Tobin, a politi­cian who, af­ter be­ing in his pres­ence, al­ways pro­voked in me a de­sire to shower — has for­ever and a day taken self-pro­mo­tion to a level few oth­ers even seek to at­tain.

But he’s been un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet, rel­a­tively so, since leav­ing fed­eral pol­i­tics to come home to New­found­land and run provin­cially. (You might re­call that poor Gerry, in ex­plain­ing that move, told us how tax­ing it was to be fly­ing back and forth from Ot­tawa each weekend. What a sin. Another rea­son for his de­ci­sion to exit the main­land scene, one he seem­ingly ex­pressed with a straight face, but which gen­er­ated howls of laugh­ter from St. John’s to the cap­i­tal, was that Ot­tawa had got­ten too par­ti­san.)

But once he was home for a while, the cry went out, es­pe­cially from ad­dicted open-line show lis­ten­ers: where is mo­tor mouth Byrne?

Now, to be fair, there were oc­ca­sional sight­ings. At one point, Byrne started to sound like the head of some tem­per­ance so­ci­ety, us­ing ex­pres­sions like “moral bank­ruptcy” to de­scribe the re­la­tion­ship be­tween beer spon­sors and Sport New­found­land and Labrador (his pi­ous out­rage de­scended upon the prov­ince a few weeks af­ter his ef­forts to get his young­ster on the New­found­land ski team for the Canada Games were re­jected by Sport NL).

And just re­cently, he was heard des­per­ately de­fend­ing his govern­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial and costly de­ci­sion to re­open the Mar­ble Moun­tain ski re­sort (in his dis­trict, not coin­ci­den­tally) and pro­vide free passes.

Wanna check out that pow­der on the hill, man? Be our guest. Tax­pay­ers are good for the bill. Af­ter all, it’ll gar­ner a few more votes on the west coast for Gerry.

But this MUN dust-up was be­yond beer spon­sor­ships and free ski­ing; this was Byrne’s chance to go up against academia, al­most al­ways an ideal tar­get for op­por­tunis­tic politi­cians hop­ing to curry favour with the un­washed, the bucket brigade.

Golf­man, though, is not ex­actly your stereo­typ­i­cal nerd of cau­tion at the univer­sity; she’s of­ten ir­rev­er­ent and blunt, and not re­luc­tant to brush a tire­some politi­cian like Byrne away as if he were were noth­ing more than a both­er­some nip­per.

And she’s al­ways quotable, a reporter’s de­light, re­fer­ring, for ex­am­ple, to Byrne’s tac­tics as “Trump-like,” de­fend­ing the univer­sity tabs at fancy restau­rants by declar­ing MUN wasn’t go­ing to feed peanut but­ter sand­wiches to its pro­fes­sional col­leagues from away, or ex­hibit­ing a gag­ging sign as she sashayed by protest­ing stu­dents.

But many of us wish, nev­er­the­less, that she had never awak­ened that Tobin wannabe from the west coast.

Byrne jumped from his bunk, of course.

Per­haps he saw his leader, Bugs Ball, in trou­ble. An open­ing.

A chance to once again strut his stuff.

Thanks, Noreen.

“But once he was home for a while, the cry went out, es­pe­cially from ad­dicted open-line show lis­ten­ers: where is mo­tor mouth Byrne?”

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