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