Foote’s movin’ on up to the Palace of Pa­tron­age

The Packet (Clarenville) - - 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

A few weeks from now, on May

3 to be ex­act, the un­con­di­tional adu­la­tion that will pour forth in the New­found­land leg­is­la­ture dur­ing cer­e­monies for­mally in­stalling Judy Foote as the prov­ince’s new­est lieu­tenant­gov­er­nor will prob­a­bly reach a level of nau­sea that could only be matched in the cabin of a long­liner be­ing tossed around like a cork in a mid-Fe­bru­ary storm on the Grand Banks.

And what will be con­ve­niently ig­nored (and cer­tainly not em­pha­sized in most of the jour­nal­is­tic cov­er­age of the af­fair, I would pre­dict) is the fact that the up­chuck will have been trig­gered by the un­mis­tak­able stench of po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age that has en­veloped this ap­point­ment from the get-go.

Pa­tron­age is a dirty word, un­spo­ken in po­lite po­lit­i­cal com­pany at the best of times, but, in the case of Foote’s as­cen­sion to the lieu­tenant-gover­nor’s throne, there will be a greater ten­dency to ig­nore the pig trough ele­ment be­cause of the event’s un­prece­dented na­ture: Foote hap­pens to be the first woman to be or­dained as head of the house­hold, to be the chief ten­ant in the man­sion on Mil­i­tary Road.

And, in some po­lit­i­cally cor­rect cor­ners of the prov­ince, it will be con­sid­ered in­ap­pro­pri­ate to rain on this par­tic­u­lar pa­rade, to al­low, in­stead, the cry to be heard through­out the land that one of the last all-male bas­tions has per­mit­ted a woman to walk through its chau­vin­is­tic doors as the lieu­tenant-gover­nor, a lo­cale whose hall­ways the likes of Frank Fagan, John Cros­bie, Jim McGrath, and other mem­bers of the all-boys club of St. John’s have wan­dered.

(Even hard ticket bars like the Cot­tage Gar­dens, the Cor­ner Tav­ern and the West End Club beat the lieu­tenant-gover­nor’s opu­lent dwelling to the gen­der-neu­tral punch by 30 and

40 years, al­low­ing the fe­male pop­u­lace decades ago to tread on their beer-stained and peestained floors.)

Or­di­nar­ily, like most lev­el­think­ing and fair-minded souls in New­found­land, I’d prob­a­bly be shout­ing from the rooftops, as well, or from this weekly podium, that “it’s about time” we had a lieu­tenant-gover­nor with a ti­tle such as Ms, Mrs. or Miss. (I’ve been de­scribed in the past by some of my fe­male friends as a “small ‘f’ fem­i­nist,” mean­ing, I guess, that I treat men and women equally, in a de­cent way, for the most part, in a shitty way on oc­ca­sion, but never per­mit­ting chro­mo­some makeup to be a fac­tor).

How­ever, call me a killjoy, if you wish, but what is be­ing touted as a gen­der-bust­ing and ground-break­ing ap­point­ment has been de­val­ued, big time, by the fact that Foote’s po­lit­i­cal re­sumé hap­pens to be the most im­por­tant ra­tio­nale, the de­fin­i­tive ra­tio­nale, be­hind Justin Trudeau’s de­ci­sion to have his for­mer col­league rep­re­sent the Queen in New­found­land.

And I know for sure there are fans and fol­low­ers of Judy Foote who will make the point, who have al­ready been mak­ing the point, that she’s an in­tel­li­gent, well-spo­ken per­son who will carry her­self well in the job, and that her po­lit­i­cal back­ground is ir­rel­e­vant.

Well — it should be ob­vi­ous by now — I beg to dif­fer.

Not with the no­tion that Foote is blessed with a bun­dle of smarts and pub­lic speak­ing acu­men (she cer­tainly is), or for that mat­ter, with the sense you get that she’s also a fairly lik­able type. (I knew Foote slightly dur­ing her rel­a­tively brief stint in jour­nal­ism, and we had a few deal­ings af­ter she de­parted for the po­lit­i­cal dark side, and I was never given any par­tic­u­lar rea­son to dis­like the cut of her jib; I also em­pathized and re­lated to her bat­tle with can­cer).

But, and this is the cru­cial point: Judy Foote is not get­ting this job be­cause of all of the above fac­tors; it will be Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote as of May 3 be­cause she was a press sec­re­tary, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions flack, for a Lib­eral premier, Clyde Wells, that she was a Lib­eral MHA, that she was a Lib­eral MP, that she was a Lib­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter, and that the politi­cian mak­ing the call is a Lib­eral prime min­is­ter.

That’s the cri­te­ria. And it spells pa­tron­age. In any lan­guage.

Do you think if we put PC, Con­ser­va­tive or NDP in front of those job ti­tles that Foote would be the lieu­tenant-gover­nor of New­found­land?

If so, if you’re that gullible, there’s a few rocks on the beach in Fla­trock I can sell you for a hun­dred bucks apiece.

And while many are un­doubt­edly cheer­ing the break­ing of another glass ceil­ing in New­found­land, let’s not lose track of the fact that it’s a cer­e­mo­nial po­si­tion we’re talk­ing about, part of an ar­chaic and highly ex­pen­sive holdover from our days as a sub­servient and ex­ploited peo­ple.

Other than scat­tered old-timers, loyal monar­chists to their last breath, most New­found­lan­ders — most Cana­di­ans I would sug­gest — are in­ter­ested in British roy­alty strictly for their pen­chant for tabloid head­lines: Will Harry’s fi­ancée Meghan sup­plant Wil­liam’s wife Kate on the cover of “Hello” mag­a­zine? Will Kate be jeal­ous? Who’s the skin­nier? Will poor old Rab­bit Ears Char­lie live long enough to re­place his mother? Does Philip be­lieve the Sec­ond World War is still be­ing fought and Win­ston Churchill is the British prime min­is­ter?

As for Judy Foote? No tabloid fod­der there, for sure.

But, un­for­tu­nately, she’s the main char­ac­ter in still another dis­taste­ful chap­ter in the long his­tory of pa­tron­age in this prov­ince.

It has al­ways stunk to high heaven.

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