'Health-care heroes' let Furey turn a page on flip-flops and earn N.L. some good PR
Members of Here & Now's political panel look at the soft-power impact of N.L.'s medical mission
Andrew Furey could not have asked for better coverage.
The arrival in Toronto of a military cargo plane with nine doctors and nurses on board was broadcast live on TV like it was arrival of a celebrity or global leader.
"You come from a great province," a reporter said to Dr. Allison Furey, the premier's wife, as she walked down the back ramp of the plane and onto the tarmac at Pearson International Airport. "What makes the people of Newfoundland so helpful in times of crisis?"
The Newfoundland Nine, as some have called them, are doing an admirable thing. They're leaving the relative safety of their jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador, where just two people are in hospital because of COVID-19, to go to the hot zone.
They are there to give exhausted medical workers a break.
It's help for beleaguered Ontario, but it's also help for a beleaguered premier back home.
The whole thing was a big boost for Andrew Furey. He came across as caring, a husband concerned as he watched his wife go off to help others.
It reminded the public of his own background as an orthopedic surgeon who has volunteered for humanitarian missions through Team Broken Earth, the group he founded to respond to an earthquake in Haiti.
WATCH | Peter Cowan moderates a discussion with former politicians Sandy Collins, Gerry Rogers and Colin Holloway:
"He's going to wear a whole lot of negative things — some things he deserves, some things he doesn't," former PC cabinet minister Sandy Collins said during a political panel on Here & Now. Collins doesn't fault Furey for maximizing his own good press when the opportunity presents itself.
"It shows a human side of him and his family, one that we can all relate to," he said.
Changing the channel on flip-flops
Ever since he called an election in January, Furey hasn't been able to muster many wins. Even forming a majority government at the end of March was a squeaker of a victory, as a COVID-19 outbreak extended the campaign to a record 10 weeks and whittled what polls showed could have been a comfortable majority down to a two-seat margin. For many voters, the focus shifted from policies and platforms to whether Furey was putting his own interests of winning a majority ahead of the health and safety of the province.
Then came the decision to review the election rules. At first, Furey wanted Justice Minister John Hogan in charge. Later, he gave in to pressure from the opposition to form an all-party committee to recommend change.
The flip-flopping continued this week as he had to back down from his decision to rename Red Indian Lake to Wantaqo'ti Qospem, a Mi'kmaw phrase.
The intentions were good: remove a colonial name to prepare for the return of the remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit, two of the last Beothuk. Furey's insistence that people in the area need not have a say and that it was a done deal didn't go over well with people in the area. Now, they'll have consultations after all.
"Poor Premier Andrew Furey, he just can't get a break," former NDP leader Gerry Rogers said during our panel discussion.
"He has made so many decisions that he has had to flip-flop on and it calls into question the depth of his understanding of governing."
Sending workers 'will pay dividends'
This week's PR win for the premier has built a lot of goodwill for the province.
"The people in Newfoundland, I love you," Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters as he called the arriving cavalry "health-care heroes." Ford has heaped praise on Furey.
"He has called me more than anyone, he is messaging me, 'how can I help you?'"
Furey insists the health-care help comes with no strings, but Newfoundland and Labrador has its own financial problems, and Furey is seeking federal help. High on the list is renegotiating the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject and its billions in debt.
"Getting the federal government onside by offering and providing opportunity for these health-care workers to go to Ontario … I think that will pay in dividends for the province in these other discussions that are ongoing," said Colin Holloway, a former Liberal MHA.
"They're so critical to our financial future."