Nfld. & Labrador

Opposition blasts away on government's handling of protest signs, negotiation notice

A day filled with government missteps has provided juicy ammunition for Newfoundland and Labrador's opposition parties.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Tory leader Paul Davis said Monday's mistakes were more of the same fro the provincial government. (CBC)

A day filled with government missteps has provided juicy ammunition for Newfoundland and Labrador's opposition parties, with the government admitting it had missed a critical bargaining deadline with the nurses' union and had hired outside workers to remove posters calling for Premier Dwight Ball to resign. 

Progressive Conservatives and the NDP blasted away on the government's bad political day on Monday, hitting the Liberals for their handling of key issues. 

"There's been a lot of other screwups which they have not admitted, so perhaps that's progress," NDP Leader Earle McCurdy.

Government was forced to backtrack twice on Monday, once when Finance Minister Cathy Bennett acknowledged her department missed the deadline to call the Registered Nurses' Union back to the bargaining table.

Just a little while later, Transportation Minister Al Hawkins said he would have handled government's removal of anti-Dwight Ball protest signs differently — if only he had known about it.

'Significant miss'

The province's nurses avoided what was sure to be a tough round of contract negotiations this year as the provincial government missed a filing deadline and inadvertently extended their contract.

Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses' Union of Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to reporters in St. John's Monday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Bennett said she'd investigate what went wrong in her department, but Tory Leader Paul Davis is already calling it a "significant miss."

"It speaks to incompetence of who's keeping their eye on the ball on this," he said.

"We've got a law firm contracted, at a significant expense specifically for negotiations with public sector workers. And what happened there?"

The missed deadline means government might not be able to extract any concessions from the nurses as it works to reduce a $1.8-billion deficit.

McCurdy, a former union official, said it was unusual for the government to drop the ball on a standard operating practice.

"That's a very uncommon outcome," he said. "The whole thing is quite unusual."

Sign snafu

The government's further revelation that they paid about $200 to hire an outside contractor to remove anti-Dwight Ball signs during the wee hours Monday raised even more eyebrows in question period on Monday.

Hawkins admitted that the "optics" of the move were not good, but insisted that neither he nor any other elected government MHA gave the order.

The opposition, meanwhile, was incredulous.

"We can't even get our roads plowed in winter in the middle of the night," Lorraine Michael said on Monday. "How can [Hawkins] justify this action happening in the middle of the night?"

Early Monday morning, people wearing bright vests were out removing posters calling for Premier Dwight Ball's resignation. (CBC/Submitted)

Davis called the incident "suspicious," and said he'd be surprised if the premier's office or the minister's office really wasn't informed.

"Anything that's remotely politically involved, it wouldn't be unusual for officials to at least give the minister a heads-up," he said.

"We've heard [similar responses] in the last couple of weeks, when we start to question who knew what, when," Davis said, alluding to the government's handling of the Ed Martin severance scandal.

A week to forget

The pair of political mishaps comes just as the government was turning the page on a bad week.

The Ed Martin severance saga dominated headlines last week, and the revelations continued on Monday when the government refused to release the Department of Justice's report into the matter.

The government said Monday it is awaiting the release of the auditor general's independent report.