St. John's mayor hoping for end of Harper reign

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe, who has worked on Tory campaigns for five decades, looks forward to the day when Stephen Harper is not prime minister.
St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe is sharply critical of federal government cuts in St. John's. (CBC )

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe, who has worked on Tory campaigns since the Diefenbaker era, makes no bones that he is looking forward to a day when Stephen Harper is not prime minister.

O'Keefe, who has sharply criticized cuts in the current fiscal budget, said he will continue to speak out against Harper government decisions that he says have been draconian and are removing decision-making power from regional cities like his.

"The Harper government is pretty well immovable for the next four or five years," O'Keefe told CBC News.

"But there will be another time, there will be another government. And it won't be a Harper government — thank God — and we'll see some movement when it comes to treating this province fairly."

O'Keefe has been particularly concerned about a declining federal government presence in St. John's, especially of senior managers who have the authority to make decisions.

The new budget has eliminated, for instance, the position of the regional director for customs and border services, as well as three food-inspection labs. The Marine Rescue Sub-Centre's closure was announced last year. Most of these services will now be handled in other areas, predominantly Halifax.

O'Keefe has been mayor of St. John's since 2008, and has been on city council for 15 years. A former teacher, his political career dates back to the early 1960s, when as a youth he began working on Progressive Conservative campaigns.

O'Keefe said there has been less uproar with the current cuts than in the past.

"Maybe it's happened [so] often, since 1949 with Confederation, that we're used to getting a kick in the rear end," O'Keefe said in an interview.

"I don't mind if we got our fair share [of cuts], but we've never had our fair share of federal jobs in this province, period."

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Tom Marshall said no one should be surprised to see plenty of cuts coming from the federal government.

"Obviously nobody likes any reductions in services," said Marshall, who is scheduled to bring down a belt-tightening budget of his own on Tuesday.

"They indicated what they were going to do when they were elected by the people of this country, and they did exactly what they said they're going to do."

That said, Marshall agreed with O'Keefe about the continued loss of senior managers from St. John's.

"You like to have senior people making the decisions here and that's always been a fight we've had with Halifax and with places like Moncton," Marshall said.

"There's always been the feeling that the federal government, no matter what party it is, [is] just not putting enough resources into it, at least not as many as we'd like to see."