Nfld. & Labrador

Why Paul Davis had to clean up after 2 ministers last week

Premier Paul Davis had react to two different problems last week, and as Peter Cowan writes, they both came from his own cabinet.

Paul Davis had 2 messes to clean up, and they both came from his own cabinet

Premier Paul Davis had to clarify remarks made by two different cabinet ministers last week. (CBC)

The government is heading into another week in the House of Assembly, and the Tories can only hope their message is a lot clearer than last week, when Premier Paul Davis spent his time cleaning up little messes left by his cabinet.

It started with the plan for a caribou statue in Gallipoli.

It was a 2011 Blue Book promise to complete the "Trail of the Caribou" and recognize the 30 soldiers who died in battle in Turkey during the First World War. 

Darin King spoke earlier this week about why government wasn't building a caribou monument in Turkey. (CBC)

In question period, NDP MHA George Murphy rose and asked whether the caribou had been the latest casualty of budget cuts.

Darin King, the minister of business, tourism, culture and rural development, didn't correct him, saying, "We are committed to recognizing it with a plaque among other things, Mr. Speaker, but it is correct, there will not be a caribou."

Speaking later with reporters, King's office confirmed that the money was removed "as a cost-saving measure."

It didn't play well; the idea that the province wouldn't recognize the sacrifice of those soldiers for the sake of $500,000 got some people riled up. 

Except that it wasn't the government's fault. We found out the next day from the premier that it was Turkey that killed the caribou plan.

"They simply can't allow for a caribou," Davis told reporters. "If they were ever to change that position, we would be quite pleased to see that and we'd take advantage of that."

A new blunder, different minister 

Just minutes later a new blunder from a different minister.

It came as Clyde Jackman, the minister of advanced education and skills, was asked about a coming tuition fee hike for graduate and international students. Was he OK with Memorial University jacking up the rates?

His answer was a surprise to reporters.  

"If [Memorial's] president and the board of regents decided that they want to forge ahead with a tuition increase, that decision lies with them," said Jackman.

That's an odd statement coming from a government that has, for more than a decade, promised to freeze tuition fees, and followed through.

In an effort to distance himself from a fee increase for some students, he was giving away all the political points for a part that people care a lot more about — the tuition freeze for Canadian undergraduate students.

So, the next day the premier again had to come out and explain things. He said that while Jackman was technically correct, in practice the government does have a lot of say in what happens at Memorial University.

"We have the ability to provide grants and funding to Memorial University," said Davis, "and the funding … was given to them with the assurance that, 'Look, we'll provide that funding, you continue with that tuition freeze.'"

The government knew this year that when they gave Memorial less money, it would mean international and graduate students would end up paying more.

Knocked off track 

Neither of these were gaffes that topped the headlines, but they both knocked the government off their message track.

Davis has been focusing on trying to present a clear message to voters, a clear difference between him and the Liberals. 

He wants to convince people he's the steady hand that people want at the helm of the province as we hit some choppy water.

That's hard to do when he has to go around correcting his ministers.

Davis has enough of a battle taking on Dwight Ball. He doesn't need to also be taking on his cabinet.

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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