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Calling the kettle black


Some former politicians just don't know when to call it a day. Take recent comments by former Education Minister Chris Decker accusing current Education Minister Joan Burke of blatant government interference in the hiring of a new president for Memorial University. Both Decker and former Education Minister Phil Warren are quoted in recent media reports saying Burke was wrong to reject a selection committee's recommendation of a new president.

My perspective - Some former politicians just don't know when to call it a day.

Take recent comments by former Education Minister Chris Decker accusing current Education Minister Joan Burke of blatant government interference in the hiring of a new president for Memorial University.

Both Decker and former Education Minister Phil Warren are quoted in recent media reports saying Burke was wrong to reject a selection committee's recommendation of a new president.

Burke has confirmed, as is her privilege, that she has indeed rejected a committee recommendation. Under provincial legislation, the education minister has that right. Both Decker and Warren should know this and stop playing petty politics with this issue. In fact, they should simply go away. Both have had their day in running education in this province.

When I was chairman of the local board of the regional community college in central Newfoundland in the late 1980s, I was asked by Education Minister Phil Warren to support a government decision to terminate the contract of the local college president.

As the local board had not hired the president, I could see no reason to support the minister's decision to terminate the position. It was in fact a government appointment and not a decision by the volunteer board to make.

In fact, it was our board's position that unless there was a performance issue, the contract should be renewed. The education minister disagreed and the college president was terminated by the Liberals, much to the disappointment of the local board.

In an effort to appease the local regional college board, then-Minister Phil Warren formed a three-person committee to search for a new president. I was asked to serve on that selection committee along with the deputy minister of education and a representative of the Public Service Commission.

This search was conducted with the understanding that we would interview candidates and present the minister with three names that could be accepted by government.

This whole process was quite involved and took months to complete. The selection committee at the request of the minister interviewed many qualified educators.

Oddly enough, the three-person selection committee was unanimous in bringing the names of three qualified candidates back to the minister. But during this process, Minister Warren was re-placed by Chris Decker, who immediately rejected the recommendation of government's selection committee.

To add insult to injury, the selection committee heard of the rejection by Chris Decker on VOCM radio. Minister Decker didn't even have the courtesy to inform the selection committee personally that he had, with no explanation, rejected their work.

Now I hear the former education minister, Chris Decker, squawking on the radio and television that current Minister Joan Burke should be fired for interfering and rejecting a recommendation of a selection committee to find a new president for Memorial University. To quote Chris Decker, "This is the stupid action of an interfering minister that should be fired or removed immediately."

I now find it ironic that Decker can call for Minister Burke to be fired for doing something he did as minister just a few short years ago. Either Chris Decker has an extremely short memory or is simply playing typical petty politics with this latest issue. In any event, I feel he should butt out.

As for current Minister Joan Burke's decision to reject the recommendation of a search committee for a Memorial University president, I often wonder how others universities do it and why such a selection committee was chosen in the first place. It's my perspective that if you are going to form a search committee to appoint someone to a position of such importance, you should at least have confidence in that committee and its recommendation.

Otherwise, scrap the committee and make the appointment yourself as minister. That's what Chris Decker did.

When it comes to politics in this province, it seems as if some petty things never change. I find it interesting, however, when a dirty pot calls the kettle black.

(Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be contacted at roger.pike@nf.sympatico.ca.)

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