Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NB premier says decision to expel MLA from caucus was difficult

New Brunswick's premier told the Telegraph-Journal that the decision made last week to remove MLA Dr. Jim Parrott from his caucus was one of the most difficult decisions he has been faced with since taking office nearly two years ago.

Premier David Alward told the Telegraph-Journal that his fellow caucus members likely share his feelings.

"I'm sure the members of the caucus feel the same way," Alward said on Monday in a discussion about issues his government faces.

Alward defended the move, saying it was needed to maintain integrity along with a sense of teamwork within the Progressive Conservative caucus.

"This is not about one article that Dr. Parrott wrote or specific comments he made," Alward told the Saint John-based newspaper. "This is about an ongoing issue where Dr. Parrott lost the confidence of our caucus through issues of confidentiality and lack of trust."

"We work as a team, whether its our overall caucus or whether its been our southern caucus, as an example. Not everyone always agrees on every situation. We have an ample opportunity for debate and discussion."

The premier's reflection is the opposite of the remarks Parrott made upon his ouster from the Tory caucus.

A retired heart surgeon, Dr. Parrott is now an independent MLA for the Fundy-River Valley riding. He didn't feel the Alward administration provided an ample amount of opportunities for members of the caucus to give enough feedback and input on issues like health care.

"Over the [past] two years, I [have] experienced the non-access of MLAs to the actual workings of government," Parrott said last week. He added that the provincial cabinet is like a "locked box."

"There isn't enough involvement," Parrott added.

Alward was grateful for Parrott's many years of work done at the heart centre located at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

"To say we didn't value his input couldn't be [any] further from the truth," Alward says. "But we also have the responsibility to govern in a responsible way as well as act as legislators in a responsible way and no way, unfortunately, was he in that circumstance."

Parrott's former PC MLAs, Saint John-Lancaster MLA Dorothy Shephard and Rothesay MLA Ted Flemming said on Monday that they didn't understand Parrott's reasons for complaining publicly.

In a commentary written and published in the Telegraph-Journal, and in interviews, Jim Parrott blamed the Alward government for not listening to doctors and other health professionals about the changes needed in the health care system. He expressed concern about the duplicating of medical services to satisfy demands in French areas instead of the real health care needs.

Shephard and Flemming both agreed that Parrott had many opportunities to express his concerns amongst the caucus, but didn't.

"I consider myself a free thinker and I have my opinions and I voice them strongly in caucus," Flemming said. "I am given the opportunity by Premier Alward. The last thing I say in caucus is, 'Is there anyone else who has anything to say on this issue?'"

"I sat and watched Jim Parrott say nothing. So I'm perplexed. I don't understand his motives."

Shephard had spoken to numerous people about the situation and understands why some are upset.

"I understand that they think we are taking an individual and putting him out there on his own," Shephard said. "But I can't stress enough that he has chosen to take the path of being out there on his own. He chose not to come to caucus and say 'I want your help.'"

"He chose to go to the media, and in my mind, the media is your last of last resorts. It was his first course of action."

Flemming said it is clear that Parrott feels he can function more effectively as an independent MLA.

"If it quacks like a duck, floats like a duck and flies like a duck, then its a duck," Flemming says. "Well, if Dr. Parrott talks like an independent, walks like an independent, thinks like an independent, then maybe he should sit as an independent."

Flemming added that the consequences Parrott has ended up facing for his comments were self-inflicted.

"No one here has crushed the democratic process," Flemming noted. "He has chosen a particular course and the course he has chosen is to function in the public domain as an independent, as a radical, as a maverick."

With files from www.telegraphjournal.com. A copy of Parrott's criticism of the Alward government will likely be posted in an upcoming post on The Shiretown Blogger 

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