Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rage Not at John Efford

It's not often that you'll catch me expressing sympathy for a Liberal cabinet minister. With one exception: the current natural resources minister, John Efford.

As most of you know, Mr. Efford is suffering from the debilitating effects of later-stage adult-onset diabetes. As such he's had to relinquish his everyday duties as minister.

However, according to this story from the Globe and Mail, he's still drawing his full pay and benefits:

That he has remained in cabinet while trying to stabilize his illness seems to be unprecedented. An MP earns $144,000. A cabinet minister earns an extra $69,500 stipend.

Prime ministers have appointed senators to minor cabinet posts to ensure a certain region is represented, but parliamentary experts cannot find an exact situation like that of Mr. Efford's.
His illness has left the province without a strong voice and physical presence at the cabinet table. It has also raised concerns that the province is losing out.

It is not clear when, or even if, Mr. Efford will be able to resume his duties in Ottawa. "That would be a decision he would make with his doctor," said Tom Ormsby, his communications director.

There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to react to this sort of news. Interestingly, it is Tory darling Peter McKay, and not Stephen Harper, who demonstrates the wrong way:

MacKay said paying Mr. Efford a full cabinet salary is the most recent example of Liberals becoming accustomed to the benefits of government.

"I think that it's very consistent with the Liberal culture of entitlement," Mr. MacKay said. "It's money for nothing and cheques for free. It's cabinet compensation for very little effort for Mr. Efford."

This is the wrong way because it re-inforces the notion that the Tories will say and do anything to score political points. Including ignoring an obvious case of compassion.

How many of you have seen the Star Trek episode, The Menagerie? Featuring Captain Pike, the guy who got turned into a scarred quadrapalegic in the line of duty and could only communicate by beeping once or twice?

In that episode, Captain Pike wound up sitting on a board of inquiry because he was still on the active duty list despite his debilitating injuries. Starfleet admitted no one had the heart to take him off the list.

The same principle applies here. John Efford is trying to deal with a disease that can decimate his ability to work, but at the same time can be potentially managed so that he can return. He has not been ensnared in major wrongdoing or scandal, so there's no compelling reason to toss him out of cabinet.

Under those circumstances, to Paul Martin it makes more sense to keep him in Cabinet that to summarily dismiss him. From a human standpoint, it would motivate Mr. Efford to get better, knowing that his Cabinet colleagues want him to come back. And the consequences of firing a sick man from cabinet, just because he's sick, would be alienation of the traditional Liberal base with its own broad streak of sentiment.

It doesn't make sense from an economic standpoint, or with a model of efficient government management. But it does make sense from the standpoint of human relations, and until Mr. Efford actually resigns of his own accord, I won't criticize Paul Martin for keeping a Cabinet chair at the table for him.