By Patrick Newhook/January 6, 2022
Trying to navigate the new normal has been challenging, admits MHA Sherry Gambin Walsh. Since 2015, she has represented Placentia-St. Mary’s, a district that stretches from Green’s Harbour, to St. Brides to Peter’s River. She was re-elected to a third term last winter, despite a controversy that saw her removed from cabinet for disclosing privileged information concerning a promotion in the RNC. She was also embroiled in a controversy with former Liberal stalwart and then fellow cabinet Minister Eddie Joyce, whom she accused of bullying, an accusation Joyce denied.
Looking back, Gambin Walsh allows the year was a difficult one, but said people are moving forward, despite the pandemic.
“It’s been challenging for the world of politics, but it’s primarily been challenging in everyone’s day to day life,” said Gambin Walsh. “But I think people are doing fairly well, I think they’re adjusting and they’re learning to live with COVID-19 and I just think that slowly but surely work is getting done.”
A continuing issue for Gambin Walsh is employment. Much of Placentia-St. Mary’s is rural, with the fishery playing an important part in the economy. In St. Mary’s, the principal town on the eastern side of St. Mary’s Bay, there is a lot of talk and speculation about the future of the fish plant, which hasn’t processed crab in a couple of years.
The owner, Greg Mullowney, is said to have a willing purchaser for the plant, but the prospective buyer, wants assurance that a processing licence will come with it. That will be a matter for an independent agency of government to decide, though there has been pressure on Gambin Walsh to make it happen.
“That’s a private agreement that’s happening,” said Gambin-Walsh “Right now as an MHA I am aware that the request is before the Fish Processing Licensing Board and we have to wait for recommendations from that board to the Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture.”
If the sale and transfer happens, jobs could be available again at the plant, creating a payroll for the local economy.
“This right now as of today, as I am talking to you, is probably one of the most important things in the District of Placentia – St. Mary’s,” said Gambin-Walsh. “From Peter’s River even into the neighbouring district into the St. Shott’s – Trepassey area, come right on up through Riverhead and all that portion of the bay right over to North Harbour, St. Mary’s Bay out to the Salamonier Line, there are a significant number of individuals who are unemployed and they need employment and there’s no employer down there. If that plant were to get reinstated and we were to have an employer in that area it would mean a significant amount to the individuals in the area.”
The fish plant and fishery aside, Gambin Walsh said a lot has been accomplished in the district, which is one of biggest on the Avalon, including 3,805 km of land area. She pointed to the many repairs that were made to roads across the district the past year.
“There’s been significant funding invested in the district of Placentia-St. Mary’s there’s been a lot of growth in agriculture…there’s been significant infrastructure improvements,” said Gambin Walsh. “The number one issue has been road and road infrastructure… infrastructure and road infrastructure is getting done and it is one of the major accomplishments in my district.”
Next on the horizon for Gambin Walsh, and all MHAs, is the coming report from the so-called Health Accord commission, which is looking for ways to improve health care in Newfoundland, which is the province’s single biggest expense and expected to get costlier as the population ages.
“I’m anxious to know what the recommendations are and how we’re going to move forward based on those recommendations,” said Gambin Walsh. “Another thing that as a politician I am keeping a very close eye to, and I am actually a very big supporter of it, in my Christmas newsletter I did indicate that I am a supporter of regionalization of services. I have worked with some of my communities since I was elected to regionalize services, down again from Riverhead to St. Vincent’s, they’ve regionalized garbage collection, they’ve done that on their own and it’s working quite well.”
Gambin Walsh feels she has learned a lot about how to represent a large district.
“This is my third time being elected so now I consider myself a senior politician,” she said. “I have learned a significant amount since that first night in November of 2015 on how to represent such a big district with such diverse needs. I kind of have it divided into three to four regions and I try to work within the regions.”