By Mark Squibb/September 9, 2021
Both candidates for mayor in this month’s council race are making the future of Carbonear Hospital an election issue.
There are concerns the hospital may be reclassified as a Community Hospital, which would mean a loss of major services currently offered there.
Incumbent mayor Frank Butt said the hospital’s future was the deciding factor in his decision to run again.
“I mulled it over leading right up to the last day of the nominations, to make sure that it was something we, my family and I, wanted to do,” said Butt. “There were some issues that came up regarding the health care in town, and that was really the deciding factor that made me want to go ahead and throw my hat in there again. Because you need someone there to lobby government, not just to maintain what we have there at the Carbonear Hospital, but to also enhance it.”
A task force led by Dr. Pat Parfrey and Sister Elizabeth Davis has been commissioned by the provincial government to reshape the healthcare system to improve healthcare. Newfoundland consistently pays more than any other jurisdiction in the country for health care and has one of the least-healthiest populations.
“People are always very concerned about reductions of services at Carbonear General,” said councilor David Kennedy, who, having served three terms as councilor, is also running for mayor.
“Carbonear may be relegated to what they’re calling a Community Hospital,” said Kennedy. “So, there’s a possibility that we could lose services.”
He allowed the situation is not all doom and gloom yet.
“Dr. Parfrey noted, and these are all public consultations, that there’s no way that St. John’s could take over now the number of surgeries that Carbonear is doing,” said Kennedy. “It can’t be done, they just don’t have the capacity to do it. So, that may one of the things that saves Carbonear.”
The task force report is expected later this year.
Both candidates, meanwhile, have other planks in their platforms besides health care.
Kennedy said the Town could do a better job dealing with residents seeking permits.
“Sometimes, we torment people over the small stuff,” said Kennedy, arguing that too often minor details lead to hassles that could be avoided.
“People don’t have as much faith in our town as they had in year’s past,” said Kennedy. “They don’t have the same civic pride, because sometimes they think they’re being tormented a little more than they should be with respect to the Town’s side of it.”
As for Butt, he plans to lobby the federal and provincial governments for funds to complete infrastructure projects around town, including the revamping of downtown, a project that Butt has thrown considerable support behind from day one. Currently, phase one is completed, and the project is expected to last for as many as four or five phases.
“I’m really adamant about having this completed in a timely matter,” said Butt. “We lost a good chuck of about two and a half years. It’s good for the economy, not just for Carbonear, but for the whole of the Beaulieu Trail.”
While Butt is seeking re-election to the mayor’s chair, which he has held since 2017, Kennedy said now is the time for him to step forward and leave the position of councillor behind.
“I felt that this was an opportune time,” said Kennedy. “It was either step up to help out or sit back to continue in the same role. I deiced it was a bit better to step up this time and run for mayor.”
He questioned Butt’s leadership as mayor.
“Not everyone had their say,” said Kennedy. “It was a little bit tumultuous at times, and it got off to a rocky start. And that had nothing to do with councillors, that was a legal battle between lawyers in terms of the conflict that first arose when Frank was elected, and it’s been very tumultuous since then.”
That legal battle mentioned by Kennedy is a reference to legal proceedings that followed Butt’s removal from council in 2017, only months after he was elected mayor, over a perceived conflict of interest that arose from an anonymous letter that had been delivered to council.
That letter spoke of a motion by Butt to have a Water Street building demolished. The building, which was dilapidated and potentially pest and asbestos infected, was near a convenience store owned by Butt.
Following legal proceedings, Butt was reinstated, but, said Kennedy, things were never the same.
“As a mayor, you have to provide ample opportunity for everyone to have their say, and then you have to come to a decision,” said Kennedy. “As a mayor, you have to be an overall leader… you have to give all the councillors an opportunity to represent themselves. Whereas as a councillor, for the most part, you’re representing yourself trying to get your points across. You’re still working as a part of the team, but it’s not my responsibility as a councillor to ensure everybody else speaks evenly. But that is one of the big roles of the mayor, is that you have to ensure everyone has the chance to have their say.”
When asked if that was something he felt was not done this past term, Kennedy said ‘Yes.’
He said both the town’s lawyer and an outside firm felt Butt was in a potential conflict of interest, and that if council had not declared it a conflict, that could have been challenged as well.
“There have been cases where councils have been reprimanded because they didn’t deem someone in conflict when they should have,” he noted.
Kennedy said he wished that council had come together to clear the air after the whole affair, but that never happened.
“We should have sat down after that and said, ‘This wasn’t intentional on anybody’s part, sorry this happened, sorry this took place, now we have to continue working as a team,’” said Kennedy.
People don’t hold any resentment towards the mayor or any particular councillor over the incident, Kennedy said.
“But, I do think that since then they’ve recognised that some of the hardships we’ve endured and some of the conversations we’ve had, probably could have been prevented if some of the leadership at the top would let people have a say,” he argued.
Butt’s thoughts on the matter were more to the point.
“My family and I went through four of years of, well, I hate to use the word ‘hell,’ but it was a very trying time,” Butt said. “I put this behind me. But other councillors did not. That’s where I stand on that.”
As to the mayoral race, Butt said he is glad to have an opponent.
“I certainly would not be too happy to be acclaimed,” said Butt. “I welcome a challenge, and I welcome competition.”
Neither man feels that Butt’s recent run in the provincial election as the Progressive Conservative candidate for Carbonear-Trinity-Bay de Verde will play a role in how residents vote in the municipal election.
“I am who I am, and people have had eight years to see how I operated, and I’ll run on my own merits,” said Butt. “I’ll use my common sense, and I’ll use my business sense, having been in business for over 35 years, and that plays a part in running a town.
Residents cast their ballots on Sept. 28 at the Masonic Hall Lodge, Knights of Columbus, or the Mobile Poll which will visit the Private Josiah Squibb Memorial Pavilion, Luxury Estates, and Luxury Estates Cottages.