Dinn and Petten looking forward to new duties in shadow cabinet

By Mark Squibb
November 3, 2023 Edition

Newly minted PC Leader Tony Wakeham announced a shuffling of his shadow cabinet last Friday, less than two weeks after being to the party’s top job. The moves saw a number of local members having to adapt to new responsibilities.
Topsail-Paradise MHA Paul Dinn was moved from Health and Community Services, a portfolio he had shadowed for some time, to Education and Children and Youth Services.
“Shuffles are a part of the game, no doubt about it,” said Dinn. “You expect them to come along. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into the Health and Community Services shadow minister role and I intend to do the same for Education. It’s hard to move along sometimes, especially from Health, when you’re dealing with some really personal and tragic stories. You try your best to help people and you appreciate the courage it takes for them to reach out and you try your best to help them, and some of the issues you really take to heart. So, I don’t want people to feel like I’m abandoning them, this is certainly part of the game. But I’ll continue looking into whatever issues my constituents have, regardless of what portfolio it may fall, they can also reach out and I’ll help them, things like better mental health, IVF services, and greater respect for seniors and the like.”
Dinn said he is already lining up meetings to sit with stakeholders and get up to speed on the Education portfolio as there are many challenges that need to be addressed.
He said one of those challenges will be addressing the recent, scathing report from the Province’s Auditor General highlighting financial inefficiencies and overspending at Memorial University. Other challenges include ensuring proper child and social development, access to affordable childcare, class sizes, teacher – student ratios, a lack of psychologists, deteriorating school infrastructure, the transition of administration from the English School Board to the Department, bullying, and violence in schools.
Dinn has long been a vocal proponent for a high school in Paradise, and says his new role will likely afford him more opportunities to meet with Education Minister Krista Lynn Howell
“Whether I’m Education critic or not, that’s an issue I would push for anyway,” said Dinn, who added he’s proud of a number of Paradise parents who have taken it upon themselves to lobby the provincial government for a new high school.
As for the shadow cabinet shuffle, Dinn said there was no heads up on it and he had no inkling he would get Education.
“Keeping with the education theme, it felt like you were being called into the principals office,” joked Dinn. “You knew changes were coming, because that’s the prerogative of a new leader, but I didn’t know changes were coming until I walked into the door that day.”
He said that such a shuffle ensures that all members are well versed and experienced in different departments.
“It is what it is, you take it and you run with it, and you do the best that you can,” said Dinn.
Conception Bay South MHA Barry Petten, the former Education critic, has taken on the responsibility of shadowing the Health portfolio from Dinn.
“Healthcare is perhaps the single biggest issue, and if it’s not the biggest, it should be the biggest, facing the people in this province,” said Petten. “Right now, we’re dealing with emergency room closures and a family doctor shortage. We get caught up in a lot of other things, but the fact of our family doctor issue is the beginning of a big snowball.”
He said the lack of family doctors leads to crowded emergency rooms and delayed testing, and virtual care is not a proper solution.
“I don’t see how you can talk to a doctor over the phone and receive proper care,” said Petten. “There’s nothing like sitting down with your doctor face-to-face and getting that care and hands-on approach. That’s my personal approach. I think virtual care is fine to fill a prescription but it’s not fine to diagnose issues and give you what I would consider to be proper medical care.”
Petten has also been appointed to shadow the Infrastructure Department, a role he held some years back. During that time, he noted, two of three companies backed out of the bid for the new penitentiary construction contract because, as Petten had alleged at the time, government was favouring one bidder above the others.
Petten said that situation is still in limbo.
“This is very important stuff,” said Petten, who added Infrastructure takes up a large chunk of the annual provincial budget. “You’re looking at public money, it’s not government’s money, it’s not Andrew Furey’s money, it’s the publics money.”
Like Dinn, Petten said he wasn’t aware the shuffle was coming, but that it wasn’t a shock.
“You should always be prepared for change, and change is not always a bad thing,” said the member. “Every change presents new challenges, and new challenges, I think, make us better. Sometimes we need change, we need a refresher, because when you’re at a role for a while, you don’t lose your vigor, but sometimes you need a different perspective… It’s good for us as a caucus, as an Opposition.”
Petten, who supported Wakeham for the PC leadership, said the new leader wanted to make his mark on caucus, which is common for incoming leaders.
“It’s a renewal of sorts,” said Petten. “Wakeham had a vision, and he made that clear when he got elected.”
Petten said the shuffle was fair and respectable. In addition to the new duties, he remains Opposition House Leader, the party’s representative on the House of Assembly Management Commission, and responsible for critiquing the Public Procurement Agency.
The role of Infrastructure critic was formerly held by Ferryland MHA Loyola O’ Driscoll, who will maintain his roles as Caucus Whip and Transportation critic while taking on the NL Liquor Corporation, formerly the responsibility of Wakeham.
The shuffle will also see Harbour Main MHA Helen Conway-Ottenheimer being made responsible for Seniors and Ageing in addition to her other duties, including Justice and Public Safety, Attorney General, Women and Gender Equality, Francophone Affairs, and Persons with Disabilities.
Conception Bay-East- Bell Island MHA David Brazil has been appointed to Finance, formerly the bailiwick of Wakeham, in addition to his responsibilities as Treasury Board and Public Service Commission critic.

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