Calling it 'window dressing,' N.L. union leader quits economic recovery team

·5 min read
Stephanie Tobin/CBC
Stephanie Tobin/CBC

The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour has resigned from Premier Andrew Furey's provincial economic recovery team, calling it "window dressing" without collaboration or transparency.

Mary Shortall, in a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, said she entered the process with an open mind but continued participation would put her in conflict with her role and mandate as president of the union.

"I can say that the lack of transparency, top-down approach, rushed timeline, lack of real collaboration and an overall feeling that not all perspectives were being considered, or appreciated, are the overarching themes for my decision," Shortall wrote.

Shortall said she couldn't go into specifics of the team's deliberations or go deeper into her resignation because she signed a non-disclosure agreement.

"It's really important that the voices of everyone is heard, and that means a collaborative approach," Shortall told CBC Radio's On The Go in an interview following the media release. "Making sure that the voices of workers are not just well represented, but also listened to and reflected and acknowledged."

"That's a really important piece for me. It's really difficult under this process for that."

The federation represents 70,000 workers, who elected Shortall as president in 2013.

All perspectives weren't being considered: Shortall

Furey created the provincial economic recovery team in September, tapping Dame Moya Greene to serve as volunteer chair. The recovery team also includes former Fortis vice-president Earl Ludlow, businesswoman Zita Cobb and Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi'sel Joe.

"We've all signed confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements to be part of this team, and up until this point it hasn't been as important an issue," she said. "But if I'm bound by confidentiality and not able to do my job … then my hands are tied."

"If there are concerns that will impact workers going forward, I need to be in a position to adequately respond to that."

In a previous interview, Greene didn't pull any punches on whether she thought the road to better provincial finances would be an easy one.

"When you're in a hole, you definitely need to stop digging," she said in November.

At that time, Greene said her review would look at restructuring services and finding new avenues for industries with a probability of long-term success. Analysis hadn't begun yet, but she hinted her suggestions would included making drastic changes to how the province operates now.

"We ought never to be prisoners of our history, but we can't ignore it either," she said.

Shortall said the recommendations made by the team will likely shape the next several decades of the province's economy and society, but it didn't feel like a "team" effort.

CBC
CBC

"I was not confident that all perspectives were being considered or appreciated," she said.

"It must be real collaboration and consultation, not simply window dressing."

Ahead of the economic recovery team's interim report due at the end of February, Shortall said she will continue to advocate for workers who fear job cuts could be coming on the horizon.

"I think those fears are out there all the time," she said. "We don't know what the recommendations will be, but there's a lot of discourse out there."

"My position has always been that it's not so much about balancing the budget as it is about balancing the economy," she added. "The goal ought to be for government to produce budgets that delivered a broadly balanced for the people it's meant to serve.… That's my role, as I said, to articulate that."

Reuters
Reuters

In a statement to CBC News, Premier Andrew Furey said he was disappointed to learn of Shortall's decision, and thanked her for her contributions to the recovery team.

"[The team] is actively engaging with a number of stakeholders and representatives from various sectors, and will provide recommendations to government in its final report due April 30, 2021," the statement read.

PCs, NDP want report made public before election

On Tuesday afternoon, the provincial Progressive Conservatives issued a statement that says Shortall's departure "foreshadows lost jobs and big cuts in the public sector."

"As the Federation of Labour is a defender of public sector employment, it's not hard to read between the lines and see where this is going," said leader Ches Crosbie in the statement.

Crosbie also called on the premier to hold off on any election call until the team's report is finished.

"If the premier plans to 'cut off limbs' to help the fiscal recovery of the province, then the people deserve to know what the targets are before casting their ballots," said Crosbie in the statement.

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

That was echoed by NDP Leader Alison Coffin, who said she is "very concerned" by Shortall's departure.

"If the task force could not reconcile their intended approach with representatives from the province's Federation of Labour, that says all we need to know about Moya [Greene] and Premier Furey's approach — everything is on the table for cuts including workers rights, jobs, and services across the province," said Coffin in a statement.

Coffin said Greene's report should be public ahead of any election call.

"With so much at stake for the province's future it is unfathomable that the Liberal government would see it appropriate to dissolve government before anything can be reviewed publicly," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador