Andrew Furey says he plans to maintain his medical credentials as an orthopedic surgeon, but insisted he is a "full-time premier" after the PCs hammered on the issue in the legislature this week.
"I'm a full-time premier and will always be a full-time premier and the interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are my top priority, especially in these troubling times," Furey said in response to a question by Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie, which garnered hearty applause from Liberal MHAs.
Crosbie said there could be a conflict of interest if Furey works with Eastern Health to maintain his surgical credentials. If that happens, Crosbie said, the premier would have to remove himself from select dealings with regional health authorities.
"I'm still working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons to ensure that I meet those requirements, but I'll do so in the minimal standards to be able to go back," said Furey.
However, Furey did admit, in the House, that maintaining those standards could involve performing surgery.
"It may involve operating and assisting in the surgical suites in Eastern Health on time to time on my vacation. I'm sure the member opposite takes vacation, as we are all entitled to," Furey said.
Crosbie was quick to respond, "But the premier may not be be aware that premiers don't get vacation."
Crosbie, a lawyer who has not practised since becoming the leader of the opposition, said a plan should have been in place by the time Furey took over as leader.
"When he was sworn in as premier in August ... [he said] that all of this was taken care of," Crosbie said. "The commissioner for legislative standards had cleared everything. Now we find out today that this is still a problem."
The Opposition leader noted Health Minister John Haggie said the premier has recused himself from negotiations between the provincial government and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. With physician services costing the province about $500 million a year, said Crosbie, "that's an enormous chunk of the budget over which he can't be premier."
"If you've got a premier, that job demands your full attention," Crosbie said.
'I plan to have life after politics'
Furey said it's important to him to maintain his credentials so he can return to his livelihood after politics, adding he doesn't want to put any present or future career in jeopardy.
"I'll ensure that there is no conflict moving forward.… I'm 45 years old. I plan to have life after politics," he said.
He told reporters he has not been involved in surgery since he became premier and said there are other ways to maintain credentials beside performing surgery, such as continuing his medical education and assisting in a surgery rather than being the lead surgeon.
When asked if any potential work done with Eastern Health would be paid, Furey said that's something that needs to be sorted out. Right now, he said, his top priority is being premier.
"My primary concern is maintaining a livelihood after this job is done. I never got into this for the money, I never got in it for the pension, I got into it to make a difference," he said. "But I do want to protect my family and my future livelihood. And I think the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would understand it."