U.S. heart surgery drives ridicule abroad, but Williams is tops at home

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Premier Danny Williams was sequestered in an undisclosed U.S. location as he prepared for a medical procedure that has triggered ridicule south of the border about Canada's health system but support at home for the popular politician.
Supporters of the outspoken premier defended the government's tight grip on details about the cardiac surgery Williams will undergo, and even the opposition went easy on the subject.
"I think Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would give that deference to anybody, not just this premier," said NDP Leader Lorraine Michael. "I think that's who we are as a province.
"I'm not ready to make a judgment on it until I have more information. And I don't see that as being a weak position. I see it as being a caring position on everybody's part."
An open-line radio host was called an "idiot" for questioning the information void about Williams's condition and the decision to have surgery in the U.S.
Randy Simms of VOCM in St. John's implored some especially nasty emailers to stick to the debate: whether the premier's staff could have averted an international uproar by more openly discussing a public figure's private situation.
Provincial Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones, who called Tuesday for more detail on the premier's condition and whereabouts, had nothing more to add Wednesday.
Michael said the premier's office could have avoided the PR flap over what American right-wing wags have called the premier's "run for the border."
His staff did not confirm or deny a report Wednesday that Williams, 60, will have the undisclosed cardiac surgery Thursday.
Fox News picked up the story as the blogosphere buzzed with debate over the premier's trip south for care.
"I think they could have had a better communications strategy around this," Michael said of the premier's staff. "Maybe they didn't expect the reaction with regard to that, I don't know.
"I don't think Mr. Williams's visit to the United States is any kind of statement on our health care in Canada," she stressed. "And I certainly have tremendous faith in our health care both in Canada and here in Newfoundland and Labrador."
The province has worked hard to restore faith in its $2.6-billion-a-year health system after a devastating debacle involving botched breast cancer tests.
Some have suggested the premier's decision to seek outside care - albeit on the advice of local doctors - could undermine those efforts.
Michael doesn't think it should.
"There's all kinds of things that people get sent outside of this province for, not because we're incompetent here in Newfoundland and Labrador, but because we're just too small to offer certain procedures. That's part and parcel of being a small population."
So, too, is it a cultural trait in this province to show deference to leadership and offer the benefit of the doubt, Michael said of the premier's defenders.
Many other observers, inside and outside the province, weren't prepared to be that patient.
"The care of Danny Williams's ailing heart is very much the business of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," said the Globe and Mail in an editorial Wednesday.
"To evade these questions or postpone answering them would lead residents to the inference that there is one standard of health care for the public, and another for government leaders."
Jonathan Rose, a political scientist at Queen's University, disagreed.
The extent to which the public needs to know private details of a politician's life is always a fine balance, he said. But in Williams's case, media are filling the void of official information with inferences about his public policy stance that "may not be really germane or relevant," he said.
"This to me is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. It makes sense to me he would go out of the province," especially if that's what local doctors advised him, Rose said.
"The interesting thing for me is balancing both the public's right to know about the personal life of a politician, and the steps taken by the premier's office to not fully disclose ... his whereabouts."
Into that gap, speculation has flowed, he said.
"When there's not honesty or (there's) partial truth, the narrative's filled in."

Organizations: Fox News, Globe and Mail, Queen's University

Geographic location: United States, Canada, ST. JOHN'S Newfoundland and Labrador

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