By ROSALYN ROY
PORT AUX BASQUES – Andrew Parsons finds that more of his constituents tend to reach out during an election campaign. He’d spent much of the day campaigning in Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou, dropping off pamphlets and chit chatting, socially distanced of course, with those he met along the way.
“When people see you more, I think it tends to remind them that you’re there,” offers Parsons via telephone interview on Tuesday evening, Jan. 26.
He has solid experience with campaigning, so he isn’t finding COVID-19 to be much of a hindrance.
“It’s been a different campaign, but overall I think people seem to get it and to appreciate it,” he says.
As the incumbent seeking a fourth term, Parsons says it’s a bit easier as constituents are already well aware of who he is and what he brings to the table.
“I’ve had a decade to get to know people, to talk to people, so it’s not the getting to know you factor anymore,” notes Parsons. “I’ve been talking to some of my colleagues who are running for the first time, and so they’re coming up to the door with a hat on a face mask on, all the protocols, and so people don’t know if you’re a volunteer or the person. Recognition is harder.”
Parsons enjoys public service and helping people resolve issues. He and his “right hand”, Joanne Clarke, have only just helped a local resident arrange necessary medical transportation.
“This is something that was obviously urgent to them,” he notes. “It’s not like it’s something where you just make a call and it’s done. You have to call, you have to advocate, you have to e-mail, you have to argue the points and at the end of the day we got a positive resolution, and that gives you that feeling that you need.”
Although an election has been called, Parsons still serves as MHA for Burgeo-LaPoile, Attorney General and Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology (IET). It’s a lot to juggle, but he says he always puts his riding first.
“A long-term politician once told me, ‘Don’t ever forget where you’re from,’” shares Parsons. “It’s no different than any profession. You get better at it.”
Parsons is not a fan of campaigns, even as he enjoys meeting voters. He says proving his worth to represent the riding is found in the work he does in between elections, not knocking on doors.
“I think people have a perception that you show up and campaign and then you go into hibernation. It’s the opposite, if anything.”
Parsons quickly lists the more pressing issues within the riding, most of which he’s been chipping away at for years.
“Today a lot of people worry about Muskrat Falls and the price of electricity. That’s sort of an evergreen one,” he says. “That’s obviously a provincial-wide issue. Healthcare is an issue. Everybody worries about that, and then you have your specific local issues, which is access to healthcare.”
One of the bigger issues also revolves around the spotty or non-existent cell service coverage along the Southwest Coast. Parsons has been working on that one for years and, in conjunction with Bell and the provincial government, attempted to kickstart a program to improve coverage and is still working to tweak it.
“It’s still an issue in certain areas. Roads, road work, transportation – we have to drive to get anywhere so roads are always a perpetual issue for people.”
Another perpetual issue is employment. It’s not his department, but Parsons shares that the cold live-storage feasibility study is underway now that the hiring has been done.
“I’m pretty happy about it. I think it’s a no-brainer,” says Parsons. “It makes all the sense in the world, especially in this location, when it comes to getting our product out of province via the biggest conveyance of traffic.”
He’s also been working with Matador Mining, who continue to develop the Cape Ray Gold Mining Project. Parsons shares that he spoke with them as recently as last week.
“We’ve been working with them to help with trying to get their people into the province to do the job,” says Parsons, before noting, “It’s all ultimately up to the Chief Medical Officer of the province. They are the ultimate decision maker.”
Both of these ventures represent much-needed jobs for the Southwest Coast, but Parson’s role is limited mostly to providing information and guidance through the application process necessary to re-enter the province or acquiring necessary permits. He’s quick to point out that the Chief Medical Officer is not open to lobbying on the company’s behalf.
“My job is just to work with them to present the case, but at the end of the day I can’t make up medical evidence. These businesses have to come up with the plan, the safeguards, and get the sign off from the Chief Medical Officer.”
Regardless of outcome, he makes it a priority to keep abreast of what changes are going on in the district and promotes it wherever and whenever he can. He’ll also work to help employers outside of district too, because that means more jobs and more money. He has worked hard to establish a relationship with the producers of the TV show Hudson & Rex.
“People don’t realize the hundreds of thousands of dollars that a TV production brings into this province,” he says. “Matador needs to get on the ground to push forward their development, and that’s going to lead to local jobs. It’s going to lead to business spin offs. It’s going to lead to, for the province, business tax.”
He’s got other projects he’s continuing to work on also, like aquaculture developments near Burgeo. In his role as Minister of IET, he’s also exploring clean energy development. There are also rare issues he tackles, ones he hardly hears about outside of an election campaign. He mentions wood cutting permits as one such example.
“Everything is within the context of COVID, so this is the most unusual election,” he says. “But I also think that’s one of our strengths.”
Parsons compares Newfoundland’s success in flattening the curve to other provinces, or even the rest of the world. He’s not willing to credit solely the geography for that success either, but instead points to residents, leadership and the provincial health department for their work in keeping the pandemic under control.
Parsons believes that continuing to follow guidelines will mean businesses can get back to normal sooner, and that in turn helps the provincial economy kickstart back up much sooner than in places where COVID-19 continues to thrive. Businesses mean tax revenues and that pays for provincial social services. Without that, he says, the whole thing falls apart.
“I think it’s been a pretty safe job done here, a pretty good job,” says Parsons. “You could have the best leadership, but the people, the province, have really chosen to protect each other, to worry about each other.”