Piece by Piece: Putting Together the First 100 Days

Like a lot of parents during the lockdown, Allison and I often found ourselves trying new or revisiting old ways of connecting with our kids. Introducing Maggie and Rachel to the John Hughes catalogue of awesomeness via Uncle Buck or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Getting out for more hikes or honing my Switch skills with Mark. But one activity really stood out. Puzzles. I know I’m not alone here. In fact, I had seen several social posts by people looking to trade puzzles. I was a little skeptical. But when Allison brought home a 1000-piece puzzle, I have to admit, once the first corner took shape, I was hooked. There’s something really tranquil about it. Something so satisfying about finding the right piece for the right place. Slowly the bigger picture takes shape. You know what it should look like from the box it came in. You work towards it. 

My schedule is as thick as April fog these days. Not too many puzzles being conquered. But the metaphor was not lost on me as this week I reached the “first 100 days” mark. It’s a significant milestone for any politician who has been trusted to take on a leadership role and to make the always-looming tough decisions. I grew up in a political family in that the issues of the day were often a dinner time topic. Through my father and my uncle, I received a sort of internship in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. It instilled in me a broader view of the province and made the people here mean that much more. I often credit it with being the most influential reason why I chose to practice medicine here when more lucrative offers were on the table on the mainland and in the States. Before becoming premier, I thought long and hard about what the bigger picture would be for this province. Then I treated that image as if it was composed of a thousand or more pieces and immediately got down to the work of putting it together. Piece by piece. Corner by corner.

My background in epidemiology rang several alarm bells about the pandemic as it built momentum in the early days of this year. “This could be bad” morphed into this will be bad and we all saw infection numbers rise each day. But since taking office in August, I’ve been in contact daily with Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Haggie, all of us making sure the situation is monitored closely and the right decisions are made to best protect the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I could not be prouder of how our province responded. How we continue to respond. Yes, the lockdown was hard as were the travel restrictions, the family bubbles, the Atlantic bubble, and the toll it all took on our local businesses. But all of us working together have managed to keep the lowest infection numbers in the country. Yes, a second wave is becoming a reality. But be assured that we are ready for whatever comes next.

As working parents, both Allison and I realized the need and importance of getting kids back to school. Not just for education but for their social and emotional development too. There was and is stress on all involved. Again working closely with Dr. Fitzgerald, we developed a safe return to school program for more than 60,000 students. This has meant bringing in more buses, more teachers, and administrators. We hired more maintenance staff to keep the schools clean. And working with Ottawa, we committed an extra $26 million to ensure safety at school a top priority. 

Yes, all our children will always be a top priority. Back when I started my leadership campaign, $25 a day child care was an important initiative for me and I’m so happy to see it being implemented ahead of schedule. I truly believe this will help more parents get back into the workplace while giving their kids a transformative experience in early childhood education.

Working as a doctor in the province for over a decade has given me a frontline perspective of our healthcare situation. Seeing it from the government side has also helped complete the picture. It’s our largest budgetary line item and constantly the most top-of-mind issue for the people I’ve met with across the province. Again, the pandemic amplified that concern. But it also revealed that we need to change the system we have in place. Not through cuts, but how we approach delivery. That’s why we’ve established the Health Accord NL Task Force. To take healthcare delivery to a new level and to look at how we get better outcomes and ultimately create a healthier population. 

The pandemic is still punching hard at our local economy. I know a lot of us are doing our best to support local businesses. And whether that’s ordering take out or dining at your favourite restaurants to visiting local shops for a coffee, craft beer, or to get groceries, we’ve all been doing our best. But our businesses need more. Many are struggling and closures are an unwelcome growing statistic. That’s why we’ve earmarked $30 million for a COVID-19 Small Business Assistance Program. And we’re helping our treasured arts community by expanding eligibility under the Tourism and Hospitality Support Program. Keep this in mind as we come into the holiday season. I’ve been to many fundraisers over the years and they are often successful because of the overwhelming support and generosity of our local businesses. Let’s return the favour. Purchase gift cards. Buy swag. Make sure that every present sent out of this province is from this province! 

Our economic future has also been a consuming concern during my first 100 days. The situation was dire. The pandemic made it worse. But I’m an optimist at heart. During the leadership campaign and while running for Humber-Gros Morne, I covered almost 15,000 kilometers. I’ve seen the fear in the eyes of both young and old. But I’ve also seen many examples of resiliency. That down but never count us out spirit. It fuels us all to push forward and we’re already making headway. 

In September, I had the privilege to stand with Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan as we unveiled an over $320 million investment from Ottawa to the province to support workers in our struggling oil and gas sector. We immediately established the Oil and Gas Taskforce to help us distribute the funding and make sure the money is spent in the right places as we keep pace with the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward a greener economy. 

Back when I asked for the best and brightest to step up for our province, I could not have imagined a more qualified group. Led by the phenomenal Dame Moya Green, the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team is a group with local, national, and international experience, they will offer their highly qualified advice on the opportunities ahead of us. And there are many. The “tech pipeline” as I’ve described it will flow. Don’t think so? Ask Verafin after their $3.6 billion dollar deal. Tell that to Mysa, HeyOrca, Kraken Robotics, and countless other tech businesses in this province proving every day that when it comes to ideas there are no borders. 

These ideas can be a beacon. People will want to come here, even come back here for that potential as well as a quality of life that’s so unique to this place. That’s why I want to reprioritize immigration. To grow it by at least 2500 people each year. Make it attractive to individuals but even more so to communities to come. Because Newfoundland and Labrador is rich in its multiculturalism. Always has been.

100 days. I’d love to say the puzzle is complete. The big picture obtained. But it is not. Not yet anyway. But what I feel most optimistic about is the progress we are making for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. There are no quick fixes to the problems we all face. There are no overnight solutions. When someone starts a question with “what are you going to do about…” I know it comes from the same place as those out there doing the doing. The ones getting up every day with the future of our province as their big picture. It’s our big picture too. It is mine always. Yes, there is more work to do. We are only at the start. But day by day, piece by piece, I know we are getting there. 

Take care and stay safe,