Introducing Mr. Marshall

Rudy Norman
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He walked through the door wearing a suit, overcoat and a salt and pepper fedora.

Removing his fedora, he began to mingle with the crowd, shaking hands and chatting with just about every person assembled, laughing and enjoying conversation like they're old friends.

The people appear humble and hesitant as he asks them their names, and introduces himself. Some of them seem a little nervous; after all, they're shaking hands with the Premier of their province.

premier marshall

As he continues throughout the rows, taking care not to miss anyone, it's suddenly obvious. Premier Tom Marshall is in the house - and he seems to be having no trouble making himself right at home.

Marshall was in Fleur de Lys last week for an announcement that his Government is kicking off the tendering process for roadwork in the province earlier this year than normal.

Less than a year ago, the very same building he now stands in was filled to capacity with angry residents upset over the fact that promised road work on the section of Route 410 leading into their community was carried over to the next year, rather than being done that season.

Protests ensued, and now, they were the hosts of the Premier of the province, who had come to inform them he's fixed their situation and made sure it doesn't happen to anyone else.

It's a positive message for a group that is used to bad news. A small, rural town in Newfoundland and Labrador that's seen dwindling populations for years, and a hope for a future that's getting bleaker by the moment, now has the most powerful politician in the province sitting a couple feet from them. However, for the man who was thrust into the top job overnight, it's blatantly obvious his disconnection with the concerns of his audience is virtually non-existent.

"Tom Marshall was born in Corner Brook," says MHA Kevin Pollard, standing to introduce his party's leader. Suddenly he's interrupted.

"No one wants to hear that," says the voice. People laugh, but halt slightly when they realize it was coming from Marshall himself.

"He graduated High School, and went on to earn a law degree," continues Pollard. Once again, the Premier chimes in.

"No one wants to hear that either." More laughs - this time heartier than before.

Pollard finishes his remarks and hands the floor over to the comedian, chuckling himself. Marshall doesn't bother to use the provided speaking stand next to the table, or even bother standing up. He stays seated - on the same level as everyone else in the room.

"I'm still not used to being called that," he says after hearing the word 'Premier' again. "I guess you all know how I became Premier, and it really happened over night. I didn't even have a chance to call my friends and get them in town for the swearing in ceremony. Thank God my wife made it."

His human stories calms the audience and suddenly the room is much more relaxed than it was in the moments leading up to the Premier's arrival.

"One of the things I always wanted to do, that bothered me, was with our road work," he says after a couple more jokes. "It takes so long - we go through this budget process and when the budget is approved they do the allocation of this road work, then it goes to tender and someone is awarded the contract, and by the time they get the work, the summer is over, and they don't get it done, so then we have what's called a carry over - and I think you know something about that."

Marshall informs the group that he's kicking off the government's initiative of getting tenders out early right there in Fleur de Lys.

"We decided this year we were going to do a pre-commitment," he said. "Minister Nick McGrath announced that we're going to do a pre-commitment of $30 million."

Tenders end for roadwork on Fleur de Lys road, La Scie road as well as the road leading to Beachside in Green Bay on April 1.

Following the announcement, the Premier asked if there were any questions.

"One of the things I promised to do when I became Premier, was listen," he said. "What I've learned is when you talk to people in the community, they're not always wrong, so you have to listen to everyone and make up your own mind."

With that, the Premier pushed his papers aside, sat back, and listened as Mayor Millie Walsh spoke up about the issues at hand.

Walsh talked about the importance of the roadwork that was just announced, as well as their need for a new municipal building and fire hall. Marshall listened intently, acknowledging the Mayor, and others after her who started bringing up issues.

Concerns were raised from the audience relating to cell phone coverage, broadband coverage, and the volatile market for seal products.

Marshall reached back over, grabbed his speaking notes, and turned them over to make notes on the blank side of the paper. He asked questions back to the people relating to their issues, and offered suggestions of how they can move forward with their concerns.

"I was in China with the Premier last year," he said to Shannon Lewis with the Northeast Sealers Association. "We met some people who I think can help you - I'll get you their names."

At one point, as the afternoon dragged on and the Q&A had gone on for over an hour, staff tried to bring the meeting to a close, in an effort to help speed the Premier's schedule along. However, Marshall would have no part of it, and merely just kept asking more questions of the audience and interacting with more issues as they came up, making more notes as he went.

In one of his responses to an audience member he reminds them his time in the seat he's in, is limited.

"I'm only premier until July 5," he said. A quick response comes from someone in the front row.

"That's why you should stay."

"No, I'm too old for that, my dear," he says back to her, with a laugh from the audience once again.

Finally he recounted an agenda of what had been talked about in the conversation.

"Is that it?" he asked. "Did I miss anything?" The group agreed that their concerns had been heard. Marshall thanked them for their time, and the meeting was over.

Afterwards he still mingled with the crowd on one-on-one levels, shaking hands once again with everyone he'd already shaken hands with at the beginning of the meeting. Finally after there was nearly no one left in the building, he beckoned to his aids that it was time to go.

He walks over to the table where he'd rested his overcoat and salt and pepper fedora. He picks both up, and faces one final question from the Nor'Wester.

"What would it take you to stay on as premier?"

"You'll have to talk to my wife about that," he says with a chuckle as he slips on his coat, with hat in hand. "But if I stay, you have to wear a hat like this."

After another chuckle, he pauses, and looks at the ragged object in his hand.

"This was my father's hat," he says. "I wear it, because when I do, it's like taking a piece of him with me wherever I go."

Organizations: Northeast Sealers Association

Geographic location: Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland and Labrador, Corner Brook La Scie Green Bay China

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Recent comments

  • Linda Roche
    March 16, 2014 - 21:07

    Wonderful story , what a change, so refreshing to see the premier listening and talking to good local people. Congrats Premier Marshall

  • Janet
    March 14, 2014 - 09:12

    This article perfectly describes the person I know & respect. A very human politician who is passionate about the people he represents in a time when there just doesn't seem to be very many of those around! We will be losing an excellent Premier in July :(