ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – As Premier Danny Williams lay in intensive care after heart surgery Thursday in a U.S. hospital, his second-in-command lashed out at the “ferocious” debate around his trip south for treatment.
Deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale said it’s “absolutely unacceptable” how her boss’s choice of care has exposed him to a “battery” of ill-informed opinion.
“We forego a lot of privacy when we put our hands up to do this job, but there still are parameters,” she said.
“I believe it goes beyond the pale. The premier hasn’t done anything that anybody else wouldn’t have done.”
Williams, 60, touched off a storm of media and Internet commentary on the state of Canadian medicare when news broke Monday that he would have undisclosed cardiac surgery at an unnamed U.S. clinic.
Dunderdale said Williams was able to have his “preferred” procedure but declined to say more, citing his family’s wish for privacy.
“This is a stressful time. Any kind of heart surgery brings with it a great deal of angst,” she said.
She said Williams will be “chafing at the bit” to return to work and is expected back in his office in early March – in about four weeks.
“Nobody has to encourage him to work. He’s a workaholic,” she said of the father of four grown children and grandfather of four.
“We’re all delighted that this part of the journey is over.”
Williams himself will be happy to personally answer critics who’ve unfairly turned him into a “poster child” for the private-public health care wars in the U.S., she added.
He will publicly explain why he chose the treatment where he did “when he’s well enough to do it.”
For now, she implored people to hold off on knee-jerk speculation and allow Williams and his family time to get through this ordeal.
“Having to deal with all of this has not been pleasant for them,” she said of the glaring scrutiny this week.
Williams is an independently wealthy man who is known to work long days and who donates his salary to his family’s charitable foundation. The former lawyer and businessman is an avid recreational hockey player and golfer.
He has talked openly in recent months about the stress and frustration of his job, but has said he plans to run again in 2011.
Dunderdale reiterated that Williams could not have had the recommended heart procedure in Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, local physicians recommended he go out of the province.
“To have to undergo the battery that he’s undergone these last few days, you know, not only across the country but now being the poster boy for the debate in the United States … is a bit much,” she said.
Every individual has to make the best and most informed health care choice for themselves, she said.
“To elect to have procedures that could keep you ill much longer than you needed to be to be politically correct, do people expect that? I think it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Williams deserves the same privacy and benefit of the doubt that anyone else would expect, she added.
“And I think all of us have an obligation to respect that. There’s a time and a place.”