He served the people of Newfoundland for two decades, first in the provincial legislature and later in Ottawa, but federal cabinet minister John Efford's lasting legacy might be one ill-timed trip to Florida.
After weeks of bad press and opposition gibes, Newfoundland's lone cabinet minister announced he won't run in the next federal election, saying his doctor ordered him to slow down in a bid to control his worsening diabetes.
Defiant and feisty before a hometown crowd of about 150 supporters who gathered in a community hall in Bay Roberts, Nfld., yesterday, Mr. Efford, 61, made no apologies for his long absence from Ottawa, nor for his southern jaunt during a mid-November Commons break.
Before his return from Florida, Mr. Efford had not been seen in Ottawa since last May.
"I've always stood for what I believe in," he told the crowd. "I've always said it like it is."
Mr. Efford said he will continue to serve as an MP until the federal election -- expected in early January -- and he confirmed he will not seek the leadership of Newfoundland's Liberal Party.
His decision to stay at home and work from his constituency office in Bay Roberts yet still draw his $213,5000-a-year salary was what first raised eyebrows about his commitment to work. Mr. Efford resigned as minister of natural resources last September, citing worsening health. Yet he remained in cabinet as the regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Mr. Efford has had diabetes for nearly three decades.
Opposition indignation was first directed at Prime Minister Paul Martin for failing to replace the ailing minister. There were rumours that Mr. Martin did not want to risk alienating the four other Newfoundland and Labrador MPs who weren't chosen for the cabinet. There were also rumours that Mr. Martin was afraid to ask Mr. Efford to step down because it would create further instability for his minority government.
There was even some sympathy for Mr. Efford, viewed at home as a hardworking politician and tireless campaigner.
But sympathy drained, even in his home province, when he took an unexpected Florida holiday. Radio talk shows and newspaper editorials turned on him.
"Maybe he should have travelled to Lourdes, France," one Newfoundland resident wrote in the St. John's Telegram. "He could have a miracle cure and instead of referring to him as the Honourable John, we could call him St. John. Does this man think Newfoundlanders are truly so stupid as to believe him when he says he's too sick to go back to work, but he can travel to Florida?"
In a subsequent editorial, the newspaper commented: "With Efford's departure on a road trip to Florida, the farce has gone beyond the sublime to the ludicrous. . . . What we certainly do not need is one of the highest-ranking politicians in the province giving the appearance of being another person milking the system for all it's worth."
Yesterday, opposition members agreed it was time for Mr. Efford to step down from cabinet. However, Tory MP Loyola Hearn said Mr. Martin should shoulder the blame for allowing the situation to fester.
"Not having somebody around the cabinet table certainly hurt Newfoundland," said Mr. Hearn (St. John's South-Mount Pearl).
"We should have had a representative there," Mr. Hearn said. "The Prime Minister -- that's who let us down, not John Efford."
Mr. Hearn has known Mr. Efford for years and has seen him very ill.
Mr. Efford was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1985 and became a cabinet minister in 1989. He quit provincial politics after losing the 2001 leadership race to replace former Liberal premier Brian Tobin. He won a federal seat in a 2002 by-election.
During his speech in Bay Roberts yesterday, Mr. Efford rarely strayed from the topic of his health. In recent months, he said, his blood sugar was "out of control, sky-high one minute, bottoming out the next."
His doctors warned that "something had to give or I was going to pay a price." Mr. Efford said he went to work every single day and made daily calls to Ottawa during his six-month absence from the capital.
He noted that other MPs have taken time off because of illness and "not a word was said."
Yet when he went to Florida on the advice of a doctor, it was depicted as a "national crime."
Mr. Efford said he plans to work for Liberal candidates in the next election and do volunteer work for charities.
He is not entitled to a pension when he leaves office because he has not served the requisite six years. Instead, he will receive a lump-sum payment, about $100,000. A member who does not qualify for the pension receives, upon leaving, a severance equal to 50 per cent of his annual MP's salary, which is $144,000, and also 50 per cent of his $69,500 salary (the stipend he receives as a cabinet minister).