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From police officer to politician


March 26, 2014
By Danette Dooley

Former RNC officer thriving in his second career

by Danette Dooley

Sitting across the table from Paul Davis at a restaurant or coffee shop isn’t unusual for this Columnist. Our ties date back almost two decades.

Whether being interviewed about a new community policing initiative or answering questions about being named officer of the year, Davis has never shied away from publicity – nor did he intentionally seek it.

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Always attentive, he answers all questions – including the tough ones. A few years ago, people were wondering about his health. He dispelled rumours that he was terminally ill – battling everything from brain cancer to leukemia.

Having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Davis was running provincially for the second time. His decision was a gutsy one – fully supported by wife Cheryl, who shaved her head to show her love and support for her husband. The couple has one adult son.

{From policing to politics}

Davis joined the RNC in 1985 and began working with the force’s Criminal Investigation Division in St. John’s in 1992. While he served in numerous capacities, Davis is best known as the face of the force in his role as media relations officer.

In addition to his policing duties he also served – for almost a decade – as a councillor in his home town of Conception Bay South.

Anyone following Davis’ career would likely see his policing background, numerous community volunteer initiatives and his service as a municipal politician as stepping stones for his intentions upon retirement.

Davis handed in his police badge in 2010 to throw his hat into the provincial political ring. He was seconded to the RCMP at the time and working at the Vancouver Olympics. Shortly after arriving in Vancouver, the Member of the House of Assembly (MHA) for Davis’ district resigned to accept a Senate appointment.

“The time couldn’t have been worse for me as this was a dream opportunity to be immersed in the Olympic Games as a police officer.”

While he had no political aspirations at the time, Davis felt that, down the road, if the stars lined up, he would think about running provincially. Close to retirement, he sensed that time had come.

“I knew if I didn’t do it then, I didn’t know how long it would be before I’d get another opportunity.”

Davis cut his time in Vancouver short and returned home to prepare for the election. Election would mean the end of his policing career – a career he loved dearly.

Davis retired from the RNC in 2010 when he was elected MHA for the District of Topsail in a by-election. He ran again for the same district in the 2011 while facing the biggest health battle of his life.

Leading up to the election, Davis told his constituents that he was undergoing cancer campaign treatment. He told them he would work from home as much as his health allowed.

They believed in him and he was re-elected. “I did my last chemo (treatment) in September (2011). The election was just a few weeks after that.”

Davis’ transition from police officer to politician has been smooth. Both careers have many similarities, he says and policing has been a valuable asset in his role as both an MHA and minister.

“As a police officer you’re, quite often, dealing with people in crisis and, it’s not unusual, through no fault of their own… You have to find a solution to help them work their way through it – and being an MHA is very similar to that,” Davis says.

Weeks after his re-election, Davis was appointed Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2012 he was appointed Minister of Transportation and Works and Minister Responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

The job that is right up Davis’ alley followed in 2013 when he took on his current role as Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

Having served in the RNC’s Child Abuse Sexual Assault Unit, the province could not have chosen a more qualified and experienced MHA for the high profile portfolio.

“The experience as a front line patrol officer dealing with those files on a responsive basis was a key asset in becoming minister… and when I took on the appointment, very quickly I rekindled friendships that had grown from my experiences in years gone by.”

As a police officer, investigating sexual abuse allegations, particularly where children are involved, is as difficult as it is challenging, Davis says.

Families are often going through horrendous experiences. Even today, helping families is where Davis gets the most satisfaction. This is why his current portfolio means so much to him, he says.

“Of all the roles I’ve had – with Service NL and Transportation – they are things, but with Child, Youth and Families Services it’s all about children and families – and I don’t know of any other experience (other than his policing career) that I could bring to the table that could equip me better for the role I have now.”

{Premier Paul Davis?}

The province’s top job as premier is now up for grabs with the resignation of Premier Kathy Dunderdale. Davis’ name was one of the first in the media as a potential candidate for the job. It’s no secret that he has been courted by those inside and outside government circles to put his name forward.

While he admits it’s humbling to be asked if he’s interested in the top job by some pillars in the party, Davis has decided not to run.

“Health-wise today, I’m in a good place. Career-wise I’m in a good place. I enjoy the work I do. I don’t need to take on what arguably is the most stressful role in the province. That’s just not a commitment that I can make right now.”

Davis doesn’t list infrastructure or policies that have been implemented under his watch when asked what he’d like his legacy to be. Rather he speaks of something far more important to him – as a son, husband, father, brother, police officer, friend and politician.

“When I came into politics I did so, I believe, with my integrity intact and my goal is to leave with my integrity intact. My family deserves nothing less.”

dooley@blueline.ca