Monday, 12 August 2013


Ross Reid, the new Chief of Staff to Premier Kathy Dunderdale, has always eschewed steady work.  Whether as Chief to John Crosbie, as MP and Federal Minister of Fisheries, in his multiple NGO roles or, more recently, as head of a population growth strategy, Ross was always the perfect “temp”.

Ross knows when to leave; he is wise enough to keep his hat on.
Reid is capable of giving the Premier much needed help; but, she needs a lot of it. 

The Premier has stumbled badly. More than one person, a savvy, experienced team is necessary to form a Plan; one that includes policy and reflects current political realities.  If the challenge is ignored, the Government may not survive the next election.
Reid will remember how Pierre Trudeau was rescued from Minority Government status, in 1972, by a combination of experienced and astute politicians and politically savvy bureaucrats. Most people won’t remember the likes of Marc Lalonde, Keith Davy, Allan MacEachen, Jim Coutts, Michael Pitfield and now Senator, Michael Kirby…but Ross Reid will.  

Still, Kathy is no Pierre.  The stumbles repeat. The “Newfoundland owns Labrador” gaffe was just that, a gaffe. But, it served to remind the public of the Premier’s incessant misspeak, whether in the House of Assembly or outside.  If you can’t think on your feet, you have to be prepared to follow a script.    
At this particular time, the Province needs a Leader who can think big issue politics. This Premier can’t or won’t.

Her senior advisors are less able to help her than, possibly, at any time in the history of the modern public service.  That is not so much a reflection on them, as it is on their lack of experience, operating at a senior level.
No other Premier has had the turnover of senior public servants, in as short a time, as has Premier Dunderdale. Blogger Ed Hollett, who writes Sir Robert Bond Papers, has tracked executive changes, in the Provincial Government, over a number of years. 

The Exhibit (left), which he recently posted, confirms the story.  Notes Hollett, “the number of changes in 2013 is on track to exceed even … 2011 and 2012…”  Most recently, the Premier replaced her three most senior people, the Clerk of the Executive Council, the Deputy Minister of Finance and her Chief of Staff. 

Inexperience is the last thing a Premier needs when in trouble.  I really don’t think Dunderdale understands the depth of it. 
Ross Reid is nobody’s fool; though he will have to endure several who are. (See "A Government of Fools").

This Premier had the role handed to her, enjoyed Danny Williams’ reflected glory, and within a year and a half, found herself and her Administration in third place, as the favourite of only a few.    The Premier is not just unpopular among the general public; ardent Tories, who once defended her frequent faux pas, no longer restrain their distaste for how she has unwound a potential Tory dynasty.  Many are saddened at her incapacity to relate to the electorate.  

Reid can surely parse the Poll numbers.  He knows what they imply, both for the Government and his own longevity.
Luckily, he has placed himself in harms’ way before.  He has taught, or acted as an Observer, in some of the roughest countries of the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

If you see Ross heading to the eighth floor, suited in battle fatigues and head gear, don’t think him AWOL.  Likely, he knows that breaking bad news to this Premier is a bit like walking an Afghan minefield.  Lurking in the shadows, too, is the mercurial former Premier, Taliban Dan and one of his Clan, the volatile Minister of Finance.  He has frequently proven to be his own  best Improvised Explosive Device (IED).  
Then there’s the Minister of Natural Resources, who has always displayed signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even though he has never fought for anything, except the Corner Brook Hospital; even that victory remains something less than assured.  

Ross does not have a lot with which to work.
Don’t expect any Facebook fiascos under his watch, though; nor will Darin King be asked to follow any more scripts hatched in the Premier’s office.  Gerry Rogers will have to write her own Press Releases from now on.

Reid will want to take away access to social media from two particular lowbrow types who inhabit the backbench.  Like the Taliban, Paul Lane and Steve Kent are not ready for democracy, just yet.
Of course, they are mere annoyances compared with the larger problems.  Just how does Reid get the Premier back on track?   See the difficulty? Even the very question is flawed. 

The Premier has never defined a course; she has no Plan and no new policy unless you count Bill 29. She equates spending with vision. She performs cutbacks with all the grace of a pick axe.   Even the Finance Minister has confirmed the Tory Blue Book was poppycock, from the start.

Dunderdale vs. Kennedy; one is truly as good as the other in the art of being astute. Truly, where is there room for empathy?
 I asked an Outport wit, recently, why he felt Premier Dunderdale’s popularity was so low.  He responded: “When she speaks, she doesn’t speak for me.  I don’t think she speaks for hardly anyone”. (See also "Why Dunderdale Can't Connect".

He didn’t say the problem was Muskrat Falls; nor did he refer to the Budget cutbacks of the Spring.  His words speak to isolation, to a sense of alienation from the very person with whom connecting should be easy.  Hence, the problem is not just policy; it is personal.
In the coming days Ross Reid will think about Afghanistan, often. He may wish to return.  Right now, he is facing a Provincial Government about as ready for fight as a platoon of Afghans waging war, in flip-flops.

Yes, there are optimists who think Dunderdale is just experiencing some mid-term blahs. They believe Ross will tweak the script here, put together a few photo ops there, and presto, the Polls will start to bounce back.
Good Luck with that!

Government is serious business.  If real change is coming, what might the public expect from a Premier willing to change her ways?
Real change is a Government that offers to repeal Bill 29, that agrees to open Nalcor and Muskrat Falls to the kind of scrutiny performed by the Nova Scotia Utility Board (UARB) and even more...because so much public money is at stake. 

Real change would see the CEO of Nalcor replaced with one more qualified.
Real change is a Government committed to treating the House of Assembly and Opposition Parties with respect.

Real change would confirm a plan to institute a proper Budgeting process. 
Real change reasserts the role of the PUB; it insists on complying with the full mandate and original purpose of the Treasury Board, the Public Service Commission and the Public Tendering Act.

And, that’s just a beginning.
Sound public administration, disclosure and accountability have badly suffered since the beginning of the Williams’ Administration.

Will the Premier defer, if Reid makes any of those proposals?  Not Likely. 

Ross Reid is an excellent fellow.  But, I wouldn't get too carried away with a group who is on track only to undermine our long awaited and still nascent prosperity.

Ross Reid should keep his hat on.


  1. The conservative government has had no vision and no plan for the future other than the 'Energy Plan'. They are driven by Muskrat Falls, but instead of incubating their legacy it will mark their epitath. They have spent like drunks, and have treated democratic principals with disdain. Our core industries are in worse shape than when they started (timber, fishing)and the mining deals they have signed do not even come close to the Vale deal in terms of long term benefits to the province. Their success has been propped up by public apathy, and a strong oil and gas industry. However, the public are finally awakening to their collective incompetence. Their legacy will be defined as a "Decade of Squandered Opportunity" .....

  2. I believe they are sticking Reid in there for the hell that is about to erupt in NL over Muskrat Falls (ie: 4 lawsuits now, and likely one more to come). It is a defensive move. Not one designed to cure her other "falters", but one to take over the reins as the ship gets blown apart. Good luck to Ross Reid #NotReally

  3. Nalcor need to be open and honest with the people of Newfoundland regarding the impact the HQ court challenge will have on our rates, if HQ are successful. The fact that Nalcor did not get legal certainity prior to undertaking a 7 Billion dollar project is very troubling, and a potential scandal. We also still await the reply from Emera on the UARB decision. Tough times for Nalcor, will only lead to tough times for the tax payer. People need to be held accountable for this mismanagement of public dollars.

  4. Ed Martin not getting his legal ducks or long term PPAs in order before sanction wouldn't be tolerated in a private business - nor should it be acceptable from a Crown Corp.

    Removing him would be a bold move but NLPCs are too cowardly/ have MF rabies.

    Unless Reid kicks Dunderdale out of the Premiers in a coup there isn't much he will be able to achieve with the rudderless NLPC.

    Easy to be popular spending Accord money but long term planning and foresight were thrown out the window starting with DW.

    Not that it really matters about muting Lane and Kent on twitter because neither are electable without DW coattails - unpopular party least liked leader since confederation and their achievements as MHAs?

    Reid needs to force governance on a very tired party whom make mules look easy to handle. Where are the broad spectrum ideas? clearly not in any of the current NLPCs.

    48 seats for NLs population of 514,536 is the definition of overkill. 24-30 will get rid of a lot of barnacles currently embedded in NLs hull: better to remake HoA over from scratch v patch work repairs.

    Greater party competition for reduced seats can only enhance democracy and force weak candidates to remain looking in.

    Mount Pearl deserves only a signal seat for our size(doubly true with Twitter A+B MHAs) Corner Brook has 3 seats when 1 should more then suffice.

    Recall legislation to remind MHAs they serve their district first and foremost with stipulation pensions affected/removed if recalled.

    Ban on all failed candidates being Political Appointments 5 years since last election they ran in.

    MHA pensions - cut to reflect private pensions or remove all together and let each member invest themselves. Pre existing public pensions count against any MHAs pension - cap the amount.

    Expense accounts/travel claims far more stringent - whatever group signs off on them can deny a claim if obvious X party v gov - EX flying many MHAs/staff to by-election district is clearly political therefor parties are responsible for costs.

    100K air travel for Kevin O'Brian seems ludicrous - time to retroactively bill the excessive and opulent habits of MHAs.

    Remove King as both Justice Mister AND House Leader, ask Wiseman to immaterially step down.

    REPEAL bill 29,60,61 take giant step back from MF and reevaluate ! Cut the bull and poor political maneuvering - no current NLPC MHA has the chops or intelligence for such a feat.

    Ministers should be expected to be able to answer questions by Opposition without endless referring.

    Cap the amount of $ for the Premier's staff - you can give them unjustified 40% raises BUT you will have to cut a few as result. Must pay for the best hasn't worked out AT ALL since DW left!

  5. " Senator Michael Kirby" resigned from the Senate in 2006.