Monday, 7 October 2013

PEERING INTO A POLITICAL PRESSURE COOKER

Those who think about the machinations of politics, even momentarily, must wonder what changes occur in an Administration so challenged and unpopular, its very survival is threatened.   

The Premier’s popularity, at 20%, is the lowest of the Country’s ten First Ministers; newspaper editors and Blogs (including this one) have called for her resignation.  Now the Minister of Finance has quit amidst reports of squabbling and disagreement.  

Is the behaviour of the Premier, of her Ministers, their staff and even of senior public servants affected when the Government is virtually under siege?

The answer is, yes.  The behaviour of most everyone, at the senior level, changes. 
The evidence does not manifest quickly.  In most governments, it is in the early months of a term, when the toughest and most unpopular decisions are made. There is expectation that the rough spots will even out over time. Dunderdale did not see that the Williams’ joyride had to end, that his agenda possessed all the hallmarks of a fairy tale.  It was as if the oil price bubble could never burst.

When negative public reaction is prolonged, and seemingly intractable, the leadership is expected to rethink the Government’s agenda, engage in public consultation, offer new ideas and begin the process of re-building public confidence.

When no plan is evident and the political maelstrom only grows, concern begets fear that the Leader is sleep-walking.

Paranoia begins to creep into relationships.  Backbenchers are paid greater deference.  Ministers, who just a few months ago were relaxed and free-speaking, are now guarded even with their closest allies.

Meetings, where politicians are present, become more circumspect especially if public servants are absent; their presence suddenly a perquisite for business-as-usual.

The antennae of inside political operators are extended; the most innocuous conversations are parsed for inference. The open-ended question (are we winning yet?) becomes an art form.

Ministers and MHA’s visiting the 8th Floor, make the inevitable weather metaphor a segue: are we going to weather this b’y?  The Premier’s staff will listen but not confirm a single doubt.  They will edit every Press Release until it is sanitized. Strangely, though, they seem unable to discourage this Premier from walking into a free-wheeling ‘scrum’, knowing, as they must, another verbal disaster awaits one so incapable of speaking ‘off-the-cuff’.   

It is, perhaps, the best evidence that this Premier does not take advice.  She seems not to study her Brief or demand scripting.  It simply may be the case that she is incompetent. If, as a Premier, you have sanctioned a $7.4 billion Project, in a Province where that is still a hell of a lot of money, you ought to know more than a few basic lines like, “we need the power” and “Muskrat is the lowest cost option”.  I have a feeling her staff never need a hair-cut; they have gotten used to pulling it out! 

It is tough for a Government to be productive when a depressingly negative energy hangs in the air, like a morning fog. Ministers will vent but few are strategists, their advice more plaintiff than analytical or prescriptive.

Ardent Tory supporters will call the Premier’s Office.  The same ones who gave the Premier unwavering support at the Convention in Gander, are enquiring if the Premier understands her predicament and whether “she is going to do anything”.

This year, summer recess and the garden party circuit failed to yield respite from Question Period or the Opposition’s easy access to reporters.  The Government’s stumble on Muskrat, Bill 29 and an overall lousy agenda, which has been wrongly described as “poor communications”, has only begotten worse Polls.  The news shows and social media have been as busy as any other time. 

It is not difficult to understand why a Premier must be a person of both superior character and political skill.  Equally, it is easy to see how a poor performer succumbs when failure overwhelms.  
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READ: HOW THE PREMIER DAMAGES HER CREDIBILITY (PART I)

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Right now, Confederation Building is not host to a productive environment. 

Lack of popular support causes strife and saps enormous energy.  New initiatives are re-thought for fear they will add to the fuss.  Senior public servants are more guarded in their advice.  The experienced ones will spend extra time micro-managing; small problems become huge when the blame game begins. Not wishing to be parties to desperate decisions, they will keep a safe distance from their political masters.

It is a corrosive environment.  The business of politics and even some government business, too, become frozen. 

In times like these, the Premier ought to take steps to prevent a ‘bunker mentality’ from pervading her Office or her Cabinet.  Of course, it is the elected ones who first look to the exits, as they re-do the math on their pensionable status.

The Premier needs someone who has long enjoyed her confidence, whom she thrusts, and who is capable of sound analysis. It must be reasoned, truthful and not spare anyone or any prior decision; it will include politically sensible recommendations.  The Premier’s ego may even take a bruising.  If she is offended she may give the advisor’s ego a bruising in return. That is the price of that privilege.

Most advisors, asked to offer council, are well-intentioned people.  But, judgment is truly a scarce commodity.    

The question is: does the Premier possess the judgment to assess advice, good or bad?  She has not built a reputation for skilfulness.

This week, the Premier will shuffle her Cabinet.  She must find a replacement for the Minister of Finance.  As far as Cabinet material goes, put bluntly, she is ‘short-staffed’.

Still, a Cabinet shuffle alone is inadequate. The Government requires a serious re-set of its agenda. The Premier must promise to change her ways and acknowledge that she will respect the messages the public has sent.  If only a shuffle, the Premier will confirm her incapacity to countenance advice. 

I predict more bad weather.

4 comments:

  1. Des... Trevor Taylor stint on On Point was very telling. He did not mince words, and effectively sent daggers through the heart of many Tories. But go to 8 minutes into this link.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/on-point-kennedy-s-resignation-and-liberal-standings-1.1927470

    At 8 minutes into the interview Cochrane asked Taylor who does he think should be Finance Minister. His shrug of his eyebrows clearly communicated what many in the province think. The talent pool is very shallow in the conservative party. Who is qualified?

    This party is struggling because they lived off the coat tails of Danny Williams. They did not recruit talent, to keep the party going when the wave of 2003 MHA's would step away. The talent they did have was pushed out by Williams himself. It is poor political planning. To survive political parties must continually recruit successors.

    This is not only a lame duck premier, it is a lame duck political dynasty.

    They are finished, and will be best remembered for being the architects of the decade of squandered opportunity. Muskrat Falls will mark their epitath.


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  2. This Premier is a sitting duck, and is likely in the cross hairs of her own party, despite public shows of solidarity and affection. It is painfully obvious that she.....and her Ministers..... have dropped the ball on nearly every file of significance. This is not surprising, and as the above comment suggested, it all goes back to a poor recruiting effort when Danny was in power.

    Most of the members rode in on his coat tails and he did not have the sound leadership skills to nurture good people. He was "it" and did not want any real resistance to his half-baked plan to get the Muskrat Falls project in place. Consequently, we are still facing a demoralized and unpopular group that is afraid to come out in defiance of the one-time prince. The PC administration and their supporters want to believe in the omnipotence of the former leader. Hence, they are sniping away at Cathy because she is not Danny, despite his having created a hopeless scenario for those who followed.

    They will get buried in the next election and, indirectly people will be sending Danny a message, but that will only become apparent further down the road. Sadly, for the people of the province, we will be stuck with a broken legacy and a financial mess in the form of Muskrat Falls.

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  3. memo to Ross Reid "it's NOT the economy stupid"

    The premier is stumping the standard lines about how great the economy is. Her cabinet do not understand how they can be so unpopular when the economy is so strong. It is the fact that the premier and the PC party take credit for an economy they did nothing to nuture which pisses so many people off. It is not the economy, it is the complete lack of respect this government shows to the collective intellect of this province. People are tired of the patronizing crap coming from this government communications departments.

    If the government want to turn things around, start by hiring communications people who produce more than drivel.

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  4. Dunderdale can shuffle her cabinet as many times as she likes....you can't fix STUPID! Everyone knows it's bad when you have to call in 'the fixer' in the form of Ross Reid! It appears to be much worse, as his attempts aren't working either!!! She was at a 26% popularity rating before he got there. Now she's at a dismal 20%! Does that say more for Dunderdale or Reid? The incompetence of this government is incredible! True, there is little talent in government, but what little is there, is not being utilized to full potential. Dunderdale's insecurity won't allow that little amount of talent to shine, for fear of losing the stronghold she has over cabinet. She has finally allowed two of her 'lapdogs' out of the puppy kennel to play with the big dogs, but in minor portfolios or 'entry level' positions, if you like. Right now, they are no threat to her, and Kent and Crummell are just glad to be there, and don't have the experience or gumption to speak against her. Basically, it comes down to the fact that Dunderdale has her head stuck in the sand, refusing to accept the dire position, she, her government, and her party is. (I won't say where she really has it!) It's only a matter of time before the electorate, and possibly the PC Party, will come up to her and give her a swift kick in the arse, and send her reeling into what the rest of us are living....REALITY!!! I'm convinced that this woman has no pride, because she is too power hungry. It's amazing what some people would sell their soul for! I look forward to the day when we, as a province, can elect representatives who speak for the people who elect them, instead of hiding behind the leader of a party who treats them and the people of the province with utter contempt, under the guise of democracy. Dunderdale will bring this party, and the province, to it's knees, and it will be a VERY long recovery period. You just can't fix STUPID!

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