Thursday, 8 May 2014

BEGINNING OF THE END? TORY GOVERNMENT IN CRISIS

The Government’s unprecedented decision to cancel the Humber Valley Paving (HVP) Contract and release two Bonds, worth a total of $19 million, has placed Frank Coleman at the center of another political crisis. 


Another crisis? Yes. The first was a not-so-secret uprising in the Tory Caucus over his activist ‘pro-life’ stand and the revelation that his religious beliefs extend to protesting current laws on the public streets of Corner Brook.


That uprising has dissipated somewhat, though it has caused some to wonder if Mr. Coleman’s meeting with Tory MHA’s, on Wednesday, followed a summons from them. 


The Tory Caucus, which includes all Members of Cabinet, are increasingly discouraged that the Administration continues to be mired in crises. Scandal allegations expose a House of Assembly in which Tory MHAs are drained of enthusiasm.  Question Period has been all but hi-jacked by the HVP issue. With Premier Marshall having skipped off, leaving Opposition questions to a less than skilful Minister of Transportation and Works Minister, some Tory Members wonder if a dysfunctional Government can ever find resurrection. 
Frank Coleman was sold to them as the guy capable of raising the Government out of a political quagmire. Three years of attitude and ineptitude, under Kathy Dunderdale, are now stretching into a fourth; this one worse and with unimaginable consequences. 


It is one thing for a new leader to display insensitivity on a polarizing issue like abortion but the possibility of high level scandal in which the Cabinet is implicated, wittingly or otherwise, must now  cause them unparalleled grief.


While Marshall used the Cabinet Shuffle last week to shore up the back bench by awarding three Parliamentary Assistant positions and elevating one to the Cabinet, it has all the makings of a Band-Aid.


No one wants to be associated with allegations of corruption; it is a stench that follows politicians around long after they have left politics.  Most of them are fundamentally honest and hardworking; they have no wish to be associated with power brokers under suspicion of having subverted the public interest for their friends.


Then, too, the Tory Caucus knows that public servants, in the Minister’s Department, are troubled by the HVP deal.  Professional public servants are deeply upset that the Government’s interference in the HVP affair has destroyed the practice and the perception of equal treatment of all Tenders.
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Related Reading:      HVP BOND ISSUE: MAKINGS OF A SCANDAL
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Following his meeting with the Tory Caucus, Telegram Reporter James McLeod tweeted Coleman’s comment that he had no problem with the Auditor General (A-G) investigating the file.  Minister McGrath echoed the same sentiment to Debbie on CBC’s Here and Now.


A welcoming sentiment, however, is not the same as actually calling for an investigation; that Debbie did not directly ask the Minister for one is irritating.  But, then, Frank Coleman could have baldly stated “I want an investigation”. The Minister, with the Premier’s approval, would have complied. 


Little wonder the Caucus is in deep despair.  Nick McGrath has had to forgo the argument originally advanced that the $19 million of Bonds were handed back, pro bono, due to forest fires in late June, 2013.  He has admitted that HVP had already been given a one-year Contract extension on July 11, 2013 in consequence of those fires. 


The Opposition has not yet asked if the Department forgave HVP the penalties, referred to as “Liquidated Damages” (which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars), to cover the Government’s out-of-pocket costs due to that extension.   


Then you have Frank Coleman who says he knows nothing about anything after he sold his shares in HVP.  Yet, he disputes the Minister’s own words that he negotiated the Contract/Bond release with Coleman’s son, Gene.


As if that were not inconsistency enough, you have the Minister stating that he received a legal opinion on the affair but there is no paper trail on the $19 million transaction.


There is likely one or two Cabinet Ministers who know a legitimate legal opinion is provided in writing; one that is verbal amounts to a conversation. Some of those Ministers might wish Nick McGrath was still plying his trade as a rodent catcher instead of playing nuisance himself.


While the HVP issue demands a host of answers, I find two matters particularly critical right now.


The first relates to whether Frank Coleman, his family and associates benefited from the Minister’s release of Bonds worth $19 million.


We need to know if the assets of the man who is the incoming Premier helped secure those Bonds at the time the Minister released them.


The Opposition needs to ask: who was liable if the Bonds had been called?


They need to enquire: did the Minister say to his incoming boss: no you don’t have to put your hand in your pocket for $19 million?


We also need to know if that is why Frank Coleman opined to reporters, “…the Department acted perfectly”!


Then there is the matter that his son, Gene, and other family members are (or were) owners and/or Directors of the Company.  Is it not a fiction to suggest there was no personal benefit?    


The Minister did state he did not want to bankrupt HVP; the implication is that the Government should take the hit for the cost overruns HVP was either unwilling or unable to incur. Shouldn’t we know everyone who benefited from the Government’s largesse?


The other issue relates to Frank Coleman, not as businessman but as incoming Premier.


If he is to take the Tory Caucus out of their deep sense of despair and show the leadership demanded of high office shouldn't he move quickly to bring an end to the current acrimonious outpouring of anger and mistrust? 


All he needs to say to the Premier is this: ‘there shall be no questions of scandal hanging over my head…there will not be as much as a hint of wrongdoing that I, or my family, have benefited from high level political favors.  I will not accept the Office of Premier unless I have been cleared accordingly’. 


But Coleman is not saying anything of the sort.  He is telling the media any suggestion of conflict is “heinous”.  He is being either foolish or naïve.  The Caucus knows it. They wear it on their faces!   


It may be already too late to attempt survival but one should never underestimate politicians’ survival instincts.  Those more alert had better think fast.  The Caucus has often been a catalyst for change when leaders lack the talent or are distracted.


The elected Members know what they must do.


Churchill’s famous invocation may give them something to think about:


“Now this is not the end.


It is not even the beginning of the end.


But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”


The problem is, neither Dunderdale, Marshall nor Coleman have demonstrated as much political skill as might have been contained in one of Sir Winston’s hang nails.  


If the Caucus cannot figure out that what is at issue is not mere patronage but corruption on a grand scale, then, I suggest a serious modification to Sir Winston’s entreaty:


This is not the end of the beginning….but the beginning of the end.

3 comments:

  1. This particular PC caucus is a singularly inept entity….the most inept, in my opinion, of any group of politicians the province has ever has to misfortune to have in control of the legislature…..at least in the modern era. There is not one who will cross the floor because of the ineptness of the leader, the Cabinet, or, of the decisions presumably made by caucus and Cabinet together.

    What should happen and what needs to happen…simply will not happen. This gutless crew will never place the interests of the province in front of their own pensions and fellow trough feeders in the business community. If they had any respect for the resources of the province and the people of the province, most would have broken ranks with their party on Muskrat Falls years ago.

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  2. Cyril, Des great commentary. Perhaps the gutless crew as Cyril so correctly classify them is hoping the king maker, Sir Danny who is pulling all the strings in the backroom, will come up with a miraculous plan to save their hides. If that's the case, they should all reflect back on the most recent by-election and despite his resolve to make it happen, he failed.

    One has also to wonder whether Frank Coleman's slow response in running to take over the throne, hinged upon the this contract issue being resolved. Keep in mind the minister's comment, that had they not acted as they did, the company may have gone out of business. The timing of his decision as to put his name forward, coupled with the backroom antics to eliminate any and all other candidates, totally destroyed the credibility of the PC party. So much for the concept of an open and democratic party.

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  3. I like your references to Sir Winston. As I was born a couple of years after the War, I bare his namesake. The name is common for those born in the 1940s.
    Who would think that the confusion of one Winston with another of that name would be an issue in the Supreme Court last week. A person who had Winston has a second name, would be linked in an affidavit, by counsel of Eastern Health, with me, who has Winston as a first name. The problem being the former had declared bankrupsy and insolvency, whereas I had not. And if this false information was not disturbing enough, I was then told by the Judge that that minor detail was not to be discussed. Now my character has been described by ` mental health professionals`in a Eastern Health medical file in 2010, as being `sticky`. So naturally, last week, I considered this FALSE assertion of bankrupsy, in an attachment of a sworn affidavit,by Eastern Health legal counsel, not a mere oversight. Frankly I thought it was malicious to do that. But Eastern Health counsel considered this appropriate procedure. There was no apology, not even an admission of an error.But the law is strange.
    But they did get correct that this Winston made a presentation at the PUB about Muskrat Falls.This line of logic was filed with the Supreme Court by the legal counsel of Eastern Health to help show that, despite a finding that I have serious issues with PTST, that my appearance before the PUB in Feb 2012 would indicate the soundness of my mental state: such that, in their view, it would not hinder my ability to prosecute a complex malpractice case without legal counsel! Yet I have no legal training, and admit I perform poorly in such a venue.
    But then again, this is Mental Health Week. And we now have the government initiative to discourage the stigma against those with mental health issues! That is suppose to change everything.
    Oh, well, even Sir Winston acknowledged problems with what he called the `black dog`, his phrase for depression. And yet he managed to overcome his stutters, and I believe, spoke in a public forum, more than once. But, I am no Winston Churchill.
    Uncle Gnarley long ago exposed that Nalcor were keeping tabs on Muskrat Falls critics. But who would think my views on Muskrat Falls would be annexed as an appendix in the Supreme Court on an unrelated issue. Could my suggestions for more conservation and efficiency offended some with other interests.
    The issue for me before the court involved the misuse of dangerous anti-psychotic drugs on seniors with dementia. The Telegram just last week revealed that over 1000 patients here in Nfld has been given one such drug, and there are many such drugs used off label as chemical restraints. Indeed, the medical file for me in 2010 concluded they had not considered such a drug for me.`Not yet` is what it said. Such drug acts as a poison on brain cell. The medical profession likes to use the word toxic. I guess it sounds less cruel that we give toxic drugs instead of poison. Sometimes it is appropriate to be `sticky`. As they say a pig with lipstick is still a pig.
    While I have made an occasional comment here on your fine pieces, you can see I have been very much distracted in the Supreme Court. I have been unable to read all the PUB filings and to formally point out the oversight of Liberty on the fact that salt contamination triggered the blackout of 2013. It is documented in Nfld Hydro sequence of events. As the only engineer commenting on these technical issues, perhaps some felt I should be distracted. Winston G Adams, Logy Bay. PS, I wonder if the G initial will help keep Eastern Health straight in the future. I doubt it.

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