Monday, 30 May 2016

THE MEDIA AND A WOUNDED PREMIER

It is bad enough, having served four years as opposition leader, that Dwight Ball arrived on the eighth floor unaware the province is in a fiscal crisis!

Now, he has awakened a sleepy public and a media normally preoccupied at this time of year with the circumference and depth of pot holes and whether they are swimmable.  

The media’s rapturous embrace of the mundane took a turn these past few weeks and it is damn good to see.

Their special access to the Nalcor leadership, accommodating for the most compliant reporters, likely won’t have the same currency, now. All will be on point, at least for a while.  

Perhaps they sense a change in what consumers of news are interested; whatever the reason the travails of Dwight Ball, and public knowledge of them, are connected to this new focus.

The public are angry and they should be, even if they and their petit business, municipal, and institutional leadership must share the blame for the mess we are in.

It is high time manifest corruption and a government in disarray and going broke should occupy a persistent presence on the front pages.

The Premier is rightfully in everyone’s crosshairs.


Premier Dwight Ball
Having waged a campaign based on ignorance, denial of irreplaceable revenues, and an economy grounded more in fairy tales than hard won progress, he is now embroiled in a scheme to deny the public their legitimate right to know how Ed Martin got moneyed up.

No one should think the legal status of the decision by the former Nalcor Board a slam-dunk. The question is whether prosecution of the Board Members is unwarranted due to advice or authority the Premier gave them, which he has failed to disclose.

Of course, the legal question is merely subtext for a greater political crisis anyway; a nearly bankrupt province has a politically wounded Premier in charge.

The Premier’s evasions, inconsistencies, together with his failure to take decisive and timely steps to stop the cash grab have left him with even less moral authority than he had when everyone realized his policy arsenal was empty.

Politics is as much about timing as it is about sound judgement. Ball failed as a politician when he recoiled from planting his boot up Ed Martin’s metaphorical posterior the moment severance was mentioned. A savvy Premier would have placed the surgical removal of his foot on public display and received commensurate popular approval.

It is one thing for a Premier to assist his Finance Minister in taking unpopular budgetary decisions or even wrong-headed ones. But no matter how disliked, naïve, or half-baked any of them may be, in order to function the Premier must be perceived as a person of integrity. There is no compromise here. The Premier cannot operate under a cloud.

The province has neither a trustworthy government nor a credible Opposition to guide us through what may be a lengthy difficult period. The Tories were the architects not just of Muskrat Falls, but of odious mismanagement. The NDP, occasionally if ever relevant, have skewered a limited cache. They are attempting to make virtue out of more spending as the bankers come knocking.

Regretfully, when the Government is getting ready to stare down the public sector unions, and trim public services, it won’t be able to boast the moral authority to convince a wary public those actions are necessary.

How does a Premier under a cloud, one that possibly helped enrich a former Nalcor CEO deserving only of the public lash, face down people with mortgages and a multitude of other bills?

How is any perception of culpability resolved? Certainly not by sending the matter to a lawyer in the Department of Justice. As if some poor sod with a law degree is going to put his/her career on the line by running a sword through the eighth floor.

The mere suggestion is “silly and stupid” a phrase belonging to a former Premier and former Chief Justice now heading another silly, stupid, and expensive contrivance, the independent appointments commission. But I digress.

The Auditor General has never been a favourite on this Blog. But the weaknesses of the incumbent are separate from the validity and importance of the Office. It retains its impartiality and independence.   

The Premier's move, on Sunday, to engage the A-G in a review of the $1.4 severance payment was slow coming but it was a necessary decision. Hopefully the investigation will be conducted within a far tighter time frame than it took to examine the Humber Valley Paving affair.

Until the Premier is cleared of any role in Martin’s unjustified and possibly illegal gain, this Premier remains a politically wounded politician.

Still, Ball's decision to refer the matter to the A-G does not lessen the incomprehensibility of his predicament.

That he would afford a bunch of Danny Williams’ cronies, including Ed Martin, such power over his own political future, giving himself no protection via a paper trail and having failed to disclose the firing on the heels of Martin’s ostensible retirement, constitutes one of the worst acts of political stupidity since Dunderdale declared DARKNL ‘not a crisis’. 

For that reason, whatever the Auditor General decides about him his status is temporary.

Unless the media return to their old ways, to potholes and moose kill, which is always likely, a Premier this dumb won’t last.

12 comments:

  1. We can count on the CBC to focus on the potholes. Luckily we have James McLeod, FRed Hutton and Paddy Daly who are raising the bar in journalism in the province. On this issue though they are forgetting that there is another aspect of this scandal. The CFO of Nalcor has a responsibility to ensure that such payments pass the litmus test. A 1.4 million payment would had to be signed off by several people within Nalcor. This raises significant concern about other decisions made within Nalcor in the past. Is the actions of a politically appointed, and generally unexperienced board sufficient to allow actions not consistent with how a corporation should be ran? This is as much to do with the CFO of Nalcor, and their Auditors, as the premier of the province.

    The AG is conducting their investigation. Well the new CEO of Nalcor should be doing the exact same thing. If I was Stan Marshall, I would be retaining an independent accountant to review everything thing on the balance sheet of Nalcor.

    It is very troubling that this payment could be made, under the circumstances available in the public domain.

    The media should be asking "Nalcor" and the current CEO. the current CEO can not hide from the transgressions of the previous board and CEO. He is there to clean it up. This issue is part of the cleanup.

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  2. Excellent. One word in your article that jumps off the page for me is "integrity". He gave that up some time ago; I think it will never be used again to describe the man in his role as Premier. It is sad but he brought it on himself.

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  3. I too wonder how long he will last and who is waiting in the wings with their knives unsheathed. Ball is too naive to understand Cathy Bennett crafted her maiden budget as a 'poison pill' to provoke the public to rebel against him. Bennett & her St John's business buddies watch with satisfaction as their plan to oust Ball unfolds. Meanwhile she & Coady, the minister responsible for Nalcor, hide in the dark corners gleefully anticipating their seizure of power.

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  4. Calling Ball dumb is too kind. His insensitivity to what the regressive taxation, inflicting disproportionate pain on the poor,is a disgrace. There was no vision save for a promise for program cuts in the fall. It was all pain for the helpless taxpayer, without even a glimpse behind the Nalcor curtain, the cause of the unfolding misery.

    Ball has imbibed the Nalcor poison, bought into the secrecy and did the Nalcor board's bidding. In return Danny's crew planted a 1.4 million knife in his back.

    Is it not time to tell Stan Marshall that "trust me, I will get back to you", is not good enough. So far it is business as usual at Nalcor, negligence, incompetence and secrecy. Open the books, engineering and contracts on MF now.

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  5. Referring this matter to the AG is the right thing to do. This is the course of action I have recommended in public comments on the matter. However there are restrictions on the powers of the AG in the Energy Corporation Act. For example, section 5(4)(5) reads as follows:
    “(5) Notwithstanding section 21 of the Auditor General Act, a person to whom that section applies shall not disclose, directly or indirectly, commercially sensitive information that comes to his or her knowledge in the course of his or her employment or duties under that Act and shall not communicate those matters to another person, including in a report required under that Act or another Act, without the prior written consent of the chief executive officer of the corporation or subsidiary from which the information was obtained.”
    The restrictions on the mandate of the AG must be removed before he can fully discharge his responsibility. The Energy Corporation Act should be amended to place the Corporation on the same level of accountability as other crown corporations, removing exemptions from a variety of legislation, including the AG Act as noted above, the Corporations Act (as noted by Russell Wangersky) and the Freedom of Information Act (to remove a restriction similar to that imposed on the AG).
    The AG should be mandated to conduct a comprehensive review of the Muskrat Falls project, in addition to the “appropriateness” of the severance payment approved by the Board. The AG must be free to review the actions of the executive of Nalcor, including the CEO and CFO, as well as the outgoing board. The Energy Corporation Act empowers the executive to block the AG if the matters covered in the review are "commercially sensitive". The Energy Corporation Act must first be amended before the AG can proceed with a full audit of Muskrat Falls or even a more limited audit into severance arrangement.
    The other concern I have relates to the terms of reference of the enquiry into the severance arrangement, which should be broad enough to review the propriety, transparency and legality of all participants in the process, including the executive of Nalcor, the old board and the new, and the government itself. The language of the letter to the AG from the Premier appears to be limited to the “appropriateness of the severance benefit” itself, leaving the behaviour of the participants in limbo, where the thoroughness of the report will depend upon the discretion of the AG.
    The report of the Department of Justice must also be released. It appears that the referral to the AG arose from the Justice report. When will it be released?
    David Vardy
    30 May 2016 at 10:53

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  6. In my humble opinion Mr Ball jumped off the cliff without a parachute....His skill level restricts him from the needs that this high office demand...To squash seniors and our working poor with no regard of how they can survive under his brutal tax law is unforgivable..He should quietly slip away into the night and allow this ship to be righted by a more stable, moral and compasionate servant..

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    1. And who do you replace him with? Surely not Cathy Bennett. She is the architect of this terrible budget and clearly wants Balls job. Ball has been duped into carrying her water bucket filled with the nasties, when she too should be held accountable for creating this mess. Ball had better watch his back.

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  7. Seems to me that Ball, by announcing the AG to investigate, on a Sunday, was to head off another attack by Uncle Gnarley on Monday morning.... such is the power of this ONE MAN MEDIA that is really on the Ball. I swear, almost, that the spirit of Ray Guy runs through this blog.
    The cute reference to Clyde Wells should not be overlooked by readers. Silly and stupid were key words used by Wells to dismiss arguments by his opponents, for those older citizens that recall those days. Wonder why Wells, who made such a stink with Joey`s schemes, has never made a public comment on the wisdom of Muskrat Falls, even thought he long ago resigned or retired as a judge.
    And a little of this is funny, the boot up the arse part made me smile.
    And the last line, a premier this dumb will not last, if the other media do their job. A call to arms for the other media to get off their arse, well warranted.
    WA

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  8. Ball will be the whipping boy for Budget Part Deux. I suspect he will then resign 1 year into his tenure. 1 year too long. Bennett may well have been the planned successor but she is now equal part to the problem with both her and Ball together running this show, albeit a side show. Anyone to support a party with her at the helm has as much intellectual presence as Ball himself. To save any face, this government should reduce MF spending by half ($650 million), all while 're-baselining', opening books AND looking into all dealings thus far. If it costs millions, so be it. If it leads to criminal activity or legacy damaging information then that's unfortunate for those. If nothing is found, then there's nothing to worry about. The Liberals then should waive the gas tax increase. I think it would be fine to still keep the levy and the additional 2% hst so that we can begin to reduce our debt. That said, I would only agree to that as long as internal government fat is trimmed first.

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  9. But the AG's findings and recommendations are not legally binding upon any government. A watchdog that has a public platform but no teeth whatsoever. This is only a diversionary tactic so Ball won't have to answer anymore questions on the subject, hiding behind "The matter is before the AG at the moment and I await his findings." Today The Telegram is now reporting that Ed Martin is entitled to 2 public pensions for his 11 years of service. TWO! If Ball doesn't know what is going on, what about his Minister of natural resources Siobhan Coady whose mandate includes overseeing Nalcor? Someone's political career is going to get it the neck very soon.

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  10. Politic-ing and personal attacks aside.... who are we going to put in our most esteemed position next?.... to actually set about to fix the systemic problems, (such as the public vault door swinging in the breeze, and government officials in secret corporations selling directly to government "Crown" corporations as they act as "Directors" of the public purse).

    It's (frighteningly) easy to find and pick fault with any number of decisions and decision makers/procrastinators in our province. Changing-out people hasn't worked. There'll always be new people with human faults. How do we change the system... specifically how do we essentially lock-up the system of politics so that personal business interests become secondary to the people's needs??? If not for us, then how about future generations in this province?

    Or is that notion (completely) naive?

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