Thursday, 9 June 2016

THE REAL TRAGEDY OF THE BALL GOVERNMENT

Public anger over the Premier’s handling of the severance issue endures. Yet, it is the perversity of watching the Tory Opposition, engaging in filibuster as it dances on Dwight Ball’s political grave, that gives dimension to the Liberals’ ineptitude. In a world of slightly more skilful people, Ball should be making Davis squirm—the Tories having created our fiscal nightmare.

There is always a cost when the Government is thrown into disarray and the Premier is cannon fodder for dissent. That price is a worry, one distinct from the singular question of the Premier’s integrity.

As always, there are the political issues—e.g. how could he have been so naïve? But others that are more fundamental relate to the budgetary mess, and to a plethora of overdue policy changes needed to transform the processes of government. Chief among them are initiatives to at least slow economic decline as megaprojects wind down.

One of the threads of public outcry, following the imposition of the gas tax and the deficit levy, was that the Government failed to offer hope that the fiscal pain would lead to some resolution of our difficulties. It had not laid out a roadmap connecting spending retrenchment as a building block of a sustainable economy.

Photo Credit: CBC
When the Premier engages in deception, the public should always worry. But the truth is, it’s not just the Budget or Ed Martin’s severance that get people printing posters. A bigger motivation is the ineptitude characterizing the Liberals’ first six months in Office.

Manifested, since the November election, is an Administration unready and quite possibly unable to govern effectively. It may simply be the case that the Liberals lack the requisite intellectual heft and experience. Some certainly see Premier Ball as an obstacle to change. Of course, we can eventually get rid of a single Premier. We have already witnessed the unceremonious dumping of Dunderdale and Davis. The worry is that the next one may be an amateur, too.

A Premier in difficult times needs to step up to a crisis in ways that will uplift and even inspire a legitimately nervous and angry body politic. He must be empathetic to the effect that increased taxation will have on family budgets. But even more, he must demonstrate his readiness to deal with the burden by exhibiting a serious program of initiatives geared towards economic renewal.

Does the Premier think that the public is unaware of the wind-up of the very same megaprojects that so recently caused the economy to become white hot?  Are governance issues no longer matters of debate?

A Premier is a coach, an instructor, a leader. Premiers should inspire, guide, educate, argue, and even plead inside the Cabinet—and far moreso outside, with the broader constituency—to bring about meaningful change. 

A thoughtful leader will articulate the challenges we face, lay out solutions and seek consensus. At the end of the process the Premier, in concert with his Ministers, will have a plan. It will be comprehensible, sensible, and defensible.  He and his Ministers will sell it, and become unrelenting advocates of the whole deal—not just because it is necessary for a province in dire straits, but because it represents the best of who and what they are as politicians, and as a political party.

In the current political climate, such a description of the fundamental role of this new Government seems fanciful. If a larder of ideas or policy changes exists, it remains top secret. The six months of this Government’s new mandate has produced little more than an ill-conceived Budget.

It is not difficult, therefore, to understand why the Premier is a catalyst: a lightning rod for public dissent.

He is seen merely as one of the facilitators of a huge money grab by a failed former Nalcor CEO, a Premier wriggling out of responsibility for his missteps.

He governs without moral authority, a fact that is underscored by the sustainability of public protest. The public remembers only the broken promises that a deceptive election campaign has produced. Ball has earned no plaudits with which to counterbalance six months of bad judgement.

In place of a Premier offering reassurance and inspiration, the public is suspended in a political vacuum containing only negativism, anger and fear.

Political strategists must be asking their partners to tie them to their desks. The repetition of missed cues and opportunities would incite the laziest insider to put glue on the Premier’s chair for fear that he might rush out to the media in yet another unscripted moment.

Not all Premiers bring professional management skills to the job or are multi-talented; not all understand how ideas are translated into policy, either. Few manifest knowledge of how a large and complex bureaucracy functions, or how it is prone to skewer change and innovation.

Most Premiers—though not those of the past decade—know their limitations. They seek out people of expertise, in politics, policy and bureaucracy; individuals who help refine ideas, and generate new ones befitting the economic or social circumstance. They help work through the mounds of data and analysis. They save the Premier precious time, and help him make sound and timely decisions. This is an essential part of the arduous process of change and the relentless struggle against private agendas, whether of bureaucracy, business, or unions.

Once upon a time, prior to the election of Danny Williams, a Planning and Priorities (P&P) Committee, composed of senior members of Cabinet, held enormous influence. It offered judgement, and sometimes professional advice, depending upon Ministers’ expertise. The Committee would be called together in a crisis and on a regular basis.

Williams got rid of it choosing, instead, to aggregate power over public policy creation to himself.

One can easily imagine that the competence of the former Nalcor CEO would have been a prominent item on the P&P agenda. Muskrat Falls might not have occurred if an uncorrupted process of review had been permitted, and if capable Ministers had no fear of rebuke if they stared down the Premier. The severance issue, too, might have been handled differently.

No amount of analysis or argument is a certain safeguard against a cunning Premier’s hubris. But a skilful Premier will bulwark against failure with the best people he can find. 

This Premier could not so much as replace the senior bureaucratic incumbents in the key government departments of Finance, Natural Resources, and the Cabinet Office.

In short, the first six months of Ball Governance ought to have exhibited frenzied change. They were anything but.

First on the agenda ought to have been the remediation of the governance issues that gave the Tories a black eye. As the Muskrat saga continues to unfold, does anyone—including the Liberals—not understand the cost of secretive government?

David Vardy’s article entitled “Time To Take Control of Nalcor" contains a treasure trove of policy initiatives dealing with a crown corporation that has become a law unto itself. Do the Liberals not think that Nalcor’s mandate, energy legislation, oversight, or the corrupted processes that gave sanction to the Muskrat Falls project, should be refashioned?  Are we to sink into a veritable “quicksand” (to use Vardy’s word) otherwise known as Williams’ “energy warehouse”?

Where is the Government’s plan for the Marystown Shipyard? Is it so fearful of “big labour” that it would rather leave the facility dormant?

Does it have a plan for the Bull Arm Site? The Hebron production platform will be heading out a year from now. Is dormancy the only remedy?

What about the Husky GBS project in Argentia? What is the status of the benefits agreement if they fail to proceed?

Should we continue to invest in preparations for the Gull Island power pipe dream, as Nalcor persists in doing?
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Will Government continue to invest in equity stakes in the offshore, from which any return on investment is doubtful?

Of far less financial consequence, but critical to the integrity of government, where is the public inquiry into the Humber Valley Paving affair—that epitome of Tory cronyism? 

Those measures, taken together, are a mere sampling of the items that should be high on the government’s agenda—matters on which every report is overdue. Each serves a flagstaff: proof that Ball is a Premier not prepared to deal with even the normal demands of big government, let alone a full-blown financial crisis.

Who will step up if we get rid of Ball? The Finance Minister whose ties to the failed Muskrat Falls project are given comprehension with an almost goofy Budget? John Haggie, Andrew Parsons or Perry Trimper, none having distinguished themselves (at least not yet)?

Ball may think Government a pharmacy, the perfect default to a former career. But, alas, it is not a place where remedies are dispensed one at a time. Government, and the issues with which it must deal, are too complex and multifaceted to accommodate so much tedium.

Premier Ball is a worrisome problem. He can argue that the province won’t default.  But until he can offer change, even in its most minimal manifestation, the public will be tempted to give Paul Davis and the Tory Opposition credibility they don’t deserve.

That would be a tragedy all of us should want to avoid.

14 comments:

  1. Since those days long ago when John Cabot arrived on the shores of our beautiful island we have endured the hardships, tragedy and since 1949 the laughter of a country we got dragged into....The skin of every Newfoundlander is as thick as the cement structures being raised in muskrat falls project....Dwight Balls dumping on the backs of seniors and working poor today is just another attempt to puncture that thick skin...If we look into the eyes of history we can realize the toughness and the will engrained into every Newfoundlander and the reason we survived 500 years on the rugged coast....We have yearned for the fruits of confederation but have received very little in return....I recall another liberal leaders proclamation in days gone by BURN YOUR BOATS..COME ASHORE...THERE WILL BE 2 JOBS FOR EVERY MAN... We have witnessed the demise of our industries like mining and logging...Oil in the 80s was, as we were told, our way to prosperity... Our fishing industry which every Newfoundlander is identified by, has left our showers and now struggles to be a distant memory...Now our excitement again on this power mega project at the falls have again put a bad taste in our mouths... So for me personally Dwight Balls lack of vision or just maybe his lack of ability to lead will just be another oh well..here we go again moment.... God bless newfoundland and Labrador but I fear we are cursed by the gods and by our neighbours to the the south who labeled us with the one word I hate the most..Newfies....

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  2. bernie leroux. Great Commentary! I want to borrow this sentence in your commentary and expound on why nothing good economically or otherwise was going to come our province, Newfoundland and Labrador's way. The sentence "We have yearned for the fruits of confederation but we received very little in return" and yes Mr. Leroux, we have yearned for those fruits right to this very day, but now let us think about that statement. Ottawa and the other 9 provinces were entrenched in the Canadian Federation, some of them, up to 80 years when England and Canada decided that the time was truly ripe for Newfoundland and Labrador to enter Confederation, even though Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent at the time of our joining in 1949 stated in his welcoming speech that Canada had dreamt of our province for 80 years. In 1949 the Second World War was over, there was much building to be done in Europe and elsewhere and many great economies were on the cusp to be built in the sphere which Canada would be operating. But Ottawa and the other 9 provinces were thinking differently than the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their thoughts were directed eastward towards our province, they were interested in getting their hands on OUR resources to build their own economies, from both OUR natural and human resources.

    I would hazard a guess if there was and audit done on the accounting of our natural and human resources that migrated out of our province for the benefit of the economies of the other provinces and Ottawa there would be a deficit owing our province of Hundreds of Billions of dollars. Ottawa held the coveted fish, the air space, the waters that fell under our province's jurisdiction under its control, then there were natural resources like hydroelectricity, iron ore, nickel ore, minerals of other types, oil, etc., and of course our human resource which had to follow their natural resources out of here to find work. The human resource alone was immensely valuable. As a result our province and its people were doomed economically, through the moves made on our behalf by our politicians, both Federal and Provincial, to satisfy the economic needs of the rest of Canada . And then there are the 331 MPs of the old guard against the weak strength of our 7 MPs that we have to overcome in Ottawa. As it relates to The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is a dysfunctional country indeed.

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    1. To summarize what I stated above, I truly believe from the accounting I applied based on the natural and human resources that Ottawa and the other 9 provinces have had the benefit of for their use, from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, for the purpose of creating Economies over the past 67 years, then Ottawa has a large deficit owing to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

      I would like to see a Federal Audit done on this, if we have that privilege. I am not sure whether or not our Premier can ask the Federal Auditor General to do an Audit on what we gave to Canada. It is unfair that those of us, who are now elderly, who have lived here over the past 67 years under the Federation of Canada and had to live with a very sparse economy and low wages, despite our great endowment of natural resources and the most strategic location in Canada, have now to suffer with paying off the humongous provincial debt with their paltry pension they are receiving.

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    2. Hi Agnes.

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    3. I will never be convinced that the year 1949 and our marriage into this union with Canada was our greatest accomplishment.I also know that we have paid a huge price for this union. When I returned home in retirement and realize the mess our province reached it makes me sad.I have spent my adult life in the west and I can state here today that newfoundland has given Canada is best resource in that of its people.The west depends on the many Newfoundlanders who moved and travelled to the north to build its refineries and power plants. Alberta is very happy that we brought our skills and hard work. Make no mistake you are correct when you say Canada has benefited from newfoundland

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  3. While not at all enthusiastic over the political skills of the current government, you fear the return to the PC's. Well, let me tell you, if NL should be unfortunate enough to end up with the New Democrats in charge it would not be long before Gnarley would be revisiting the good old days of the Ball or Davis administrations..

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    1. The New Democrats have already been in charge, under NDP Premier Danny Williams.

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  4. Bernie, do not hate the word 'Newfie'. I have traveled all over the world and I can tell you that people from all the places I have been know Newfoundlanders as 'Newfies'. I can also tell you that it is not said in a pejorative way at all. I have always recognized it as simply a short form and a term of endearment. Embrace it, I say. I am damn proud of it.

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    1. For me personally the word newfies is an insult but that's just me..I am educated enough to the spell the word Newfoundlander...But I understand your words...I have lived away from this beautiful island for over 40 years now and if I had a nickel for every time I heard damn newfies I would be rich..Damn newfies is the polite version of whats being said by the way...I don't like it and I am proud to stand up and say I am a proud Newfoundlander...

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  5. Well Uncle Gnarley, you hit the nail on the head again. I do hope that Premier Ball is reading your blog. It would do him such a world of good. ‎Perhaps you can join his staff! 

    By now we can only hope that he realizes that his has been a total absence of leadership. What Premier Ball needs to understand is that becoming Premier only gives you positional leadership. It simply comes by virtue of the office you hold. However, when you get there you had better have a few more arrows in your quiver. 

    Premier Ball needs to understand one very simple idea: It is credibility that produces good poll results and ultimately gets you re-elected. When the people you represent believe you, they will follow you. Credibility comes from effective leadership, and the web is full of content on what that entails. ‎However, if you can't be honest, if you can't demonstrate even a modicum of personal integrity and admit a simple mistake, there is little hope for having (or building) other leadership qualities. Whatever ability you have to articulate a plan and a need for change (and it too, is sorely lacking), the people will not stick with you. 

    ‎Brian Mulrooney wrote in an article published in the Globe and Mail in May of 2015: "Leadership is the process, not only of foreseeing the need for change, but of making the case for change. Leadership does not consist of imposing unpopular ideas on the public, but of making unpopular ideas acceptable to the nation. ‎This requires a very solid argument for change, and a very strong ability to make the argument, over and over and over again." However, without credibility, nobody will listen.

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  6. Wallace, I want the provincial Liberals to clean up their act and start ruling in the manner they told us they would. The stars are now aligned with Ottawa and if we are ever going to get ahead in this country, this should be the time. You know as well as I do, we have sent out all of our great natural resources and our human resource had to follow to other jurisdictions of Canada and in the case of our jurisdictional fish resource, to the World. If we had been blessed with good leadership nothing would have left our province, we should be refining, smelting and processing every natural resource we had here and only those surplus to our needs would have been shipped out. It is time for Premier Ball and Prime Minister Trudeau to sit down together and straighten out the economic mess that has been created in our province over the past 67 years. If the Prime Minister was thinking straight he would be calling our Premier immediately since the electorate of Newfoundland and Labrador are completely fed up after 67 years of bad decision making, the Prime Minister must be aware of that if he is in tune with what is going on on in his nation. God knows we had the best endowment of natural resources and the best strategic location in Canada that could and should have made our province the economic powerhouse of Canada, but somehow matters got corrupted.

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  7. When the government fears the people there is liberty. When the people fears the government there is tyranny. So wrote Thomas Jefferson. Never noticed any MHAs in fear during the fillabuster. Pretty happy and ignorant crowd for the most part, with lots of blame to go all around for our provincial debt situation. Maybe a tinge of concern when there were shouts (a female voice, from what I heard on TV) from the gallery 'Shame, shame' and they cleared the House. After praising each other, and singing God Save Thee Nfld, all were off for a long summer break, in time for second shoe to drop in the Fall. There was finger pointing back and forth on the billions going to Nalcor, but little as to the wisdom of Muskrat Falls. Meanwhile, did I not see Cathy Bennett on TV the day before saying they are in the process of putting Muskrat Falls back on track! On track: for what I wonder, another 5 billion or more for our LEGACY PROJECT it seems. Seems she has limited Stan Marshalls options of pausing or stopping this project. As the prior CEO of Nalcor, where is her sense of responsibility for the present mess. Is it even possible to put Humpty Dumpty back together I wonder. Meanwhile, thanks to Saudi Arabia, oil prices are down and electricity prices are to drop 5 percent, due to less cost for Holyrood oil. Was this the assumptions of 2012 to justify Muskrat Falls. Electricity prices were to rise gradually to prevent a price shock later. So the shock will keep getting bigger, whatever track Muskrat takes.
    Remember when someone threw a shoe at George Bush. Maybe we need a new custom here, heave a codfish or a sculpin at those honourable members. But heave in a peaceful manner. The object is to shame not to injure.
    And as to Jefferson's opinion, for Nfld the fear is with the people it seems to me. Maybe God will save us.... there are signs that the caplin and cod are returning, and I cannot see where any MHA had input into that.
    Winston Adams

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    1. Mr. Sullivan
      Thanks for your tremendous input-even if it makes me more depressed than ever.I don't know if there's any hope for Nfld. Our politicians simply are incompetent and we have so little control over ourselves as a province of Canada. Are you interested in running for political office?

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