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Thursday 28 March 2013

CALL ME "MY PREMIER". The Speech From the Throne

The Government should be relieve that the public is not being asked to grade the 2013 “Speech From The Throne”.   No election looms.

The bad script is really symptomatic of larger problems.  After all that has been said in the media, these past few months, regarding poor governance, poor leadership and profligate spending, it might have been a reasonabe expectation that the Government would signal, in a new Session of the Legislature, that it was ready to take responsibility for the our fiscal mess.  The Dunderdale, together with the former Williams’ Government, largely helped create it.  As a precursor to the Budget, we might have expected the broad strokes of a plan to invoke change and earn the public trust.

What was on offer was disappointing.  It eschewed any responsibility for the predicament in which the Government finds itself.   It contained none of the markers that suggest the Administration is trying to rehabilitate itself from a very shaky beginning or that it is learning from the messages sent via a series of bad Polls. The Speech confirms that the Premier lacks an understanding of the demands of public administration or of the themes and ideas that underpin a Government’s heft.

Monday 25 March 2013

Good Bye Peter Penashue. And Good Luck.

The public can be forgiven if they feel baffled, not by Peter Penashue’s resignation, but that he was anointed, by the Federal Tories, to run again.  Evidently, the Tories have calculated that they can attract no one more electable.  Quite possibly, they harbour an illusion that the locals are passive enough to be forgiving of both his poor performance and bad behaviour.

Penashue’s missteps were, at first, discounted by his freshman experience in the large and complex political environment that is Ottawa.  It was thought that all he needed was a period of orientation.  Yet, as the weeks went by it became clear he was no quick study. Nor, indeed, had he a penchant for forthrightness or an ability to communicate with his constituents, the media or the people of the Province.
The Prime Minister’s vocal support, in Parliament, declaring Penashue ‘the best MP ever from Labrador’ had all the arrogance of one who could care less whether the former MP prevails.  Had the PM indicated, openly and sincerely, that Penshue’s behaviour was unacceptable, that a higher standard of behaviour is expected from his MPs, that he wants him re-elected, and if successful, he will keeps tabs on him, we would only have expected as much. 

Thursday 21 March 2013

Gnarley’s Theory of Political Devolution Part II

The waitress returned with two virgin scotch on the rocks.  The smile on her face was recognition that she had seen this before; two friends about to embark on an afternoon's session.  But, unlike those she had witnessed in the past, the conversation would not be about sports, cars or women.  The subject, this afternoon, was to be focused purely on politics; a vice as destructive as any other.

Although my old friend was certain to eventually lead the discussion to Muskrat Falls, I was hoping to get his opinion on some other burning issues.  I was particularly interested in getting the old economist's view of the Province's fiscal woes.   

But, it was clear that Uncle Gnarley was not yet finished with the topic of leadership.  To move the conversation along, I lobbed what I clearly recognized was not a double play pitch.

"Uncle Gnarley, if you put aside your belief that Dunderdale is a lame duck Premier, what do you consider to be her biggest weakness, as a leader?"

Monday 18 March 2013


In “What the Premier Must Do. A Budget Primer (Part I)”, I suggested that, among those who do not have the Premier’s ear, are the most senior of public servants. 

Unlike politicians, the latter rarely come in for criticism; nor should they unless they, too, have become ‘political’.   
Three people, historically, have constituted the most exclusive group of senior public servants: the Clerk of the Executive Council (also known as the Cabinet Secretary), the Deputy Minister of Finance and the Secretary to the Treasury Board. Now, there are only two; in 2005, Treasury Board was emasculated after it was rolled into the Dept. of Finance.   

The Clerk of the Executive Council and the Deputy Minister of Finance are the two high priests of the public service.  Their professionalism and leadership are always in demand.  Those who occupy the positions are expected to be ‘macro’ thinkers, ‘fixers’ and ‘experts’ on public policy matters.  They are the people, who whisper into the ears of other senior public servants, the Departmental Deputies, when the latter overstep sensibly constructed boundaries, especially those which are political.  That is why the greatest currency of any senior advisor is an unblemished track record. 
Of course, there is never a guarantee that the Premier will ask for, or listen to, the counsel of her senior advisors. That is her prerogative. But, experience suggests the wiser ones prevail, more often than not.

Thursday 14 March 2013


Cabot Martin, the well-known lawyer who served as a Senior Advisor to Premiers Moores, Peckford and Wells, recently released, a 91 page Power Point Presentation entitled: The North Spur Quick Clay Instability & Landslide Problem: The Weak Link in Nalcor's Muskrat Falls Project .

Already, you are thinking: do I have to read the entire Report?  Can I get the essence of what Martin is describing, without hiring a sitter for the day?  I will tell you how.  
But, first, a couple of comments are in order.

Monday 11 March 2013


In "What The Premier Must Do. A Budget Primer (Part I)", I suggested a process in which the Premier should become engaged, in order to put her Administration on a sound policy track and give focus to one of the most important jobs of any Administration; the task of crafting  a Budget.  I proposed that the Premier go outside Government and assemble a group of trusted advisors.  While, on the surface, the advice may seem contrary, her Cabinet Ministers are not up to the job of helping her, and, the most senior bureaucrats do not have the Premier’s ear.
A Budget should not be merely a collection of line items detailing revenues and expenditures.   It should reflect a philosophy of governance; of political management.  A thoughtful Budget ought to be accompanied by a statement of fundamental principles that guide the limits to be imposed on any deficit, debt, pension plan shortfall and other critical financial decisions with long term implications.  Other Governments do not follow this practice either, though they ought to begin. 

Thursday 7 March 2013

Gnarley's Theory of Political Devolution

Ring... Ring .. Ring...

I am a morning person. I enjoy the solitude.  The 2-3 hours before 8:00 is when I get my day’s work done.  It is odd to be interrupted before the sun rises. 
Ring... Ring... Ring...

 So who would be calling me at this hour? I picked up the phone.

 "Nav... it is good to see that your work ethic is as good as ever.  I am coming into town for the day.  Are you up for lunch"

It was odd for my old friend, Uncle Gnarley, to pay a visit during the week.  But it was an offer I could not resist. 

"Uncle Gnarley, it sounds like a capital idea, except I am up at the University for the day, for a training course, on leadership".

Well, then I will meet you at Papa's in Churchill Square.  I am in the mood for some Italian cooking.  I expect that you will be both hungry and feeling a little impotent, considering the subject of your course".
To not acknowledge the soft jab lobbed by my old friend, I simply replied "Very well then, let’s aim for 12:00"

Monday 4 March 2013

What the Premier Must Do. A Budget Primer (Part I)

Like a Throne Speech, a Budget ought to reflect the Government’s philosophy and ideas about how revenue should be generated and spent.  It should avoid ideology, but it ought to reveal how the practices of one Government might be differentiated from those of another. In addition, the Budget should be guided by a set of principles that will govern its decisions regarding the deficit, debt, pension plan shortfall and other critical financial decisions with long term implications. When Budgets become more about choices than simply about more spending we will get to see whether it has more ideas than Muskrat Falls and fattening up the public service.

Whatever a Government’s priorities, there is no substitute for careful administrative and financial management, day-in-day-out.  The process of making small changes, achieving more efficiencies, strengthening programs and conducting executive management reviews is not the sexy stuff that attracts Reporters’ attention; but, it is exactly what, if understood by sensible leadership, will keep bad news at bay.