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Monday, 7 October 2013


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.  


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.