Monday, 3 March 2014


The appointment of Tom Marshall to head the Tory Administration heralded not just an end to a failed Dunderdale Premiership; it caused an expectation, though a modest one, among an angry and hopeful citizenry of fundamental change in the way the Government operates and communicates. 

That sense of hope might have engendered a belief the new, if temporary, Premier had heard their protests; that he understood why they were angry.  It wasn’t that Tom Marshall had excelled as a Minister.  He had not.  He had bullied critics alongside Kennedy and Dunderdale. He had implemented no oversight procedures for Muskrat, engaged in excessive deficit spending in Finance and asked to be relieved of the Finance job when he found the going too rough.

The public’s optimism was associated less with any prior manifestation of leadership than with a belief that he could not possibly have mistaken the reason Dunderdale was banished.

There was another reason, too. 

The Tory Leadership Convention, delayed until July, implies a five month hiatus before a more permanent successor claims the reins of power. 

That Marshall might use the opportunity to implement immediate and necessary change is not entirely presumptuous.

The Government has been on a joyride since the world price of oil hit $140/barrel; government is in a fiscal mess.  Muskrat Falls is a public relations nightmare and a potential public policy disaster; the Government has chosen secrecy over accountability. There is little talent in the Cabinet including in the important Finance and Natural Resources portfolios.

What was the opportunity given Tom Marshall?
Quite simply, he needed to address the reality that the problems which brought down Premier Dunderdale exceeded Bill 29.  He needed to have informed the public the Administration is ready to admit its failures and to do a better job.

Marshall is called ‘temporary’.  But, his title is Premier.  Our Constitution offers no other distinction.

As such, he ought to have put the Government on a course that confirms the existence of a coherent policy making apparatus, convincing the public that structurally the Government is intact and operating cohesively across all government departments.  He ought to have assured us, with concrete examples, that the functions of Nalcor are being carefully monitored, that additional expertise has been employed while Muskrat is under construction and threatening the public purse. 

Words alone are inadequate. A new ‘Marshall Plan’ might have resuscitated public confidence.  No one expected him to revamp the whole Government within a week or two.  Afterall, this is Tom Marshall not Danny Williams!  

Change is always signalled with a new ‘tone’.  Marshall has that capability.  He exhibits few of the ‘pit-bull’ characteristics of Dunderdale and Williams even if he is unafraid to pillory critics. He is more ‘laid-back’ and able to convey a sense of conciliation.  It is an important facility; but, of course, tone is merely flavouring.  It is of little consequence in the absence of substance.

What were some of his options?

First, he should have started at the top.  The Cabinet is sadly lacking heft not to mention inspiration. 

Derrick Dalley completed that unmasking a week ago having admitted to Reporter James McLeod that he had not received a three month old Report from the Independent Engineer on Muskrat, even though the Province had paid for it. 
Related Articles:   Derrick Dalley Unmasks Spent Government
                              A Battered P.C. Party Must Change (Part I)
                             Can the Tory Ship-Wreck Be Salvaged? (PartI I) 

On becoming Premier, Marshall should have hired a trusted professional to work with him and the Cabinet.   New Premiers tend to be overwhelmed; taking it on faith that the hordes of compliments and affirmations are actually true rather just wishes from the well-intended. 

An experienced advisor would keep him grounded, remind him daily why Dunderdale was driven out and help him and senior Ministers to set an active program with which to wow the public and the July Tory Convention. 

Second, he should have established an oversight Committee, comprised of members of Cabinet and ‘world-class’ professionals, to review to the Muskrat Falls Project.  Its initial role would be to determine if the Project should be cancelled; otherwise the Committee would continue to give the Project badly needed oversight. 

Third, he should have immediately sent the Auditor General to commence an audit of Nalcor; it would include a review of monies paid SNC Lavalin.

Fourth, a global search for an experienced Project Manager for Muskrat Falls should have been commenced; this Project needs the skills and experience of a manager of international repute the lack of which dramatically increases the risk of serious cost overruns.

Fifth, he should have instituted senior management reviews at Nalcor and Newfoundland Hydro.

Sixth, all Departments and Agencies of Government should have been instructed to immediately use the most liberal interpretation of the Act dealing with requests for access to information rather than wait for a Committee Review that may arrive months from now.

Seventh, he should have issued an early warning to the Minister of Finance to trim Ministerial 'wish lists', public expectations and deficit financing in advance of the Budget. 

These measures could have been undertaken promptly; they do not require big budgets or hordes of new personnel.  They also would have signified a determination to change.  They have would have constituted a good beginning for Tom Marshall.

What next?

The Premier should have taken to the airwaves to inform the public of his immediate plans. He should have demonstrated his will not be a caretaker Administration.

It is not every day that a Premier is forced to resign; though the unusual circumstance of Premier Dunderdale demanded an extraordinary response from her replacement. 

Having already put these measures into play, Tom Marshall would have been armed with more than just words. He would have emboldened a public that wants its government to succeed.

Marshall would have set the stage for the new Premier and infused the Tory Leadership Convention with an energy and vitality that spoke to the noble mission of serious politicians.

He would have sent a message to all (presumably more than one) of the Leadership Candidates that the ground-work for re-setting this failed Tory Government has begun.  

What did Tom Marshall put on offer?

He promised only to review Bill 29.  A month later the Review Committee is not appointed and Steve Kent says he doesn’t want to put any pressure on them to hurry. 

The Premier is sauntering around the Province doling out more money to Alderon and others.

Sounds like more of the same, just without Dunderdale.  A Government re-set? 

Suddenly, I have this urge to yawn.