Monday, 16 November 2015


Barring a catastrophe, the Liberals will win a landslide victory on November 30th

It would be a fine tribute to “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” if this outcome could be attributed to their advocacy of good governance.  Sadly, no such claim can be made.

Could that be why a review of the “Red Book’s” contents reveals few ideas for how the Liberals might run the processes of government better than did the Tories?

Ball may bristle at suggestions the Tories are the sole authors of their demise; but the facts don’t help him much.

Ed Hollett’s Blog, The Sir Robert Bond Papers, recently offered an excellent review of Tory blunders. I suggest the seeds of public discontent predate even his enumeration of what brought them down.

It is good to remember that Premier Dunderdale’s banishment culminated with her stumbles during DARKNL. They did not begin there. The removal of the PUB from the Muskrat Falls review, Bill 29, and her own incoherent logic, won her no friends.

Tom Marshall’s tolerance for corruption in the Humber Valley Paving affair, was also followed by Paul Davis’ own missteps, though it can be argued, no differently in the case of Dunderdale and Marshall, he was just a constable stumbling in larger shoes.

Who would argue that the winner in the 2011 general election was the “Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight”?

There will be time, later, for such obituaries. But Mr. Ball may as well come to terms, now, with the fact that changes to access to information legislation, alone, are no panacea. They are only a partial cure to what has been one of the most retrogressive periods of our political history.

Recognition of this fact ought to have inspired the Liberals to make ‘governance’ the flagship of a new administration. That failure may explain why so much is missing.

The Liberals have made a big deal about town hall meetings as “avenues for dialogue with residents”. Town halls are fine examples of democratic exposition, to be sure, but they serve little purpose if the public is treated like dolts, at other times, and if major institutions go unreformed.

Dwight Ball needs to understand governance isn’t something a government does.  It is a style of administration, a process of review, analysis, and public engagement. 

On major initiatives, like Muskrat,  government will consult on a serious and deliberate level, and attempt to garner public consensus. The process is respectful of dissenters and it is honest with everyone.  

Transparency is not a series of Nalcor style information dumps which leaves the public to figure out what is important. Neither is it the constant invocation of the claim to “commercial sensitivity”.  Neither is honesty a default to claims of a “100 year project”, when its sole purpose is to massage cost overruns, especially when simple economics speaks to the implicit lie.

Premier Dunderdale tolerated and even embraced the approach. But, then, any regard for challenging public policy ideas was already obliterated by puerile demagoguery, when she came to power.

The question that remains unanswered is whether a Dwight Ball Administration will pay more deference to form than to function; whether his idea of accountability is just more of the same.   

Ball states that Liberal core values are based on openness, transparency and accountability. He says “Newfoundlanders and Labradorians deserve a government they can trust.”

He has promised taking politics out of government appointments for senior positions at Crown corporations, public commissions, and other public agencies.

They are admirable goals to be sure, but that is all they are; the public needs a prescription, not more high sounding rhetoric.

Ball has been heard to say he wants to strengthen the Committee system of the House of Assembly. Yet, the new forty Seat reduction plan, one he supported, undermines a system the Humber Valley Paving affair confirmed as useless.

He told the St. John’s Board of Trade, recently, that he will make public details of the finances of the Muskrat Falls project.

What does that even mean?

Does he plan to authorize a full review; one independent of bias from the folks at Nalcor; one in which the competence of Nalcor’s senior management and project management is assessed?

Will the review confirm the full expenditures incurred and committed to date, the cost to finish the project, and a real completion date, rather than the trumped up chatter of a failed Nalcor CEO?

Will he undertake the review within 60 days of coming to Office?

Former Premier Tom Marshall said he would install “oversight” of Muskrat Falls. He proceeded to establish only the mechanism of a “fa├žade”; one that periodically parrots the narrative Nalcor approves.

Will Ball continue to support this offense to transparency and to the truth?

Will the role of the Public Utilities Board be re-instated? Will the PUB be given a mandate equivalent to that given the UARB, in Nova Scotia, which reviews expenditures on the Maritime Link?  

Other institutions of government need reform, too.

The independence of the Public Service Commission should be reasserted; the principles of fairness and objectivity in the hiring of public service need to be free of political bias.

The Public Tender Act needs to be strengthened and protected from politicians willing to subvert it for their friends. 

The Office of the Auditor-General, a key public institution, needs direction and renewal. As a beginning, the Liberals should make former officials of the Department of Finance ineligible for the position of Auditor-General.

The deficiency of oversight and inspection of capital projects, within the Department of Transportation and Works, is a serious financial issue. It also constitutes a threat to public safety. Structural issues at Roncalli and Waterford Valley Schools have exposed both dishonesty and incompetence.

There is also the issue of the Province’s finances, which are in a perilous state.  

The Tories, the biggest spenders in our history, are about to be brought down.  Ball should think less about when, than why.

The Liberals have come a long way on platitudes. Now is a good time for specificity.

If Ball is unable to give the clarity such issues demand, as premature as it might seem, he will have sown the seeds of his Party’s demise.

NDP leader, Earle McCurdy, has not yet made much impact in this election campaign. He should try.

Voters might see him more engaged if he forces Ball’s Liberal rhetorical balloon to fly a little closer to the ground.