The departure of Ed Martin was a signal that carried, at minimum, the certainty change is coming to Nalcor. A good thing, too. When logistical challenge sees Ed Martin, his Board of Directors, and the old gang leader himself, Danny Williams, unable to keep straight something as simple as whether the failed CEO is leaving voluntary or was pushed, Muskrat Falls must really be in a mess.
The appointment of former Fortis Inc. CEO Stan Marshall is a "home run" for Premier Ball, even if there is evidence he may have swung the bat with his eyes closed.
Now, one of the original "naysayers" of the "troubled" Muskrat Falls project has become Head of the Crown Corporation. As former Premier Cathy Dunderdale was fond of saying: "imagine that!"
Stan Marshall may do more than just end a costly, corrosive, and destabilizing era of state sponsored deception. While, alone, that would be a welcomed achievement, understandably public focus is directed to matters financial.
Likely for all, except Danny Williams and his pals, the naming of Stan Marshall landed like a grenade, one delivering a palpable sense of relief.
Perhaps, those facing a $3,000 hit on their disposable income this year, may not find optimism having quite enough value for their sacrifice. But, then, the public never did clue in to why the whistle of the fiscal freight train warned with such a threatening shrill, until the Budget boxed them in the ears.
He can halt the project or give it new direction, but he can’t reverse the damage done or return the money squandered.
After all, Stan Marshall is no Danny Williams. He is merely a long-standing CEO attached to an impressive commercial and personal resume, and a litany of successes field-tested under the gaze of the commercial markets. He is no Saviour!
But, I will say this: I will take a battle-tested CEO any day over a horse's ass. That includes the grandiloquent, the pompous, and the masters of “spin”.
When a CEO of Stan Marshall’s obvious calibre warns “when these things get off track, it’s a very poor sign”, we should get ready to bite hard.
Tory Leader Paul Davis experienced a mere preview of the public’s wrath, at an anti-Budget rally, last week. The other pretenders, too, the two union leaders and the NDP, though less culpable than he, but not blameless, were nevertheless bold-faced enough to feign righteous indignation. They have no idea of the fire storm of resentment, even towards them, that Muskrat “uncloaked” is likely to unleash.
I don’t know Stan Marshall. I have lampooned him though on a couple of occasions, so pissed off was I that his redoubtable and acerbic private outrage did not find room in a public space. He is reported to have said, frequently: ‘he wouldn’t touch the Muskrat Falls project with a barge pole’. The comment didn’t leave much room for merit, even if to “naysayers” it was an obvious conclusion.
Perhaps naively, it led me to think that the ratepayers of Fortis Inc.’s subsidiary, Newfoundland Power, were also entitled to Marshall's pithy, albeit accurate, observation. Obviously, I was suffering the misconception that “stakeholder capitalism”, in which customers receive ranking alongside shareholders and others, might be an idea he embraced.
But, no; Stan Marshall seems to be an entrepreneur in the classical mold; for him profit is tied only to the mechanism of risk. He would know in a place such as this, where criticism of any kind, especially of public policy, even a “regulated” entity is not immune to political reprisal.
Indeed, he strikes me as the kind of fellow who would see the “safety minute”, now commonplace in the boardroom, too, having its best utility as a warning to bunglers shown the door, it might hit them on the way out. The Nalcor Vice-President might profit from such intelligence; after all, he must know “Exit Right” isn’t just a new book for the left.
But, I digress.
The public needs a CEO whose only focus is them. Unless Marshall gets bogged down in partisanship, improbable because he would be forced to wear Ed Martin's laundry, he will pay deference to those with ‘skin in the game’. And, god knows, we have given Nalcor plenty of that.
Still, the public needs to temper their expectations on three levels:
First, though the Premier hit his first “home run”, he very nearly struck out. Reportedly, Ball offered Marshall, at first, only the inconsequential Board Chairman's position. That he was prepared to leave Ed Martin in the CEO's role, in spite of the disaster unveiled by Nalcor’s own information and an incomplete EY Report, suggests we have reason to be wary of this Premier.
Second, as already noted, Marshall can help stem the bleed on the Muskrat Falls project by either shutting it down or giving it "re-set". But the public must gird themselves for an unhappy outcome, whether Muskrat gets finished or not.
Third, as public protests over the Budget continue, every person should be reminded that while the new “levy” is outrageous, it is less a tax than a penalty on political dysfunction. The public needs to commit that they will stop placing their faith in “straw men”.
Finally, only time will confirm if Stan is, indeed, “the man”.
But I am less worried about him, than I am about the Premier and whether he will rest on a single success. He really should shoot for a “triple hitter”. The next two home runs don’t even require nerve, let alone precision; but they would be important asterisks on a late start.
The Premier must disband the Tories’ fake “Oversight Committee”, which he, too, embraced; it is an offense to the concept of studied independence its very name implies; a fraud upon notions of good governance.
Just as quickly, the Premier must shoo away the Consumer Advocate. It is unconscionable, given all we know about this project, that one of the biggest “cheerleaders” of the Muskrat Falls debacle still enjoys that title.
It was an overcast week in a wiser and, perhaps, slightly less worried Newfoundland and Labrador. Even a spring storm delivered metaphor for the protest and discontent now brewing.
Perhaps, our good fortune is that, even in the bleakest of times, we always seem to be afforded a glimpse of the sun.