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Friday 3 June 2016


In the media frenzy over how Premier Dwight Ball handled Ed Martin’s $1.4 million severance, the spotlight on the real culprits seems to have been switched off.

It is obvious that Ball and his Natural Resources Minister have become embroiled in a web of untruths to extricate themselves from the political fallout of the debacle.

But in the race to parse who said what, to whom and when, the public and the media have forgotten, that beneath all the lies and half-truths, is the realty that Ed Martin used the Crown Corporation he led, helped by compliant friends on the Board of Directors, to enrich himself.

While a more savvy Premier would have dealt with the issue - and Ed Martin - differently it was, nevertheless, the responsibility of the Board, too, to protect the public interest. 

But nowhere in the confused and often sorry narrative of a failed CEO, an amateur Premier and his featherweight Minister, is there a single shred of evidence that the Board did anything except facilitate a scandalous ransacking of the public purse as it headed out of Dodge.

The correspondence of the Chairman, Ken Marshall - though an attempt to tighten the political noose around Ball’s neck - is actually an indictment of his own leadership.

In short, the entire debacle is a story far more about the decisions Ball didn’t make than those he did.

The public will want to remember that Ed Martin has not been a successful CEO of Nalcor.  

The Liberty Report describes one dimension of his failed leadership, namely as head of NL Hydro. Another is manifest at Muskrat Falls, which is already several billion dollars over budget and absent even a schedule. It is a project in disarray. It threatens the financial integrity of the whole Province. There is enough evidence in the public domain to confidently conclude that Ed Martin was a CEO who ought not to have been hired and who, having nonetheless gotten the job, frequently deserved to be fired.

Against such a background, what is it that Ed Martin sought from the Premier?

Martin wrote in his recent public release: “I felt I had been effectively undermined - following the comments made about Nalcor Management during the budget presentation…I suggested…two options:”

An arrogant Martin told the Premier: Endorse and praise me - if you don’t give me unfettered discretion to do as I please, you are undermining me. And if you don’t give me over-weaning power, give me a big pay-off. In addition, I want you to overlook all my incompetence and what my poor management has inflicted on the Province. Let me leave with my dignity, too.

Who but Ed Martin - coddled and praised by successive Premiers, ass-kissing business types, and a compliant media - a man with not a single success to report during his time at Nalcor - would have such an expectation? Certainly not any other public servant. 

Ball should never have met with Ed Martin. A busy Premier doesn’t waste time on poor performers. In this case, the role ought to have been delegated to the Clerk of the Cabinet, or to the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources.

That Ball met with Martin, not once but twice, is a measure of the Premier’s lack of executive experience and bad judgement. It exemplifies the degradation of the (once) normal government processes used for dealing with problems which threaten the Government politically and financially. Ball's decision to keep the very same senior bureaucrats who advised the Tories is just another of his failings.

Here we are: a Province in knots over a $1.4 million severance when we should be asking, what is it about Government that leaves an Ed Martin in place? How can a government, any government, expect to grow a "Statoil" if it can't get rid of the mistakes it has hired? When is it time to get back to the real business of governing?

The public and the media should come down from their lofty and rather tenuous perch.

Ball’s naivete (his Chief of Staff gets no accolades, either) was that when Ed Martin issued the ultimatum, he didn’t cut him off at the knees - that when the issue of severance, and his dignity,  was raised the Premier didn't take his keys and escort him to a waiting Jiffy cab!

Rather than having viewed Martin with obvious suspicion and thrown him out of his Office, Ball treated him courteously and allowed him to return for a second meeting.  

A more experienced Premier would have seen Martin was playing him for a sucker. Before this Premier ever gets asked to leave for being untruthful, he needs to answer for his stupidity.

Now, Ball faces throngs of legitimately angry people forced to pay for Ed Martin’s luxurious retirement. A smarter Premier should be basking in the glow of a real leader, having having forced Martin to grovel in a court of law. He should have forced Martin to justify his entitlement in open court before a judge, not behind the walls of secrecy he built for himself.

Former Nalcor Chair Ken Marshall
Then there is Kenny Marshall and the remaining members of the Nalcor Board.

Given all that we know about Ed Martin’s record at Nalcor, you have to be pretty brazen to write the Premier this kind of tripe, as Marshall did on April 20th:

“…the Board will be discussing an en masse resignation….Clearly, by reaching directly through to the CEO and deciding employment continuation, and from the recent Budget speech, government does not have proper confidence in the Board to continue in its duties and role. I can speak for all individuals on the Board that to a member, all have acted with proper and due care for the long term benefit of the organization and the people of this province.”

What rubbish!

Why would the Premier have confidence in a Nalcor Board that had not done its job? Indeed, had it done so then Ed Martin would not have been around for Ball to fire!

Did the spiraling cost overruns at Muskrat not cause them alarm? Was the fiasco over the “dome” not a wake-up call? How many billion dollars did the project have to lose before the Board thought about the public interest rather than how much money they should stuff into Martin's bank account?

This is the very same Board that ignored the most essential components of “performance” and awarded this man a $156,000 bonus even before giving him the $1.4 million severance.

If performance - which is a word distinct from ineptitude, incompetence, unqualification, and uselessness - is unrelated to the payment of “bonus”, and if Martin’s failure to achieve any project milestones associated with Muskrat Falls or NL Hydro has no bearing on whether he should keep his job, what was the Board’s role?

On what basis can we say that Ken Marshall and the Board exercised good judgement, assisted the Government in dealing with a problematic CEO, and protected the public interest?

Would not Government have been better off employing the janitorial staff of Nalcor to sit at meetings and rubber stamp an unfettered Ed Martin, one who seemingly enjoyed an overbearing sense of entitlement?

Imagine - a mass resignation because the Ball government would not kowtow to a CEO who had performed so badly while an entire Province fears for its fiscal future?

When do we stop putting a pretty face on venality, nepotism, boorishness, and ineptitude?

No one is enraptured with Dwight Ball over this affair. He has obfuscated the truth. His story lacks authenticity. He is a disappointment and not just over Martin’s severance.

But we need to step back from the media's feeding frenzy and its self-serving aspects. We need to ask: when was truth something we associated with Nalcor, and with CEO Ed Martin?

Ball didn’t take the money; his failure was not preventing Ed Martin from grabbing it.

We should demand honesty from the Premier. We should hold him to account.

But Ed Martin has not earned the right to trump anyone’s integrity, including the Premier’s.