Monday, 26 December 2016


"Spineless" best describes Premier Ball – having helped undermine the Premiers’ united front on federal funding for health care. 

It is one thing for the Premier to exhibit poor character locally – having wimped out on both the deficit and Nalcor - both threatening our solvency.  It is quite another to allow this behaviour to reflect on the whole society that elected him or permit it to go unnoticed when the risks of doing just that are significant.

Ball chose to join the Premiers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – the two perennial toadies to the federal government. Their decision to break ranks came mere days after the Premiers met with the federal health minister and affirmed their united stand against her offer.

During my time in the Premier’s Office, in the 70s and 80s, those two provinces could never be counted on – except to be dishonest brokers. Then, the most notorious Premiers were John Buchanan of Nova Scotia and Richard Hatfield of New Brunswick. Buchanan would consistently sell out the other Premiers when the Feds wanted their own way on one funding program that was in the area of provincial jurisdiction. He would sell his soul – some said his mother's, too - for another mile of highway construction.

Hatfield’s standards weren’t even that high.  Those with long memories will recall that when Pierre Trudeau sought approval from the SCOC to repatriate the Canadian Constitution unilaterally, he had the support of only Ontario and – you guessed it – New Brunswick.

Well, little has changed. NB and NS have been in confederation a lot longer than has NL but they some maturing still to do. NL is doing itself no favours by becoming a toadie along with them.

Let me be clear. The Government of Canada has every right to play hardball with provincial governments - as long as the process is respectful - which is rarely the case. No government has a monopoly on what constitutes the public interest. But the typical federal strategy is to get its own way using well-known “divide and conquer” tactics: the fiscally weak provinces and the most spineless Premiers are offered a funding carrot – just enough to create a “wedge” allowing them to claim some small (provincial) and short-term political victory. The feds are masters of the game; Trudeau the elder didn’t invent the scheme but he helped perfect it. It seems Trudeau the younger has learned it well.

The timing of Ball’s cave-in is noteworthy. Over the last few days the local media have been filling the airways with news that the one billionth barrel of oil has been pumped from Hibernia. As is often the case, the important point was missed.

The real story is that this province actually got substantial royalties from this resource. The quantity of oil produced is a number - nothing more. But the revenues to the province are  critically important, And they did not transpire due to  the leadership of a quisling Premier – one willing, at the first opportunity, to throw in his lot with provinces that would screw him in a heartbeat.

NS did its best, in the 70s and 80s to undermine NL’s position on the achievement of a management regime for the offshore – and NL should never forget their treachery. 

NS has more MPs in the House of Commons than NL, enjoys more political clout, and is viewed in Ottawa as the center of the universe in Atlantic Canada.

NS has always regarded its destiny as head of an “Atlantic Region” because the status would assure them more federal entitlements. Hence, NS was content if their offshore, and the far more oil prolific Newfoundland and Labrador basins, were under federal control. Under such a regime the development decisions would be administered in Halifax anyway.

Yet, the local toadies - including Premier Ball - could never imagine that the supply vessels navigating out of St. John's to the Jeanne d'Arc basin could just as easily steam into and out of Halifax Harbour.

The Trudeau and Chretien Administrations were happy to help undermine the NL position by offering a carrot to Nova Scotia to sign on - making NL look greedy and unreasonable. Of course, the carrot was that, if NL eventually got a better deal than the one NS helped undermine, NS would get it, too.

I cite this little bit of history because Ball’s own treachery ought to have been met with swift condemnation from the same groups who then supported the federal position or remained silent– the St. John's Board of Trade, the NLTA, the Unions (public sector and industry - given that the media still trots them out as paragons of public policy. There is always the hope one or two learned something from that earlier time. But such an expectation is nearly always excessive. No one – except Steve Kent representing an entirely discredited Tory Opposition – was prepared to take the Health Minister John Haggie to task for this comment reported on CBC:

"Atlantic Canada … have the same kind of problems, and those are different in emphasis than other regions in Canada. So just as we, as an Atlantic group, have found an accommodation that works for us, I think other jurisdictions are going to have to look at their own needs."

Of course, the Minister's comments are arrant nonsense.

Every province of Canada, from B.C. to NL comprises significant rural populations - some far larger than ours. And they don’t squander their health care dollars, spending as we do -per capita 150% of the national average.

The NL Health Minister is a fool for another reason. Imagine stating “we, as an Atlantic group….” The irony is that it is the very shite Nova Scotia wants to hear – music to the ears of the Government of Canada, too - because it reinforces the view that Atlantic Canada needs only one government.

Premier Ball allowed himself to be “bought off” with federal pennies – not because the enlarged offer he accepted was so compelling – but because he can’t perform the calculus that cooperation with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is a fool’s game – that it will only diminish NL’s ability to deal with Ottawa and our economic prospects.They can't be trusted.

Ball still thinks there is value in political partisanship. Ontario, Quebec and the western provinces can only feel bewildered by such amateurishness. More importantly, this Premier has no “world view” of the policies needed to sustain our survival as a society or as a jurisdiction within the Canadian constitutional context.

Besides, what Premier would trust him again? The Feds, too, know he can easily be bought.

Now, this same Premier is negotiating with Hydro Quebec!