Tuesday, 18 February 2020


When political leaders step aside, expectations of them, however fanciful, are withdrawn; civility requires us to wish all, including Dwight Ball, godspeed. But while some leaders are quickly given the peace they seek, others warrant the lament popularized in the now famous lyric by Ron Hynes: “Godspeed. Goddamn.”

It wasn’t as if this Premier rose to the status of First Minister on a wave of expectation. He didn’t defeat a leviathan in Paul Davis. The public just needed to rid themselves of a godawful government in a province where good governance is a rarity. The new broom had represented at least the possibility of hope.  

Ball wasn’t a casualty of poor foresight, as so many politicians are, allowing an opaque future to catch him flat-footed. On the contrary, his mission had been indelibly carved in Newfoundland and Labrador society’s rearview mirror. It was put there by two reckless Premiers — Williams and Dunderdale — and two more who were ineffectual and complicit with them — Tom Marshall and Paul Davis. Hence, at the beginning, Ball’s most hoped-for characteristic was not clairvoyance, premonition or even sagacity; it was just a fervent desire that he possessed a spine.

Putting aside Ball’s limited performance as Opposition Leader, diminished expectation was embraced soon after his inauguration. It began with a bevy of “Mandate Letters” to his new Ministers that were quickly recognized for form rather than substance, offering, as Uncle Gnarley suggested in December 2015, not even “the pretense of a cogent mission statement”. His initiation as Premier continued with the ham-fisted firing of Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, including a refusal to acknowledge that he had acceded to Martin’s “without cause” departure, having resigned and returned miraculously, to pick up an obscenely generous severance package.

Who doesn’t remember the Cathy Bennett Budget of 2016, and Ball’s assurances that “it’s not a crisis”, successive deficits having hit the stratosphere of irresponsibility. Yet he girded his Administration to “wimp out”, unwilling as he was to administer even the most minimal dosage of fiscal medicine. In the process, he blew through the public’s goodwill on tax increases and a mere $1 million cutback — not to the St. Brendan’s ferry, a bloated public service or even to the boatloads of entitled at Nalcor — but to the public library system. He even undermined his newbie Finance Minister as she exposed her own “incomplete digestion” of the Budget brief.
All the while, the Muskrat fiasco continued to unfold; devastating cost overruns and delay manifested in the “more” truthful — but still underreported — $12.7 figure offered by new CEO Stan Marshall. His commitment to “transparency” proved more of a slogan than a mantra; it took until April 2017 before new appointments were made to a “fake” Oversight Committee the previous government had established. He never exhibited understanding of the debacle that Williams had divined anyway, content as he was to bask in Stan Marshall’s credibility, all the while ignoring the inescapable fact of Muskrat’s incurable consequences. Dither had found a comfortable home.

In reality, not much changed from year to year. Over the course of a half-decade, a frightening deficit and debt earned the province a downgrade, the bond-rating agencies proving to be no more impressed than the public. In the company of vague assurances, the spine was even weaker than the mind. Goddamn!

The Government's Red book, "The Way Forward", and its dubious claim to doubling agricultural production quickly saw turnips traded for weed, though even here the odour of marijuana was no match for the stink of partisanship; a meritorious hiring process haing gotten in the way of advancement for friends and cronies. 

How could a Minority Government not be a harbinger of continued bad polling or of a desperately fearful Caucus? The smart ones knew that the electorate’s offer of a half-hearted new beginning was a political death-knell — not just for Ball, but for them all.

Last week’s hastily-called news conference impressed no one except the Liberal-appointed Consumer Advocate. Partisanship always carries a price. Ball’s Trumpian echo of self-praise, however, spoke to desperation. What had a feckless Premier to show? A hapless Federal Minister and two stir sticks in Coady and Mitchelmore: a thin army, even amongst partisans, when the others had already deserted. Godspeed.

Ego — or is that echo — commands reprise. One last chance to grandstand. Vague commitments and no money. Copycatting Danny Williams. Is there a legacy here, somewhere? Please.

Washable crayons beckon for a return to the drawing board. The public isn’t buying.

Premier Ball: Godspeed, Goddamn.