Darin King failed miserably in his first encounter with the opposition parties.
He didn’t have to.
With the House due to open for its unavoidable fall sitting and with a government commitment to a debate, King needed to produce a result that worked for his side.
First thing Darin needed to do was figure out a range of possible outcomes and rate them according to which ones were better for his side and which ones were worse.
The best case, as he assessed it, was the one laid out in his letter. That’s one end of the spectrum.
The worst case as he apparently figured out was a debate with any witnesses at all for anyone.
But were there only two choices?
Of course not. Ed Martin and Gill Bennett could potentially be very valuable experts for the government. Giving them a prime time platform in which they spoke, unfiltered to the entire audience via television would be highly effective. They’d come with all the authority of their position and that of the provincial government.
Realistically, King and his colleagues knew full well that the opposition simply couldn’t match them on any level. Where would they get the money to hire consultants? With a bit of planning King and his advisors should have been able to map a scenario that turned the Liberals’ call for witnesses into a strength for government.
Everything was negotiable. Not only would the Tories get to sell their case but they would look good for having created a House of Assembly process built on agreement and consensus that they led. That looks much better than having Paul Lane, Steve Kent, and Sandy Collins trying to argue that there’s no debate because the Liberals wouldn’t do as they were told.
A bad scenario would be what they got. No debate doesn’t work for government at all. The opposition gets to ask questions in the House. They get to invoke the spectre of Bill 29 and an autocratic government bent on secrecy.
A slightly worse scenario would be if King were to try and introduce a resolution to get the Voisey’s Bay process anyway. The Tories can’t win and they would give the opposition time to debate the motion, endlessly without letting any House business get started.
The Tories seem to have approached the House debate as a simple process with two possible outcomes. They gambled the Liberals would cave as the NDP did on the witnesses. Given the Liberals’ position was pretty firm, that created a scenario in which it was more likely for them to lose than to win. The best they had was a 50/50 shot.
Had King and his advisors created more options - even for their own internal consumption – they would have multiplied the chances of a successful outcome. With a range of options in front of him, King could have known at any moment how far he could move on some less critical issues in order secure more important ones.
Given what happened, it looks very much like King didn’t do his homework.
It’s pretty simple: Politics is the art of the possible. The more choices you have, the more things are possible.