25 July 2005

The political death of Andy Wells?

Federal natural resources minister John Efford is invoking the Atlantic Accord (1985) to send the job of picking a new chair for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board [CNLOPB; the offshore board] to a panel of three persons.

Under Clause 5, the federal and provincial governments each appoint one panel member and these two in turn appoint the third person. If they fail to agree on a panel chair, the job of picking the third member goes to the Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, Clyde Wells.

No matter how the panel is constituted, the new process will look much like the one Danny Williams trashed a week ago when he proposed Andy Wells to head CNLOPB. The competitive process included representatives from both governments, chaired by Robertson-Surette's local senior consultant, Lloyd Powell.

The most logical panel would be one of the current federal and provincial representatives with Mr. Powell as the the chair. Mr. Powell is an experienced former public servant. There is nothing to disqualify him from chairing the Clause 5 panel, except specious political posturing. If the Chief Justice gets to pick the arbiter, one can be assured that the panel chair will be both eminently qualified and scrupulously fair.

It would logical to assume, as well, that the new panel will have to weigh Andy Wells against a group of other nominees, likely the ones already selected as a short-list as well as one or two additions.

It is highly doubtful that Mr. Wells will be the nominee. He just doesn't meet the qualifications, especially compared to respected professional geologist and former natural resources minister Rex Gibbons. Mr. Wells likely wouldn't even match some of the other likely nominees from the recently failed process.

For the Premier, this is his second failure on the offshore. His January offshore revenue deal fell far short of his stated goal in January 2004 both from the standpoint of the cash received and the policy objective he sought, namely ending Equalization clawbacks.

Now he has failed in his attempt to have Andy Wells, or anyone else, appointed to head CNLOPB by anything but a competitive process.

As for Mr. Wells, he has already given any credible challenger for the mayoralty strong ammunition with which to batter the otherwise unstoppable political force in municipal politics. Mr. Wells made it clear he would be happy to be rid of some of his fellow councillors as they would likely be happy to see the back of the mayor.

St. John's voters may now legitimately question Mr. Wells commitment to the city for another full term. If the Premier is suddenly so enamoured of the man he once worked desparately to oust, Mr. Williams may have another nice little job waiting for Andy.

In the matter of a week, Andy Wells has gone from being Mr. Invincible Incumbent to being a carbon copy of Brian Tobin in 1999. Any assurances from the incumbent mayor that he wants to keep his job and will serve a full term should be met with the skepticism born of the Tobin experience.

His opponents in the fall mayor's race, if Mr. Wells still runs, will have the mayor's own words to use as bludgeon. Expect to have the clips played over and over and over.

We may yet be seeing the political death of Andy Wells, the man Danny Williams couldn't defeat before.

Perhaps that was the real goal of Mr. William's offshore board play.