17 November 2005

Experience counts...for precious little [updated]

The appointment of failed Tory candidate Joan Cleary to head the Bull Arm Corporation makes the second selection by the Premier of a person who is demonstrably unqualified or a person whose qualifications for the job are less than obvious.

Andy Wells' nomination to chair the province's offshore regulatory board was the first one. Wells has no relevant experience - at all. The excuse given for his nomination, namely the need to get greater benefits for this province from offshore oil, was patent nonsense. The offshore board has nothing to do with securing benefits for the province, for one thing. For another, the Premier has made it abundantly clear that he (and maybe PetroNewf) will be bringing home the offshore goodies to spread around. Wells would have nothing to do in securing benefits, the very reason given for his nomination.

Bull Arm is an industrial site, left over from construction of the Hibernia gravity-based structure. The president of the corporation would normally have extensive experience in managing major construction projects or in negotiating them. We'd expect to find someone appointed with a list of contacts in decision-making centres around the globe who could actually pull contracts out of their blackberry or Palmpilot.

One might be looking for someone with a background similar to that of PetroNewf's boss, Ed Martin.

In the worst case, one might expect someone with a sales background or a track record in real estate.

Joan Cleary is a registered nurse. Her oil and gas "experience" consists - entirely - of working at Bull Arm during some construction related to the Terra Nova production hull and on construction of oil tanks for the Whiffen Head oil storage facility. She was senior health consultant.

To really drive this point home, compare the official news release with Cleary's candidate bio. Then compare those two with the biographical note that accompanied the announcement of her appointment as chair of the workers' compensation board.

In 2004, Cleary was responsible at Bull Arm for "case management of all work-related injuries and liaison with medical facilities, WHSCC and on-site management." In other words, she was the on-site medical officer.

In 2005, Cleary is miraculously transformed into someone who "[w]as a senior health specialist for three years during the construction of the Terra Nova FPSO, a position that provided her with first-hand knowledge of the physical construction of the site to enable rapid emergency response." In other words, working there, she got to know where all the paths went and where all the key buildings were.

The latest version obscures Cleary's background with vague words. The Premier praises her commitment to the growth of the province economically, as revealed through her involvement in the community. According to the Premier, Cleary gets the job because, among other things, she is the mayor of a community near Bull Arm, is a Lionette and once ran a Brownie troop. As praiseworthy and noble as those things are, they don't make her qualified to run a heavy construction enterprise.

In other words, there is not a single thing in Joan Cleary's background that suggests she has any experience relevant to the position she now occupies. No doubt she is a fine person and very capable in her profession and in her elected position as mayor of Come By Chance. But that doesn't mean she can be expected to pull millions of dollars in business to Bull Arm.

If the position actually requires no relevant experience - that is if someone else will handle the marketing and management of the site - then one must question why the high-priced senior management positions at Bull Arm Corporation exist in the first place.

Only two years ago, the Tories were railing against the appointment of then-Premier Roger Grimes' communications director to the position as vice-president at Bull Arm. They were right to do so. In the current situation, anyone would be equally right to question not only the Cleary appointment but even the value of the position itself. After all, as with the Wells nomination, the significant chunk of offshore work likely to come Bull Arm's way will be wrangled by none other than Premier Danny Williams himself.

And here's a point not anticipated by the talking points drafted in the Premier's Office and liberally sprinkled around to the organized team of Open Line callers Premier Williams and his crew maintains:

Given that the Premier is taking the hydro corporation and turning it into an oil and gas company, it is only logical that an under-used asset of the government - Bull Arm - be turned over to people with exactly the kind of experience Bull Arm needs. The site at Bull Arm is exactly the kind of asset that a company like PetroNewf could use as the centrepiece of its offshore fabrication work.

It is a match made in someone's heaven, especially when one considers that in the process taxpayers would save the hundreds of millions of dollars in senior management positions occupied by a Joan Cleary or a Carl Cooper.

In other words, even if Joan Cleary was somehow qualified to head Bull Arm, government actually has no need of the position in the first place. One little tidbit of information people have forgotten is that the position of president has lain functionally vacant since 2001. Cooper was appointed as a vice-president.

If Bull Arm could survive without a president for all this time, surely it could survive just a wee bit longer.

Better still, by handing Bull Arm to PetroNewf, Premier Danny Williams could have saved the taxpayers hundreds of thousands in needless salaries while also strengthening his own pet Crown corporation.

Joan Cleary's appointment leaves many people scratching their heads but hopefully not the same spots scratched raw in the wake of the Wells nomination. There is a reason for this Cleary thing. Not the ones being foisted by the government's orchestrated "Praise Joan on Open Line" campaign; there is a real reason. Maybe we'll find out in due course.

Let's just hope it has nothing to do with counteracting criticism of the Premier about his supposedly bad attitude toward women. For one thing, the criticisms were wrong. For another thing, the appointment of an unqualified woman to a position where she will do little, if anything, merely points to the most cynical form of tokenism.

Rather than quieting the few voices slagging him on women's issues, the Premier would be doing nothing more than giving his critics something of substance to hurl back at him.

[Update: This story by CBC shows how little the Premier can actually say in so many words. The Premier's own comments mirror the ones being used by the organized Open Line callers, but here are a few observations.

1. It is a PIFO - a penetrating insight into the friggin obvious - for the premier to say he appointed her because he thought she was best qualified. D'uhhhhh. Like anyone would expect him to admit he completely cocked the whole thing up.

2. When the Premier gets to Cleary's qualifications, he cites

a. his experience with her on the campaign trail;
b. her experience in local government; and,
c her experience in regional economic development.

Simply put, the first one just means that the Prem actually knows her, as in he met her a few times. There's no sign Joan and Danny are as tight as some other people or that she is a member of his posse, that Cleary is a Danny Boy like, say, Dean MacDonald.

The second one applies literally to thousands of people in the province (including Andy Wells) and the last one likewise applies to literally thousands. I'd venture that the Premier knows a couple of hundred people who match all three criteria.

So why does Joan make a better candidate?

Well, that's the part of the little piece that goes begging in the government's version. Don't expect it to be tackled too soon, since a discussion of what the Bull Arm boss does or doesn't do will expose the patent silliness of the reasons given thus far to back up a dubious decision.

And we haven't even taken on the fact that the Premier once described as being an excellent judge of people - has made two, count 'em two - decisions to propose or appoint completely unqualified people to key positions.