13 October 2012

There’s always more to see if you look #nlpoli

Watch the raw video of the Thursday news conference in which Premier Kathy Dunderdale, natural resource minister Jerome Kennedy, and finance minister Tom Marshall announced the end of a dispute with the companies developing the Hebron project.

Pay less attention to the details of the announcement itself than to the details of how they made the announcement.

Note first that it takes three full minutes before Dunderdale tells you why you are there:  the $150 million bucks.

Three full minutes to explain all sorts of things about how the government is tough, fights hard and always brings back the best of everything.

When anyone sings their own praises like that, you can bet that the announcement itself isn’t all that good.

Notice then how much Jerome Kennedy fidgets as Dunderdale reads the details of the deal:  cash, paid in 2016, and so on.

He touches his glasses. 

He smooths his hair and scratches his head, while dropping his face down toward the table.

Then he touches the back of his right ear and runs his hand across his mouth like he is trying to gag himself or hold himself from saying something.

After Dunderdale gets through those details, he settles down and starts reading along with the Premier’s remarks.  By about 4:15 he is writing himself some kind of note.

If you can stop watching Jerome’s constant fidgeting for a few seconds, notice the laundry list of things they plan to do with the $150 million.  Bear in mind that this is a mere three weeks worth of provincial public service payroll.  Bear mind as well that the provincial government won’t even get the cash until 2016.  The laundry list contains lots of good things.  But they are four years away.

The size of the list and the string of thing – everything from cancer beds to education to potential economic development – seems rather like a desperate attempt to pile on the happy faces.

Then go back to watching Jerome fidget.  Tom  Marshall over on the right of the screen is pretty settled.  Jerome is like a five year old.  Dunderdale wraps up her very stilted delivery and throws the thing over to Jerome in a very formal, stiff fashion. 

You get the very clear message that these two people do not get along. 

Jerome starts his remarks which is a recitation of the front end of the Premier’s remarks.  He has scripted remarks that thank Dunderdale for her “strong leadership” in negotiating the original deal.  Jerome looks over his shoulder at her as he speaks.  For her part, Dunderdale sits back smiling somewhat smugly as she sips her glass of water.

Jerome’s praise of the glorious achievement of a benefit agreement is over the top in just about every respect.  The province has had benefits agreements before that were far less complicated and that delivered far more in the way of local industrial benefits.

Listen carefully at the 9:00 minute mark or there-about and you will hear Jerome talk about the strong case for having the work done here.  That sounds like his position.  The compromise and the talk about preserving relationships suggests that settlement wasn’t his preferred approach. Jerome thanks the offshore industry association, praises the local supply and service sector extensively.  For good measure, Jerome finishes up by judging the whole thing well settled. There is no praise as sweet as self-praise.

In case you missed any of the elaborate praising of themselves for amazing things, Father Tom comes along to repeat the stuff you may have missed before. 

“I am confident that this agreement is good,”  offers father Tom.  That is welcome news since had he felt otherwise, we’d expect him to quit and leave cabinet.  His words of (self-)praise are unmistakeable.  “Good” could only be stronger if it were preceded by “double plus”.

Oh, and the economy is strong, Father Tom reminds us for the umpteenth time in this newser. 

All of that for $150 million  to settle a dispute that, as everyone knows, was basically a waste of time anyway.  The 2008 Hebron deal allowed for this module to go outside the province and in the end that is where it is going.  All the claims about maximum benefits during this news conference come across as exactly what they are:  a self-conscious and excessive effort to deny the obvious.

By the same token, Jerome’s praise of Dunderdale’s leadership appears to be forced and excessive. The value of the compromise drags on needlessly.  Kennedy seems to be trying too hard to convince someone – perhaps himself – that this is the right thing.  Ultimately, it comes across as unconvincing and, to be absolutely clear, insincere.

Consider this news conference to be a huge sign that the provincial government continues to have substantial communications problems.  To see them, all you have to do is look.