26 May 2014

The Friday Night Massacre #nlpoli

Frank Coleman recorded CBC’s On Point with Peter Cowan on Thursday or Friday afternoon.

During the show, Coleman acknowledged that he had a personal financial interest in a decision by transport minister Nick McGrath to let Humber Valley Paving out of a contract without calling the performances bonds associated with the project.  Coleman’s son –  connected to the company at the time - negotiated with department officials on behalf of the company.

Auditor General Terry Paddon is currently investigating the contract decision based on a request from Premier Tom Marshall.

Whether McGrath should have called the bonds is another question.  But Coleman told CBC that he had personally guaranteed the bonds.  As a result, he would have been personally on the hook for the bond despite the fact he had sold his interest in Humber Valley Paving three days before his son contacted the department about the contract. 

Whether McGrath would have called the bonds or should have is another matter.

Coleman recorded the show well before it aired.  But what happened on Friday evening caught everyone by surprise.

Disorderly and Disorganized

At suppertime on Friday, VOCM reported that “as many as 12 people were shuffled out of the office”  late in the afternoon.  In their place,  Frank Coleman’s main aide as chief of staff.  Presumably others are either already set to start or or will move into the office shortly

Des Sullivan is a former political staffer to Premiers Frank Moores and Brian Peckford.  He tweeted on Saturday night that

10 mostly senior staff escorted out of Premier's Office on Friday inc. Ross Reid Chief of Staff, Dep. Chief Staff, Asst. Chief Staff…Others inc. Assoc. Chief of Staff, Dir. of Policy, Assoc. Sect. to Cabinet for Communications, Press Sectretary [sic],.. Other gone from Premier's Office inc. Office Manager, Admin. Asst and receptionist. By any standard quite a purge! [Italics added]

Sullivan used a phase that was flying around Confederation Building on Friday:  “escorted out.”

That’s not something that happens in what the Premier’s Office  started to call an “orderly and organized”  transition a couple of hours after the media got wind of the story. 

The official statement issued a few hours after events on Friday appeared to have been drafted so hastily that it’s almost as though the people who organized the Friday Night Massacre did it in a great rush they never gave a thought to how people outside government might react.

Typically, an organization will escort people from the office and change the locks in a case when people get fired – that is, when the departure is abrupt and unexpected – or when there is some potential security risk of having the former employees accessing the office improperly once they’ve gone.  The word that comes to mind in both cases is “hostile”.  The word that comes to mind certainly isn’t “friendly” as one might expect in a transition that is professionally handled.

As SRBP noted on Friday evening, it’s unprecedented to sack the current Premier’s entire political staff, except for a couple of people, in an “orderly and organized” transition upwards of six weeks prior to the new Premier coming into office. Normally, the transition would happen in the background. The new staff would only take up their jobs in the office on the day that the new Premier actually takes the oath of office.  There’s no room for people in the office whose personal and political loyalty is to someone other than the current Premier.

And yet that’s exactly what happened on Friday.  The most senior political staff in the Premier’s Office now owe their personal and political allegiance to a man who hasn’t even been endorsed by his own party as leader. They will have de facto control of the Conservative cabinet and caucus.  And with the replacement of the assistant secretary to cabinet for communications,  Frank Coleman’s staff also have de facto control government communications. 

Coleman’s Coup d'√©tat

The timing makes coincidence hard to swallow, but it might be a coincidence that Coleman made an important admission about a controversial government contract and then had his staff installed in the Premier’s Office.  What no one can deny with any credibility is that even if he wanted to do something that Frank Coleman wouldn’t approve,  Tom Marshall would have a hard time doing it now. 

And on Monday, when the House of Assembly meets,  Tom Marshall will be out of the province. Coleman’s staff will control how the remaining cabinet members deal with everything, including the Humber Valley paving controversy.

Frank Coleman is effectively in charge.

The Friday Night Massacre confirmed it.