24 April 2015

You know things are going badly when… #nlpoli

… you launch your election campaign at at huge fundraiser and your signature policy announcement gets slaughtered on Twitter within seconds of the words leaving your lips.

Yes, friends,  Paul Davis told the world he will create some kind of savings fund from oil royalties.

In 2021.

If, and only if,  they can manage to balance the books by then.

And of course, only if Paul and/or the humourously named Conservatives can get re-elected not once but twice between now and then.

A number of people pointed that out immediately on Twitter on Wednesday night.

By Thursday morning the only people talking about Davis’ promise with a straight face were the news media,  a few Conservatives,  and the St. John’s Board of Trade.

Sometimes you could swear that if a Conservative Premier sharted, Kim Keating or whoever is the BOT-leader at the time would praise the magnificent aroma of the Tory gas-turd. Kim, after all, attacked the idea of tax hikes, having already gone weak in the knees at the glorious prospects of the tax hike called Muskrat Falls.

Kim’s predecessor, Shoran Horan had trouble understanding debt. She just knew that she supported whatever the Conservatives were doing to lower it even after she had enthusiastically supported massively increasing it.

Even Wade Locke was all over the CBC on Thursday talking about how a savings fund was nutty. 

Well, of course, it would be nutty. Government policy – designed with the help of Wade Locke – created a situation where government has no choice but spend all its oil money plus borrow more besides just to keep things going.

That wasn’t the only sign of bad times.  You know things are going badly when the Premier insists he directed a police force to conduct an investigation, then can;t recall his words, denies doing any such thing, and sends in his justice minister to explain… except the justice minister doesn’t seem to know what was going on.

On Thursday,  the opposition leader Dwight Ball asked about the Dunphy shooting and the role played by the politicians in directing the police investigation.  After all,  Paul Davis had said in the House on Wednesday the day before that he “asked them to do a full, fair and frank investigation.”

There ensued a huge sucking sound as Davis apologised if anyone had misunderstood what he meant.

At the end of Ball’s string of questions,  justice minister Darin King started answering to explain what Davis had meant on Wednesday when he mentioned other options available to the police to deal with the fairly obvious conflict of interest involved for the Queen’s Cowboys.

King said:
As the Minister of Justice in particular with responsibilities for this, I have no authority in operational matters. There is nowhere in legislation that gives me the right to impose my view on the RCMP. It is an operational decision that they make as to whether they do what they have done or choose another course of action.
Opposition justice critic Andrew Parsons was quick to direct King to a comment made by Judge Donald Luther in an inquiry into a shooting in a case where the RCMP had called in the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct the investigation. Luther wrote that the RCMP called in the OPP, even though the minister had the power to direct that, an outside force conduct the investigation.

Luther’s point was pretty clear in that the minister had the authority to have called in an external police force. Luther recommended that in future a police force from outside the province be used on all police shootings in the province.  Luther’s recommendation is one of the reasons why the government decision to let the Mounties do the investigation is very unusual.

King said he’d have to double check.  According to King,  the “people who write the legislation” told him he could not direct the police.

Parsons tried again.
Recommendation 26 of the Luther inquiry calls for an outside police force to be used in the event of a police shooting in this Province. The family of Mr. Dunphy is also calling for an outside police force to complete this investigation.
I ask the Premier: Will you now support this call?
King tried again:
Back to the previous question, irrespective of what the member is quoting, I can say to you very categorically that I am certainly not looking for that authority as the Minister of Justice. That is why we have police forces. They are trained professionals who make decisions on this. It should not be in the hands of a politician to decide who investigates what files and when.
Bu then King added a new wrinkle. 
“With respect to the ongoing investigation, we have been very clear, Mr. Speaker, that both police forces are engaged here in different pieces of an investigation. We will see that through. Upon conclusion of those investigations we will make a determination whether further actions are required.”  [Emphasis added]
Certainly the RCMP is conducting an investigation.  There’s another investigation into the shooting by the medical examiner.

But what aspect of the shooting is the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary investigating?

They shouldn’t be looking at any part of it.

Maybe King misspoke.

The main problem King had – though – is that he quite obviously did not know what his legal powers were with respect to the investigations currently under way.  He should know them precisely.

But he didn’t.

Instead, the minister kept insisting he didn’t have powers, nor did he seem to recognise the inquiry Parsons was referring to. King should know it.  The provincial government appointed Judge Donald Luther in 2001 to investigate the shooting deaths of two men.  Luther delivered his report in 2003 after hearing from 167 witnesses.

Outside the House, it became clear King’s discussion of what his power were wasn’t what Andrew Parsons had been discussing and what Davis and Ball were talking about on Wednesday.  King told reporters he didn’t have the authority to take the investigation away from the RCMP and give it to someone else. Parsons, quoting from the Luther report, was talking about using an external police force from the outset.

Look again at the specific words Paul Davis used on Wednesday. 
… the RCMP are the police with jurisdiction for the particular area where this matter transpired.As [the RCMP] took over the investigation, they had a number of options that were available to them.
The RCMP didn’t take over an investigation.  And as for options,  what Davis was talking about were options to deal with the conflict of interest involved in their investigation. of the shooting.

Shortly after Davis made those comments he said in clear words:
I asked them to do a full, fair and frank investigation, complete their work in a comprehensive manner, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to seeing what the results of that investigation are when they have completed their work.
Now look at the fact that the province’s justice minister didn’t seem to have any idea what the issues involved were in setting up the investigation.  He seemed to be totally unfamiliar with the Luther investigation of two earlier shootings.  That discussion would normally be an integral part of any briefing for a minister whose department is responsible for the administration of justice.

Go one step further.  Typically, the justice minister or the attorney general would be the designated government spokesperson for any aspect of the case.  Given the direct involvement of the Premier’s Office in the events under investigation, you’d expect that the Premier would let his justice minister handle comment.

Davis took the questions and answered the on Wednesday.

He answered them again on Thursday.

King only got involved in Question Period on Wednesday to handle the NDP questions. Two questions. Two answers.  He got involved on Thursday after Ball had raised the issue of the Premier’s involvement in the investigation.  But once King got into the discussion he clearly didn’t understand what the discussion was about.

Maybe he was just badly briefed.

Maybe it was that – given Davis’ unequivocal statement on Wednesday about ordering the RCMP to investigate – that the justice minister had nothing to do with setting up the police investigation in the first place. Maybe Davis and his chief of staff did. Letting the RCMP handle the investigation is certainly out of keeping with practice in the province over the past 20 years or so.  Both Davis and his chief of staff would be familiar with that.  King, the former school administrator?  Not so much.

Whatever the truth is,  Davis and King definitely cemented the case for a public inquiry into the Dunphy shooting on Thursday. They also added a new dimension to what the inquiry will have to look into.