01 June 2015

For want of a nail... #nlpoli

Dwight Ball demonstrated last week how very simple things can turn into problems very quickly. He handed his political opponents a stick they can use to beat him with. The fact they really don;t have much more than innuendo and speculation doesn’t matter. He’s given them a weapon.

Ball confirmed on Friday that the Liberal Party could have released relevant information on the party’s debt repayment on Wednesday.

Ball named the three banks involved in the debt forgiveness deal and indicated the total amount involved.  On Wednesday he had balked, noting there was a non-disclosure agreement in place.

What Ball also confirmed in the process is that he and his team simply weren’t ready on Wednesday for the announcement.  That’s not the first time Ball and his team have made this kind of a simple cock-up.  The simplest way to fix it would be to re-organize the senior end of his office.  Ball needs to bring in some new people, especially ones with significant political experience.  to augment his existing team.

Ball looked like he wasn’t properly briefed on Wednesday.  That’s a sign of staff problems. They could be overworked, inexperienced, or miss-employed or some combination. 

Ball was missing simple, crucial, obvious information on the deal.  In the scrum he was left to come up with an answer on the fly.  What Ball said was apparently true, as he understood it. The problem was he didn’t have information his staff should have given him.

amounts or the identities of the banks involved since that was legally a matter of public record through the Chief Electoral Office..  What Ball didn’t know was that it was public information.

There was a related muddle on Friday, at least based on some media comments, about over whether or not the money was a party donation.  Elections NL will treat it as a contribution, which is reportable under the Act.  The party likely won’t issue a receipt for the money which would make it a tax deductible  donation.

In a bigger sense, it actually would have been better for the Liberals to have run this announcement through the party with either the president or the treasurer. That way the people most directly involved and most knowledgeable about the deal could have handled it.  They wouldn’t have had the problems Ball faced since they knew  - or could have figured out quickly afterward – the answers to any questions like naming the banks.

What you are seeing here is the same kind of problem the government crowd have had for years.  It’s also infected city hall recently. They stupidly default every announcement to the political face simply to give the illusion the politician is in charge of everything and runs everything.

The approach is an ego stroke at best and, at worst, it deceives the public into believing the politician knows much more than he or she does. The approach comes from the misguided thinking that only the Leader can do anything. It’s related to the Permanent Campaign that reframes every issues as one for politicians. The politicians and their staff put a premium on the political.  Think of  2009 and the emergency debate on Labrador electricity, where the political came at the expense of the truth.

In Ball’s case, the Leader-Does-All approach made him look disingenuous when he and his team just were just not ready for the announcement.  Why they rushed is a mystery. There’s no logical reason for it. 
The approach often fails on a simple level, as it has numerous times in the provincial government world from Williams down through his successors and ministers.  Perhaps the most obvious example was Dave Denine and the infamous sprinkler question. Rather than let the fire commissioner handle the technical issue,  they put the minister out. Denine didn’t know what he was talking about.

If Ball had proved the names of the banks, the amounts, and described the agreement on the party debt,  he’d have given information that was essentially public already.  He’d have also robbed the appearance of secrecy that his opponents relied on for their attacks.

That little piece of information is the equivalent of the nail in the famous rhyme:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.