04 February 2016

Get the message: get a grip #nlpoli

Two former Premiers sent a very pointed message to Premier Dwight Ball this week about the way Ball has been handling the provincial government’s massive deficit problem.

Brian Tobin was in St. John’s to present a cheque on behalf of the Bank of Montreal to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Great War. Tobin said people need to understood that the current cabinet felt a problem far worse than any other in the province’s history.  people need to pull together, but for Ball personally, Tobin said that while it was best to be consistent and right, if you had to pick between the two, it was better to be right.  “Do the right thing,”  said Tobin.

Grimes did media interviews on Wednesday in addition to offering a guest post at SRBP.  He told Ball that it was important to put everything on the table.  Grimes specifically cited Muskrat Falls, with the billions in borrowing to finish the project, as well as energy marketing and offshore oil equity stakes.

These areas have potential risks and downsides associated with them and the new government would be well advised to examine and re-evaluate them thoroughly to determine whether or not they are adding value for the people of the province. Presently, we are marketing energy for less revenue than we received before the marketing division was established. The future plan is to sell energy for less than the cost of producing it at Muskrat Falls.
Better to be right than consistent.

Put everything on the table.

For his part, Ball made it quite clear this week that he was still firmly resisting either of those two ideas.  Ball met with the leader of the province’s largest public sector union.  Ball repeated that his preference is to reduce the public sector labour force solely by attrition.  That pretty much eliminates any serious cost reduction,  innovation, or anything the government needs to do in order reduce the size of the government’s deficit.

The major problem with Ball’s line is that it is clearly at odds with what his ministers are saying.  It’s at odds with the magnitude of the financial mess facing the provincial government. The whole thing is reminiscent of Kathy Dunderdale’s chronically garbled messages in 2013.

Ball should heed what Tobin and Grimes are saying.  They have considerably more experience in this than Ball has. Grimes has the most of all of them.  While he may well have been speaking on his own,  the fact is that Tobin is a vice president with the Bank of Montreal, one of the government’s big creditors.

And if that wasn’t enough reason for anyone  to listen to Tobin and Grimes,  Dwight Ball should know that they represent a considerable amount of discontent in the province with his performance since taking office. Except for Danny Williams, former Premiers usually fade into the background and say little.  The fact that Grimes and Tobin both gave Ball pointed advice is a sign that there are huge problems in the province.

 Ball and his advisors may think they are brilliant but right now,  there is a significant body of opinion  in the province that strongly disagrees.  Tobin and Grimes gave public voice to that opinion.  Will Dwight listen?