21 April 2016

Offense and Defense #nlpoli

If you're not on offense, you are on defense.

And in politics, if you are on defense, you are losing.

The Liberals wound up on the defensive yet again Wednesday with the resignation of Ed Martin and the entire Nalcor board.

To be sure, Williams-era appointees like Martin or former board chair Ken Marshall have been responsible for the mess that is Muskrat Falls. The province will be better off seeing the backside of them if only because they can no longer make a very bad situation they alone created all the worse.

The political problem for Premier Dwight Ball and the Liberals is in how Martin left.

Yesterday's lengthy post was premised on nothing more complicated than the idea that actions should match words and that actions speak far louder than words.  There was no sign that Ball had done anything to replace the Nalcor board or Ed Martin.  He had not only avoided any criticism of them but in December he had endorsed Martin's leadership of Danny Williams' troubled, troublesome, and troubling legacy project in Labrador.  He did the same thing when he announced Martin had quit.

Indeed,  Ball and his energy minister have been saying for some time that they would wait until their new appointments review committee was in place before replacing any of the legion of Conservative era appointees in every nook and cranny of the government.

There are a few stories about Martin's departure floating around. Martin's version is that he decided to quit on his own. Conservatives have evidently been pushing around the idea that Ball was planning to dump Martin so Martin jumped first. Indeed, the sudden resignation of the Nalcor board late Wednesday evening added weight to that version of the story.

To your humble e-scribbler,  Martin's resignation and the board resignation looked like an effort to get out while the getting is good.  The story about a Liberal plot was just convenient cover.

Either way,  the result for the Liberals will depend on what happens today and over the next few days.

If the Liberals appoint temporary replacements for the lot, then the official story holds up all 'round.  The sudden Tory departure left the cabinet in a tough spot so they appointed some temporary folks as caretakers. Meanwhile, cabinet will start a hunt for a stellar crowd to replace the old Conservative appointees.  They should turn the job of find Martin's replacement to a national head-hunting firm.  The new appointments committee can find the board.

This is the optimum answer. It gives the Liberals a chance to do precisely what they talked about all along. In the end, the people of the province will know the new Nalcor leadership is made up of the best folks available.

A side benefit of this approach would be that the cabinet can spend some time dismantling the Enron-like warren of interlocking directorates Martin created at Nalcor that demolished any resemblance of transparency, oversight and responsible management of public money. Incompetent management is what made a mess of Nalcor.  Well, that and the lack of clear policy direction from cabinet as to what the company ought to be doing.  Muskrat Falls is an entirely separate mess.

This is the sort of thing the Liberals should talk about.  They are likely to find lots of stashes of financial problems from the old crowd each of them akin to Imelda Marcos' shoe stashes.  They need to expose the waste and mismanagement to remind everyone why they are raising taxes and cutting spending.  The two are intimately connected. It is one thing to just blame the other guys, as the Liberals did in the budget. It is another to show people precisely what was wrong.  People deserve to know the truth.

If the Liberals come up with a new chief executive so rapidly, even if the new candidate is a fine choice, the Liberals will have fed the Conservative narrative with a lot of credibility. They can run clips of Dwight Ball endorsing Martin or pushing off discussion of a replacement and then contrast that with evidence Ball had been plotting something secretly all along.

Given that the public sector unions and the opposition parties have been attacking Ball's credibility since before he took office, evidence of untruthfulness just weakens Ball even more.  The Tories will scream "deception" and they will appear to have firm proof.  They can still expose problems from the former crowd, but anything that gives their political enemies strength weakens the Liberals.

Ed Martin is gone. Good riddance to him.

How the Liberals come out of this depends on what they do next.