26 May 2016

Alarums and Excursions #nlpoli

Dwight Ball is hiding details of his involvement in the decision to give an enormous and unwarranted severance package paid to Ed Martin despite the fact Martin had quit as Nalcor's chief executive.

That became plain in Ball's responses to repeated questions from both opposition politicians and reporters on Wednesday.  They all asked Ball repeatedly if he discussed severance with Martin in either of two meetings the Premier had with Martin in mid-April. Ball's answer was deliberately evasive.  He had clearly rehearsed the wording precisely because he repeated it over and over and over again. The question required a mere yes or no in reply. Instead,  Ball said again and again that the matter of severance was one for the board.  Every word Ball said more than either yes or no confirmed that what he was saying was not true.

Ball also said repeatedly that he only became aware of the details of the severance on May 5. He stressed the word "details" because it is an important word for him.  Ball repeatedly stressed the word as if knowing the details of the severance were more important than knowing about and approving of the fact that Martin had received severance in the first place.

That's the sort of distinction that only comes to a certain breed of lawyers or people who would describe *themselves* political strategists.  They think this sort of thing is clever.  It isn't.  It is merely too cute by half.  Everyone knows the ploy for what it is.  It's as transparent as saying someone has quit an important job to spend more time with his family.  No one believes that one because we have heard the same lie so many times. Had we all played a drinking game with Dwight Ball on Wednesday, we'd be in hospital with acute alcohol poisoning for taking a shot every time he dodged.

We do not know for certain what Dwight Ball is hiding but we do know he is hiding something.  Whatever Ball is hiding is very important to him.  It is so important that he acts guilty even if, as it turns out, what he is hiding is nothing to be guilty about.  Nor do we know why he is running scared of the truth, but he is obviously running hard from something that frightens him a lot.

We do know that what Ball is doing is not a very bright idea. This is not a very sensible strategy. He looks guilty.  He looks deceitful and deceptive. Really, painfully, obviously untruthful. This is not smart since Ball is at 17% in the polls in large part because a lot of people already think he is a liar. If you are in a position where public trust is important,  like say being the Premier of a province,  it usually isn't a good idea to act in such a way that you confirm people's bad impression of you.  This seems like something that you shouldn't need to state.  The fact that this apparently has slipped the notice of some people in very important jobs is almost as worrisome as the bad behaviour itself.

Dwight Ball and his advisers have sent him out with a plan to rip up his own scraps of credibility by doing everything in his power to look guilty of something. Ball's dances on Wednesday are like the way Bill Clinton used to parse fine differences of meaning in all sorts of words in a desperate effort to get away from the truth about stains on a blue dress from The Gap.  Whatever Ball agreed to with Ed Martin, it is nothing on the magnitude of a blowjob in the White House. That is why Dwight's behaviour is baffling.  But if he persists in his current cover-up,  in his frantic, pathetically transparent efforts to avoid truthful answers to simple questions, Dwight Ball may well create a political controversy every bit as disastrous for him as the one that demolished Bill Clinton's second term.

Avoiding plain answers to plain questions is a warning bell that someone is avoiding the truth. So too is the intentional emphasis on a specific word like "detail."  And then there is the use of conditional verbs.

When asked if he did something,  Ball varied his replies by talking about what he "would have done." Not did. But would have. Might have. Hypothetically, entirely theoretically, of course.  This is the sort of deception that isn't an outright lie but it is also not the truth.  That is why it is bad. We have heard this sort of thing before, at the Cameron inquiry.  So many people especially political staff, the senior political staff from the Premier's Office, and the Premier himself, at the time.  Asked what they did, specifically, they all responded that they could not recall but then mentioned what would have happened or what they would have done.

Ball used conditional language often enough in his scrum with reporters that he set off another alarm bell. He did the same thing in the House:  "So any severance package would have been discussed with the board of directors of Nalcor" or "Any legal opinions that I would have received so far are still with the Department of Justice right now for their analysis."

Then there is the biggest alarm bell of them all, the one that comes with a giant revolving light to make sure no one misses it.  This is the idea that Ball cannot provide clear answers because all of this is under some sort of review within the justice department.  We do not know precisely what these lawyers are doing.  After all, Ball already told us in early May that there are no legal recourses here without exposing the provincial government to a costly lawsuit that we would, most assuredly, lose.

Ball and his advisers have created a review here and use it as a way of avoiding disclosure. We have seen Dwight use imaginary processes before. Ball made one up to try and explain why he suddenly changed his position, under considerable public criticism, about the need for a public inquiry into the Dunphy shooting. Step One was family grieving.  Step Two was police investigation.  Step Three was Dwight saying he would call an inquiry (that would be Step Five) after Step Two was done and once Step Four was finished, namely after he became Premier.  Couldn't call an inquiry before now, Ball insisted, because the process - one he dreamed up entirely in his own mind - had to be satisfied first.

The value of this imaginary review process is easy to see, especially when people ask for specific pieces of information.  This bit is from the House, when opposition leader Paul Davis asked Ball to table the Nalcor board resolution:
After all we've been through here right now, what he's expecting me to do is table information without even going through a process that we would go through – maybe the former premier is used to interfering with Access to Information and Protection of Privacy. Maybe that's what he's used to doing when he sat in this chair, but I can tell you right now, I will respect the process of the individuals that are involved. And it's when we get through that process, when the analysis is completed, I will be very happy to put to the people of this province any information that can be made public. I'm hoping that it can be all made public,...
The process Ball is talking about is another dodge.  It is a delaying tactic.  And again, the whole thing is very familiar.  Think back to Danny Williams fending off accusations of favouritism when he gave $40 million to his former business associates to buy some fibre-optic cable.  Williams claimed the law prevented him from giving documents to the Auditor General.  He swore up and down there was no legal way to give the Auditor General any papers on this.  Black and white law.  Williams insisted on that right up to the point where he gave the AG the documents without changing a single word of any law, regulation, policy, or statement anywhere.

That is because Williams claim about what the law did or didn't allow was not true.  It was an excuse. Williams and his crowd also liked to talk about the access to information law the same way.  They would refuse to release documents because the ATIPPA said so or, worse, they would release documents with key bits blacked out following the ATIPPA.  This was all wonderful stuff except for one small problem: ATIPPA only applies to information requested by someone.  If a cabinet minister decided to release documents, they can do so because they have that power to do what they see as being in the public interest.

So when Dwight Ball says he cannot release things now because of an imaginary process or because of access to information or privacy he is really offering an excuse.  The question is why he needs an excuse just like the question is why Dwight Ball cannot tell us whether or not he discussed Ed Martin's employment contract when he and Martin discussed Martin's resignation.

The thing is that it would have been perfectly natural for Martin and Ball to discuss Martin's contract. Martin may have reported to the Nalcor board but, as Dwight Ball well knows, Ed Martin had his job because the Premier wanted him.  It is just the same as Stan Marshall, who has Ed Martin's old job now at Ed Martin's old salary not because the Nalcor board hired him but because Dwight Ball did and agreed to pay him that amount.  Everyone knows this because it is what the Energy Corporation Act says.

Everyone knows this because it is what Dwight Ball announced the day after Ed Martin left. The new chair of the Nalcor board did not hire Stan Marshall.  Dwight Ball did. Everyone knows Dwight Ball is the guy who actually calls the shots because  - as Ball told us all on Wednesday - the Nalcor board sent him  an email before Ed Martin met with reporters on April 20.  The email confirmed that the board had given Martin a hefty payout by using clause 16 (c) of his employment contract to fire him rather than accept his resignation.

Dwight Ball must have approved the payout to Ed Martin, even if he did not know the precise penny of Martin's total haul because Ball did not question their action, let alone try and stop it. He had the power.  He did nothing to stop anyone from writing the cheque or signing the cheque or giving it to Ed martin. We know this because Dwight Ball has told us so.

Dwight Ball is not stupid.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are not stupid.

So why does Dwight Ball carry on as if they were idiots with his confused activity and uproar?

There is a very good question.