25 May 2016

Ball digs himself deeper into hole #nlpoli

Dwight Ball's latest version of Ed Martin's departure from Nalcor only deepens the political quagmire into which the Premier and his staff have worked themselves with diligent effort and persistence.

Here's how.

Ed Martin told Premier Dwight Ball on Sunday April 17 that he would be resigning as chairman and chief executive at the province's energy corporation.

On Wednesday morning, April 20,  Ball and natural resources minister Siobhan Coady met with reporters at Confederation Building in the middle of a raging blizzard to announce that Martin would be meeting that morning with the Nalcor board to finalise his resignation.

The Telegram's James McLeod tweeted on Tuesday that Ball acknowledged in a scrum outside the legislature on Tuesday that he knew on April 20 that the Nalcor board had used a clause in Martin's employment contract to fire him, as opposed to letting him resign.  That meant that Ball knew on the day Martin formally left Nalcor that he would be getting a severance payment to which he would not properly have been entitled to receive since Martin had quit.

Indeed, as CBC reported on April 20:
According to Ball, the board at Nalcor met Wednesday morning to discuss Martin's contract and severance. Details have not yet been released, and Martin said he is not part of those discussions.
Despite that earlier statement, Ball claimed on Tuesday he did not know what the board had done and details of the severance until May 5, a day after it was reported by both CBC and McLeod.  He told reporters outside the House of Assembly that, as Peter Cowan tweeted, "Premier says only found out on May 5th that the board terminated Ed Martin without cause, giving him severance even though he quit."

Ball said that he had "the Department of Justice right now looking at the appropriateness of the severance package around Mr. Martin."

That's even more bizarre given that not only has Ball already admitted he knew about the severance for quitting the day the old board made the decision, he also had the power to stop the payment before it occurred.  The Nalcor board that cut the deal with Martin quit immediately after their board meeting.

By Friday,  April 22,  though, Ball had appointed Stan Marshall as the new chief executive at Nalcor and appointed a new board.  In fact,  Ball put the deputy minister of justice and the deputy finance minister on the board to give government direct control over the corporation. Martin didn't receive his $1.4 million payout until April 26. If there had been any questions or concerns about the Nalcor decision, Ball could have intervened at that point.  He didn't.

It is virtually impossible to imagine that between  April 17 and April 26 neither Dwight Ball nor anyone else in a position of responsibility - Coady,  Ball's chief of staff Kelvin Parsons, the Clerk of the Executive Council, the deputy minister of natural resources,  or the natural resources ADM responsible for Nalcor to name a few - never asked about Martin's contractual entitlements and did some simple math.

Ball's version of events would mean that every single one of the senior people in his office and the natural resources ministry and the entire new board at Nalcor were negligent and incompetent. It would also mean Ball is trying to divert attention from incompetence rather than dismissing people, which is what that level of cock-up would normally warrant.

It also means that Ball owns every single one of these errors personally.  In itself, that's yet another example of the failure of political management in his office.  If he and his staff had the slightest misgivings about Martin's severance, they could have allowed Nalcor officials to speak about Martin's severance. The fact that Ball took ownership of the issue means that - in effect - he endorsed whatever happened.  Since he keeps doing the same thing over and over and over, this isn't a communications problem.  It's a fundamental failure of political management within Ball's office.

Given the circumstances, it seems far more likely that that Ball knew and approved the payment of severance even if he did not know the precise details. Ball may have initiated some sort of review after May 4 - due to the public backlash - but by that time it was too late.  His subsequent comments about exposing the province to further litigation would be related to his change of heart, after the fact, rather than the initial decision, which he obviously knew of and approved.  At that point, yes it would have been impossible to stop the payment.  Ball had a chance to intervene in April but failed to act.  His subsequent media comments would then be nothing more than an effort to cover up his own earlier decisions rather than take responsibility for them.

For what it's worth, here's the SRBP short-hand theory of what happened:
  • Dwight approved the payment in April, without any further thought.  Essentially that's what he did in January 2015 when he took a snap decision [about cutting the House of Assembly] without thinking it through.  Think of it as yet another example of the "I don't have a problem with that" behaviour.
  • Once the severance became controversial, Ball asked justice department folks to see if there was a way to take it back. 
  • At that point,  it was too late so Ball said when asked that any effort to stop the payment would expose the province to a lawsuit it would lose.  He also referred to the old contract signed by the previous administration without mentioning that he had essentially approved the severance for quitting plan in April perhaps without confirming what the contract provided. 
"You know, you have to be in the room, and you have to know what information you have available to you at the time, who was available at the time,” he said. “It’s a decision that was made back in 2005, a decision that was then, I guess, renewed in 2009 by the past administration. They had that information that was available to them.” 
  • That statement about exposing the province to a lawsuit was true at that point after May 5 but in the Ball version he makes it sound like a retroactive excuse for his initial decision.  That way he cannot be wrong. [changed wording for clarity]
  • The way Ball answered questions in Tuesday's scrum sounded like someone talking about actions he wasn't part of.  Ball's version of events seems like an elaborate rationalization as well as an effort to place blame rather than a simple narrative of facts.    

Either way,  what was already a very bad political situation got that much worse for Ball and the Liberals on Tuesday.

This Nalcor story will continue to bleed for the rest of the week since Ball's latest account raises even more unanswered questions than it answered.