31 May 2016

Martin continues to set provincial political agenda #nlpoli

On the surface, Ed Martin's statement on Monday confirmed what we already knew.

Dwight Ball knew about and approved of Ed Martin's severance payment from Nalcor.  Ball may not have known the precise detail of the amount Martin received from his severance  - about $1.4 million - and Martin's twin pensions.  James McLeod at the Telegram has chased down that angle on the story and is awaiting a reply from Nalcor about whether Martin took the lump sum payout option on his pensions.

But there is no doubt Ball knew about and approved of the arrangement to pay Martin severance even if the official story was that Martin said he quit.  Ball has said as much on several occasions, as noted by McLeod last week.  He's also made the fine - but entirely meaningless - distinction that he had no part in discussing the details of Martin's severance.

Look one level down though and you will see what has been plain from the beginning:  Ed Martin is in firm control of the agenda.

Ed Martin asked for a meeting on April 17 and laid down the terms. He would stay if the Liberals left him alone and stopped saying anything even mildly critical of him.  Or... he'd leave if they agreed to pay him the full amount of his severance.    Dwight Ball accepted the deal and approved the second option.

As SRBP noted at the time, "Ed Martin left on his own terms, at the time of his choosing, long before anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador knew the full story of what had been going on [at Nalcor]. Whatever happens from here on will sit squarely on someone else's shoulders, not Ed Martin's, even though Martin set the course and locked it in."

The amateurish way the Premier and his officials have handled the matter since then has put Martin in a spot even he could never have imagined.  The guy who brought Darknl and who misled the people of Newfoundland and Labrador about the Astaldi contract is now seen as the wronged man of integrity while the Premier is the liar.  It is a masterstroke of issues management and public perception but only because, in the fashion of John Efford,  Dwight Ball has helped pile the sandbags around his own feet.

"In the media,"  SRBP noted in that April post, "the same folks who wrote glowing epitaphs for Danny Williams when he left office were quick to do the same for Martin. Others claimed that Martin had been pushed from office by Dwight Ball. Neither assessment was true. Look at natural resources minister Siobhan Coady standing next to Ball at their scrum [on April 20]. That is not the face of someone privy to a scheme working out as planned."

Ed Martin's letter confirms that Coady and Ball were not working a plan.  They were reacting.  If they were planning to get rid of Martin, then Martin successfully called their bluff, got out with a lovely cash settlement, fatally wounded the Premier politically and still won't be held to account for the mess at Muskrat Falls.

The day that Martin issued a simple statement full of serious implications,  Dwight Ball tried yet another dodge.  As expected, he decided to turn the whole thing over to the Auditor General. He is refusing to answer any questions. The move looks like what it is:  a desperate attempt to get away from the obvious chasm between what Dwight Ball has been saying and what has been true.  

The only way Dwight Ball stands a hope of salvaging anything of his dignity is to lay the whole story out in public this week along with irrefutable evidence.  Then Ball can leave politics with some of his dignity intact.   Given Ball's behaviour thus far, he's unlikely to do anything remotely like that.

That's unfortunate because, while the damage he has done to himself the past week is too great to get past,  the longer Ball stays, the harder it will be for his successor from any political party to restore public confidence in the province's politicians and, at the same time,  cope with the financial mess left by Ed Martin and his political allies.