01 June 2016

Anger Ball

Premier Dwight Ball got angry on Tuesday.

He's angry at the suggestion that he approved paying severance to Ed Martin.

Well, really he's angry at is how much Martin wound up getting now that the amounts are becoming known and unpopular but we'll get back to that.

There's actually no question that Ball was aware Martin got severance.  As the Telegram's James McLeod has noted,  VOCM's Fred Hutton asked specifically about severance on April 21.  Here's the exchange:
VOCM News Director Fred Hutton: Has Ed Martin’s severance been worked out yet? 
Premier Ball: What I understand is that the board met yesterday. I’m going to speak to Kenny Marshall now later today. I understand that at a board meeting yesterday, they’ve settled on the severance package as part of the conditions within the contract. 
Hutton: How much was that? 
Ball: I have no idea. I’m going to talk to Kenny Marshall now later today, so we will get the severance package. There was a contract in place and the severance conditions were part of that contract.

There's no evidence in anything that Ball has said that he questioned the severance either in the amount or in the fact that Martin quit and received severance at all.  He found out about it at the time.  He accepted it at the time. He could have stopped the payments. Ball could have asked whether it was appropriate. He did not. That is the total of the information we have at this point.

Dwight Ball and natural resources minister Siobhan Coady spent a lot of time on Tuesday telling the House of Assembly that what Ed Martin had said in his statement on Monday was wrong.  Martin said it came down to a simple choice:  either the government folks stopped questioning the project and backed him or he would go.  There were not two options, said Ball and Coady. There were three. Either they backed Martin and the project or he would leave. The "leave" option was leave immediately or leave within a year.

This is a distinction without a difference.  The Ball and Coady version lines up with Martin's story.

Now listen to the scrum Ball and Coady held with reporters outside the House.  Ball starts by reading a prepared statement.

Ball says quite clearly that - at the time of the meeting in April - he and Coady preferred that Martin stay on.  SRBP has made this point repeatedly.  Now you have confirmation.

Note as well that Ball and Coady explored ideas that would help Martin stay.  They were just not willing to publicly endorse Martin and the project at that point.  What's interesting here is that  Ball and Coady had already done that as early as September 2015.  They did so again in December,  February, and at the time they announced Stan Marshall would replace Ed Martin.

Notice as well that Ball says that he did not discuss severance "to that extent" on April 17 or 19.  To what extent?  Well, that's a good question.  It is to the extent of knowing precisely how much cash was involved, apparently.  This is the distinction Ball has made all along but it is irrelevant.  Ball approved the payments regardless of the amount.

Ball notes that this is not just about the $1.4 million.  McLeod's introduction to the scrum recording says this other part that Ball mentions might be about pensions.  Rumours have been flying fast and furious over the past few days that Martin opted for a lump sum payment of his pension entitlements. The figures bandied about are double or triple the severance amount and were paid out separately from it.  The actual figure  is $4.7 million in a lump sum for his supplementary pension.  Martin released a statement on Tuesday evening that provided details of his settlement agreement with Nalcor.

To put this in context for you, what we are seeing is the evolution of Dwight Ball's position in precisely the same way it evolved on cuts to the House of Assembly.  He clearly and unequivocally endorsed the concept in a scrum with reporters, saying that he had "no problem" with the cuts.  As opposition to the cuts mounted, Ball produced changes to the boundaries legislation that made it appear as though the Liberals were working against it.

What happened in January 2015 is happening again. Ball is changing his own position in the face of public criticism.  What's causing Ball all the personal grief is his effort to  change his earlier position retroactively, even though it is on the record.  The obsession with changing the past - rather than acknowledge that new information had cause him to change his position - is why we have Ball taking contradictory positions. Ball endorsed Muskrat Falls unequivocally despite evidence the project was over budget and off schedule. Ball had nothing to do with severance but he repeatedly says that the severance package is entirely a matter for the board.  They could have and should have called if anyone wonder what the government's intention was.

None of this makes any sense except to Ball. When people ask for proof,  Ball says it is all with the Auditor General in a process he has invented primarily to avoid disclosing information and having to defend his decisions.  Ball wants an endorsement from "dignified, professional" process and, when the justice department failed to do that,  he has now shopped it to the Auditor General.  One wonders what Ball will do when the AG doesn't do precisely what Ball needs him to do.