09 June 2016

The 'eart of Darkness #nlpoli

No one would be surprised if a cell phone video turned up in the next few days on youtube showing Dwight Ball before he broke his silence and talked to reporters on Wednesday.

The video would be Dwight himself, in his office in the middle of the night, hunched in the corner, staring off into the inky blackness, the only light a faint glimmer coming into a darkened Premier's Office through the large picture windows.

Out of the shadows of the grainy, found-footage clip would be nothing but his voice,  a raspy, dry-throated whisper  over and over :  " the 'orror.  The 'orror."

There has been a sense in Dwight Ball's performance over the past six months that he never got over the shock of getting those first briefings after the election.  Ball had always taken the same view as Kathy Dunderdale: the government was on the right path. The experts in the government knew the truth. The critics outside the government were wrong.

Remember when Brian Peckford criticised what Kathy was doing with Muskrat Falls?  "I don’t know how close Mr. Peckford ever was to the energy files here in the province in terms of a new development,"  Dunderdale clucked dismissively and ignorantly.  Kathy was fond of telling others how ignorant they were, even if  she was  - more often than not - the one bereft of information.

Well, Dwight took the same view. Takes the same view.  He waltzed into the Confederation Building expecting things to be half-decent and found out instead they were a total wreck. Everything around him was utter crap.  The finances were a mess and Muskrat Falls was even worse.  The officials and the politicians had been telling lies.  The critics had been right all along.

Dwight could not reconcile his assumptions with reality, it seems. So it was that the budget was entirely doom and gloom reflecting Dwight's own view.  Hard things had to be done so blame them.  he took no responsibility for anything so things hjave just run along wherever the wind has taken it.  Think about it. Despite the evidence Ed Martin had not only shagged up Muskrat Falls but misled people about,  Ball's first instinct  - by his own admission - was to try and do anything to get Ed to stay.

Dwight Ball's angry outburst last week was really just another manifestation of his gloomy, depressed view of his own budget. He has rationalised everything and in his own mind he is not responsible either for the mess or for cleaning it up. So with all that considered, you could imagine him huddled in his office, despondent as everything seemed to be going wrong, just muttering over and over how everything was dark and depressing and gloomy and horrible.

On Wednesday,  Dwight met with reporters.  No intention of resigning, he said.  "I'm as stubborn as they comes."   Apparently, Ball was not stubborn enough to sort out his own office.  Ball had apparently hired Greg Mercer to take over the office and begin the job of sorting out the new administration's problems.

"But, sources say, the premier's office didn't develop a clear exit strategy for the existing chief of staff Kelvin Parsons,"  according to CBC.  "Parsons didn't want to leave and Ball wasn't willing to fire him."  By "premier's office,"  CBC evidently meant Dwight Ball himself.   This is hardly an auspicious way to reform an office that has been troubled by political management problems since before the Liberals took power after last November's general election. The end result is that Parsons is still in the most senior role in the office while Mercer has a job with the jargony-meaningless title of "Senior Strategist - Stakeholder Relations."

Time will tell if Mercer is able to make the changes the Liberal administration needs or if he winds up making token changes,  scapegoat-changes, useless changes that Dwight will accept.  If this first step is any indication,  Ball may well remain as both the source of the problem and the obstacle to its solution. After all, Ball could not manage to get Mercer  - an excellent choice - into place without multiple inside sources telling CBC of  Ball's inability to impose his own will on his own office.  If the management problems within Ball's office remain stubbornly in place,  the odds of him being able to do anything to address the province's far larger problems would appear to be very slim indeed.

Dwight Ball says he has no intention of resigning.  One could scarcely expect him to say anything else. We know the next few months will be extremely difficult for the Liberals.  The polls will show that Ball lacks any popular support and no one should be shocked to find the Liberals in proud possession of third place among the parties.  As long as the current problems remain in Ball's Office, though, there is little prospect of that situation improving in the foreseeable future.

How long will the rest of Ball's caucus tolerate being in that position?  That's the real question.  It's all well and good for Ball to insist that he plans to serve out his four year term. We may well see some staff changes and a cabinet shuffle before the fall.  Odds are against those sorts of things changing the public image of the government since that isn't what is causing the government's problem.

The thing is that - ultimately - Dwight Ball doesn't get to decide whether he stays for four years or even four more weeks, no matter how stubborn he wants to be about it.  Dwight may expect to stay around but unless things change dramatically his record thus far of consistently mismatching expectations with reality might be a more reliable indicator of his future than his stubbornness.