31 May 2019

More beige than beige #nlpoli

The Premier had a carefully rehearsed message when reporters asked him on Thursday why he had appointed everyone in cabinet back to their old portfolios despite an election that had reduced his party to a minority government.

A cabinet of "experience, consistency, and stability,"  Dwight Ball called them.

He used the word "experienced" a couple of times and emphasised the word "stable" as he finished the answer to one question.  You can find a bit of Ball's scrum with reporters at about the 42 minute mark of CBC's Here and Now broadcast. NTV's story got the "stability" message loud and clear.

The election result was a shock to many people.  People can debate what it meant that voters didn't endorse any one party to have a majority in the legislature.

Ball has a political problem even if he is in heavy denial about it but all the talk about experience and stability wasn't about dealing with a political problem.  Voters aren't panicked by the minority government.

Ball was dealing with a financial problem.  His plans depend heavily on the ability to borrow a couple of billions dollars to make his budget work.  Ball will have a much harder time borrowing money if the bond-rating agencies take a dim view of his government's ability to manage public finances in the wake of the election.

So he hammered away at those three words:  experience, consistency, and stability in an unmistakable message to the folks who control the government's financial future.  No changes of any kind.  Same thing that was there before right down to making only the bare minimum number of changes to cabinet that he absolutely had to make.  Same budget coming back with the same conclusions.  No changes in anything. If you loved us before, love us again.

Thursday's cabinet was  hysterically obsessed with sameness. The make-up of cabinet and all the scrum-talk that rejected any suggestion of a difference caused by the election seemed like so desperate a message that everything was so overwhelmingly the same, it isn't possible anyone missed it.  Even Ball's characterisation of what the others parties would do with the budget sounded like part of an effort to tell someone that the election had no impact on the government.

You can indulge in whatever pop-psychology theorizing you want about Ball himself, his decision-making style, and the election results.  That's really missing the more obvious - and therefore more likely - motive for the Unbearable Lightness of Same.

Ball had a few choices.  He could have kept his experienced cabinet that continued the same direction for government by holding a couple of key ministers - like say Tom Osborne - in key portfolios, while moving the rest around a bit.

John Haggie, for example, has done a great job in the health portfolio but after four years he must be getting tired.  That job normally kills ministers after 18 months. Maybe Haggie could put his considerable skill to work in another key portfolio.  The same is true of Siobhan Coady.  

Or Andrew Parsons.  He's made a mark as justice minister but surely Ball thinks that some other portfolio could use Parsons' skill.  And for someone like Parsons, getting experience in a different department just makes him a more valuable contributor to cabinet discussions and to the cabinet as a whole.

But Ball kept everyone lined up just as they were.  He drove home the sameness by promising Graham Letto he'd be back in cabinet in precisely the same job he gave up today if the judicial recount overturned the result from May 16.

Keeping everything precisely the same with only a couple of minor alterations is overkill in the sameness department.

It takes beige to a whole new level of beigeness.

And lest you think this is just a fanciful theory, go back and watch Dwight Ball's interview with Mike Connors last weekend. Right after Ball said the deficit was between $800 and $900 million - DBRS pegged it at $855 million - Ball told Mike Connors that it is "important to send a message to the rating agencies of consistency and stability."

You could even characterise Thursday's cabinet ceremony as part of the desperation to send a message.  After all,  constitutionally, Ball didn't have to swear in a new cabinet.  He just had to spend a few minutes with the Lieutenant Governor giving Lisa Dempster an extra portfolio and Brian Warr and new job.  That's it.  Everything else that happened on Thursday was just for show.  A big show of sameness,  and an excuse to speak to reporters about consistency and stability.