The Dornan File
By: Ryan Young
It seems like our poor government just can’t get anything right. That is the public perception again this week after Cathy Bennett announced that the services of communications consultant Cathy Dornan will no longer be retained. This comes as a bit of a surprise since Premier Ball has continually defended the hiring of external consultants for labour negotiations on the merit that it is something that has been done before.
It was back in April that the government announced that it was retaining the services of law firm Mcinnes Cooper to assist with labour negotiations, at a rate of $350 per hour. Dornan, an independent communications and crisis management consultant, was hired in turn by Mcinnes Cooper to provide strategic communications advice for those negotiations. There were a few eye rolls, but surprisingly very little scrutiny of Dornan’s Liberal ties. Dornan was Director of Communications in the premier’s office under Brian Tobin and her husband was Chief of Staff under Roger Grimes and was a key member of Cathy Bennett’s bid for the Liberal leadership in 2013. If none of that strikes you as particularly odd, it is worth noting that the Liberal Party threw Robert Dornan under the bus over comments made to Fred Hutton of VOCM regarding scheduling of debates during the election campaign last fall. In some circles on social media it has been suggested that the Dornan’s are still very close with the Liberals and the labor negotiations were a great place for the party to start making amends for their earlier actions against Mr. Dornan. Such allegations are, of course, nothing but wild speculation from an angry public at large, but you have to admit that the Liberals have been great at adding fuel to that particular fire.
The government maintained that the external expertise was needed, but after negotiating deadlines with the largest unions were missed, and there was apparently no communication happening between the government and the unions, people began to ask questions about the validity of the work being done. Crony consultants hired on the public dime are nothing new in this province, but when you consider that we paid Dornan over $20,000 last month for her services and the total bill to Mcinnes Cooper is now over $100,000, we have to wonder where do we draw the line?
In a statement issued to the press on Wednesday, Finance Minister Cathy Bennett said that the government has advised Mcinnes Cooper that external communications resources would no longer be required and that they will now be handling all of their communications in-house. NAPE President Jerry Earle insists that with over 40 lawyers already on the government payroll, there is no need for the hiring of any external legal staff to assist with negotiations. According to Earle, over $100,000 of public money has been spent on these external consultants and no negotiations or communications have taken place. Just where has all that money gone?
For a government that is desperately trying to save face and repair its image, you have to wonder who is making these key decisions. Getting cozy with Mcinnes Cooper may seem like an innocent relationship to the government, but when you factor in John Greene’s recent departure from the firm to head up the Nalcor board, in addition to the non-existent labor negotiations and Dornan’s obvious political ties, the whole thing just reeks of patronage and cronyism, the very things that the Liberals campaigned on reforming just last fall. I have no doubt that Mcinnes Cooper is a credible and honorable firm that does good work, but in politics image is everything and this story just perpetuates the negative, business-as-usual image that this government has created for itself in a very short time.
Sadly for Ball and Bennett, while letting Dornan go was the right move, the government again left themselves with no way to look good in the public eye. If they had kept Dornan on, despite the lack of anything to show for her billing charges, people would be angry. Now by letting her go, the government is admitting that they made another mistake, adding to the perception that they are not capable of making sound financial decisions. This government desperately needs someone to make some good choices and then effectively communicate it to the public. The PC’s were notoriously bad communicators, and this new government has retained all of the same staff that were responsible for the lack of credible dialogue between government and the public during their tenure. In the face of the scope of the communications breakdowns that we have witnessed since the Liberal’s came to power, it is baffling to why there has not been a major shakeup in communications at the top.
To anyone who has watched Seinfeld, you may find yourself wondering if Dornan was hired to work on the Penske File. $20,000 for missing deadlines and failing to communicate seems like a pretty sweet payday, even by government standards. Unfortunately, the people of this province are the ones again left wondering if we will ever have a government that truly works in the best interest of our people instead of their people.