Wednesday, 22 February 2017



By: Ryan Young

the quality of being trusted and believed in.

Our great sage and eminent premier, Dwight Ball, could have saved himself a whole lot of trouble if he had just told the truth last spring. Would anyone really have been that angry if he had told us that his government did not have confidence in Ed Martin’s leadership? Would we have flipped a lid if he told us that the cost of the severance paid to the former Nalcor CEO would be justified by putting the Muskrat Falls project in the hands on a man who actually had a lifetime of experience in building hydro dams? It would have been so easy for the premier to say something along those lines. There still would have been backlash at the amount of the severance, but the whole issue would have quickly faded away and been forgotten. Instead, Ball decided against the easy route and withheld the truth about what he knew and when he knew it, which has led to this issue dragging on for nearly a year.

Let’s start right back from the press conference held on April 20th  2016, when it was announced that Ed Martin was resigning as CEO. The official story was that Martin was leaving because he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren. The government was more than happy to prop up a make-believe press conference to tell the public that all was well and there was nothing to worry about. It was Ed Martin’s decision all the way. Despite what we were told that day, it is clear from the Auditor Generals report that the “facts” offered by both Martin and Ball on April 20th were not entirely factual after all. Let’s take a quick look at a few points of contention:

Even though both men said that the decision was Martin’s, Terry Paddon concluded as the #2 summary point in his report that “Mr. Martin did not initiate any of the resignation provisions of his Executive Employment Agreement by giving the required notice.” During the April 20th press conference, it was made quite clear that the decision to leave was Martin’s.

Summary point #7 indicates that during a meeting on April 18th, Stan Marshall had agreed to accept the position of Nalcor CEO. Remember that during the press conference on April 20th, Ball said that they had not spoken to any potential replacements for the CEO job.

Point #10 indicates that “Mr. Martin had no intention to voluntarily resign as CEO of Nalcor energy. Again, if Martin had no intention to resign, why did he say that he was retiring?

Point #17 says that the Board Minutes and the Settlement Agreement were constructed in a manner to ensure consistency between what the Board understood to have occurred at the April 19, 2016 meeting and the provisions of the Employment Agreement. The Board understood the Premier had terminated Mr. Martin’s employment and that severance payments would apply.

In Paddon’s own words:

"In the April 19, 2016 meeting, the Premier stated that he could not put the confidence behind public support for Mr. Martin and his team.” "This statement by the Premier was incompatible with the continued employment of Mr. Martin as the CEO of Nalcor."

All discussion of the severance aside, it is very clear from the auditor generals report and past statements by both Martin and Ball, that the real story of Martin’s departure was much different than the one both sides had agreed to give to the media. Martin wanted public support from government and Ball was not willing to provide it. They both agreed that Martin would leave on his own terms and take a little golden handshake on the way out. No harm, no foul. What Ball didn’t realize is that he was walking straight into a set-up and he had no idea that he was about to get his first real taste of political blood-sport. The board never received a formal resignation from Martin, and after the premiers press conference they decided to use that fact to terminate the contract without cause and promptly resign en-masse. Ethical? Certainly not. Legal? Absolutely. This would entitle Martin to receive the maximum severance and ensure that Ball was exposed for not being honest during the April 20th press conference.

Despite the underhandedness of the boards decision, this was a golden opportunity for Ball and the Liberals to shift the focus away from themselves and onto the Nalcor board and the PC’s. Ball could have capitalized on the board decision and taken the whole severance issue out of his own hands and right back into the oppositions lap. Instead he decided to continue to withhold the truth and allowed Paul Davis to preform like a master opposition leader as he grilled the premier on his inconsistent statements. Instead of taking an opportunity to deflect the issue to the other side, Ball allowed Davis to shine during question period and in the media, while he himself continued to shed credibility by refusing to acknowledge the truth that everyone else already knew.

All of this left the premier in a very tough spot. He likely realized that he had gotten himself caught up in a web of spin and half-truths that he really had no business being involved in, and began to search for an easy way out. He first called in the Department of Justice and asked them to investigate the matter. I filed an access to information request for the subsequent report, but my request was denied. After justice had concluded their investigation the matter was then turned over to the Auditor General to determine if the severance paid out to Martin was appropriate. Unfortunately, the terms of reference for the AG were very narrow, and only dealt with the appropriateness of the severance. He was never asked to investigate why there were so many inconsistencies between the official story offered by the government and the information that came out after the fact.

The problem with not being honest, especially for a politician, is that once you get caught up, the only way out is to keep up the lie. Even after the Auditor General’s report made it very clear that Ball knew more than he said he knew, the premier continues to stick with the story that Martin resigned. When speaking with media yesterday, Ball continued his line that Martin left voluntarily, despite the information provided in the AG report. Even though he would not come right out and say it, his words indicated that he did not accept Paddon’s conclusion that Martin’s departure as CEO was constructive dismissal.

Paul Davis quickly jumped on Ball for continuing to call Martin’s departure voluntary. He says that with that claim, the premier is rejecting the Auditor General’s findings. It seems that even after a report that let him off easy, the premier is unwilling to acknowledge any error on his or his governments part and continues to stay the course, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against his case.

The issue for most people was never the appropriateness of the severance package. We all knew that even though it smelled really bad, Martin was likely legally entitled to it if he was indeed terminated without cause. The real issue for most of us is: why was the premier not honest with us?

Let’s be very clear. The severance package and the termination were not Dwight Balls doing. It was entirely the work of Martin and the Nalcor board in response to the scathing words from Cathy Bennett during her budget speech last spring. Ball had several opportunities to wash his hands of the matter and let the folks on the board who orchestrated the entire fiasco take responsibility. Instead, nice guy Dwight decided to protect those who would drive the knife in his back, even at the expense of his political credibility.

Credibility. That is the word that really is at the heart of this story. When your political leaders fail to be honest, they lose their credibility. This is especially true when it is so blatantly obvious that Ball didn’t have to lie. He was the victim in the story and he had nothing to hide. The set up was so obvious that he only had to be honest and let the blame fall at someone else’s feet. All he had to do was let the public know the truth and let the chips fall as they may. His choice to deliberately mislead us has led to a total lack of trust for the government, and himself as premier. When you lie to the people about the little things, they can’t help but assume that you will lie about the big things as well.

Dwight Ball is hoping that the Auditor General’s report will make this story go away, but I have a feeling he is going to be in for a rough ride when the House of Assembly opens next week. You can bet that both opposition parties are already sharpening the knives and will be ready to take a stab at Ball over this issue every chance they get. It makes me wonder how long Ball will continue to stick to his story, even in the face of mounting evidence against it. We all know how quickly things can go downhill when a politician loses credibility in NL…

You can read the Auditor General's report here:

Monday, 20 February 2017

Let's Talk About P3's

Let's Talk About P3's

By: Ryan Young

Dwight Ball and his Liberal government recently made two announcements regarding the construction of new healthcare facilities in western Newfoundland, to be built and operated through public-private-partnerships (P3’s). While many are happy with the announcements, and the prospect of brand new facilities, others are not so sure, and have cast skepticism on both P3’s, and Ball’s ability to get the deals done in a way that benefits the province and not the private business owners.

At the heart of the matter are a new 164 bed, acute care hospital and 120 bed long-term care facility in Corner Brook. Both facilities will be built at the same location and will offer a much-needed upgrade from the current 217 bed Western Memorial Regional Hospital. Having lived in Corner Brook, I can personally vouch for the poor condition of the existing hospital, and it is no secret that we need more long-term care beds to serve an aging population. The infrastructure is badly needed, but the question must be asked: is the P3 model right for Newfoundland and Labrador?

There has been much discussion from several different sides on the merits of P3’s. Proponents claim that it is a great option to save the government money and provide essential services without all of the up-front capital costs. The labour movement claims that P3’s will take away good paying public-sector jobs, decrease the quality of service, and cost the government more money in the long run. And then there are the people who depend on the facilities who just want to see the new hospital and long-term care center built, no matter what model the government decides to use.

In the most recent announcement regarding the new Corner Brook Hospital, Premier Ball claimed that the province would save 7% on the cost of the project using a P3 model. No specifics were given on the estimated cost of the contract, nor were any details given on where the 7% figure came from. How can you claim to be saving 7% when you don’t even yet know the cost of the contract? Unless, of course, the deal is already done, and pushing through the public eye is just an unfortunate hurdle that needs to be cleared. As has become the norm, the government has failed to properly communicate the details of their plan, and people are once again left scratching their heads and wondering what it all means.

When I started digging a little deeper into P3’s in Canada, things began to get murky. Organizations like the PPP Council, P3 Canada, and our own NL Employers Council claim that with aging populations, higher debt loads, and less federal funding for provincial governments, P3’s offer a sensible alternative that can enable the construction and operation of facilities and services that might not otherwise be able to fit in the budget constraints of governments. The major selling points are that governments do not pay for the assets until they are fully operational, contracts are paid out long-term and include provisions for proper maintenance and quality of service, and that the lifetime costs of the assets are known in advance, ensuring that the taxpayers are not left on the hook for surprise overruns.

Flipping the other side of the coin, it is easy to find evidence where the claims above have not exactly panned out. One of the terms that keeps coming up in various studies and reports was “value for money.” Policy documents supporting P3’s often showcase them as the best value for money for governments. That claim has been disputed by evidence from reports from across the country. In 2014 the Auditor General of Ontario that showed that 74 P3’s in Ontario will cost the government over $8 Billion more than the traditional procurement route. In British Columbia in 2014, their Auditor General also concluded that the province will pay a higher cost on P3 projects than if they had been procured through the public sector. Auditor Generals in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan have issued reports regarding higher costs to governments when using the P3 model.

In Nova Scotia, in particular, the Auditor General reported that no credible evidence was provided that P3 schemes would save money, so they had no choice but to conclude that the decision to use P3’s was an attempt to hide debt. They also noted that no resources were allocated to monitor the construction and operation of P3 schools in the province.

So where does that all leave us? While there are many examples of where P3’s cost more money and were plagued with delays and problems, many others have been completed on time and on budget and have been providing acceptable levels of quality service. While the long-term costs of these more successful projects will take time to become known, they suggest that it is possible to use the model in a positive way that can be a benefit instead of an extra burden.

That brings me to the concerns people have about this government being able to do a good deal for us and not just sweeten the pot for their business friends. Everyone knows the Liberals are desperate to get these deals done and hopefully raise their profile a bit before the next election, but will their desperation and haste lead to another bad deal for the province? It is certainly hard to make a judgement on that as we don’t really have any facts at all about the project and what any of the potential costs might be. As much as Ball and the Liberals promised to deliver openness and transparency, they are once again making plans in secret, with the public not privy to any of the numbers.

I personally think that there is a place for P3’s in this province based on our current fiscal situation and the advances in technology and the internet, but I’m not entirely convinced that they should be utilized for essential services such as health care. The evidence that we currently have before us does not support the case that they will save money or improve services. Maybe government has information that shows exactly that, but they sure are not sharing it with us.

Maybe the simple fact of the matter is that this in the ONLY way that these facilities will be able to be built right now. If that is the case, the premier should just be honest with the people and level with us on how it has to be. Instead of selling us on imaginary 7% savings and giving assurances that this is the best way to go, just tell us that the province is broke and if we want shiny new facilities, this is the only choice we have. People may not like it, but I guarantee that many more would respect the decision if they were told the truth. More rhetoric and political spin around this issue wont help anything. What we really need is for Dwight Ball to open his mouth and be honest with the people on why this is the route we are choosing to go. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Growing Forward

Growing Forward

By: Ryan Young

It’s not often I get to write about positive moves from our government, but I am very happy to do just that when the opportunity arises. After all, if I am going to be quick to criticize the blunders, I also need to highlight the positives that occasionally come our way.

Yesterday, Premier Ball announced that the government will be making 64 000 hectares of crown lands available for agricultural development in 62 areas of interest. Like most announcements made by this government, the details are slim, but no matter which way you look at it, increasing our agricultural capacity is a good thing.

This is a move the industry has been calling on government to make for years, and with the high cost of importing food getting higher all the time, we really need a comprehensive plan to strategically develop this long-neglected sector. This announcement is certainly not that, and neither is the initiative in The Way Forward to increase our food self-sufficiency by at least 20% by 2022. That is a bold target, but one that can easily be achieved by planting up the acres, but planting up the acres wont work unless there is a comprehensive plan to guide the growth of this industry. What we really need is a strategy that fully assesses both the growing potential and the consumer market, and targets resources accordingly. Ideally that would include a mix of traditional farming, along with green-housing and hydroponics.

The Harris Center at Memorial University released a report by A. James Quinlan in 2012 titled: “Building Agricultural Capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The report gives a good overview of the historic levels of agriculture and the sharp decline in the number of farms after Confederation, as well as a number of recommendations on how to improve our capacity.

Some of the major recommendations given in the report include: establishing an agricultural college on the west coast of the island, sponsoring students to study agriculture programs out-of-province until we have an agricultural college, changing the way subsidies are delivered to support more small scale farming, facilitating livestock inspection and slaughtering for small scale producers, and creating a program that will offer business and marketing guidance to small scale producers.

These are some great recommendations and I know that if I took the time to contact the agricultural associations in the province, that I would get even more great ideas to write about. There are lots of ways that we can improve our agricultural capacity, but we need to stop looking for small step solutions and start looking at the bigger picture. No single program is going to solve all of the problems, but if we have a clear idea of exactly what type of growth we would like to see, we can create a series of interconnected programs that work together instead of standing alone. By doing so,  we increase our chances of stimulating some real growth in this sector.

Developing a partnership with a place like UPEI might be a great start to adding some new, highly skilled farmers to our local workforce. Eventually we would be able to do the training ourselves, perhaps as an offshoot of Grenfell College or maybe in a place like the Codroy Valley. If we are going to get serious about expanding this industry, we need to be able to support it with a qualified workforce.

We can hope that the government will continue to invest in agriculture and to continue to make even more land available to those who wish to utilize it, especially for new participants to the industry. Agriculture really is one of the few industries where we have a huge potential for growth, if managed correctly. So far, the Liberals seem to be listening to what they are being told by the people who know the industry the best, and if that continues we might very well see some positive growth in the near future. In order for that to happen, a real plan will be needed. In the meantime, lets enjoy a small step in the right direction for a change.

You can link to the Harris Center report here:

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Taking Money out of Politics

Taking Money out of Politics

By: Ryan Young 

When Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch raised the alarm last week on Newfoundland and Labradors political finance laws, most people in the province simply rolled their eyes. Political corruption and backscratching was so ingrained in the political culture here for so long that people take for granted that it’s just the way things work around here.

It’s no secret that in the golden days of Confederation, lucrative government contracts were reserved for those who supported the government and made regular campaign contributions. Things were so bad under Smallwood that some business owners would not even do business with someone if they were known to be a Tory. Certainly, there are many more safeguards in place these days, such as public tendering, to ensure these things no longer happen, but with the giant shadow of Muskrat Falls hanging over us all, people can’t help but wonder how much favor might have been curried for those Nalcor contracts that never had to go through the tender process.

Conacher went so far as to call our current system “legalized bribery.” Those are strong words, but it can’t be denied that we have the most relaxed rules in the country when it comes to the way we finance politics. There are currently no limits on who can donate to a party or how much they give. In the wake of the federal government announcing new rules for private “cash for access” fundraising events, Democracy Watch thinks that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should be more concerned about their own system.

"What everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador should realize is the system is the scandal, and the system is corrupt," said Conacher.

"You may not see a particular scandal where you will be able to connect a donation exactly to the handing out of the contract, but overall that system is corrupting decision making."

Premier Dwight Ball has a different view. He is satisfied with the way things are currently done because the donations are publicly posted for everyone to see, even if those reports are often a year or two behind schedule before they are published. Ball insists that he does not look at the Liberal donation list when making government decisions. Of course, when he was running for leader of the Liberal party, Ball was a supporter of reform and wanted caps on political donations. Now that he has the power to make the changes, he seems to have lost the appetite. It is not hard to see why so many people are cynical and find it so easy to believe that the whole system is corrupt.

Independent MHA, Paul Lane, began calling on the government last summer to implement a number of democratic reforms, including campaign finance reform. He insists that far too much money is spent on marketing candidates and that the amount of money a candidate can spend should be greatly reduced. In light of the recent revelations by Democracy Watch, Lane told Pete Soucy on VOCM that he will continue to advocate for reform as we move towards the next election.

Democracy Watch has called for a ban on corporate and union donations and a limit of $100 per individual donation, similar to the rules in the province of Quebec. While some may argue that $100 is too low for a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador, the individual amount is not nearly as important as the removal of corporate and union donations. I wouldn’t hold my breath on the government making any meaningful change in their current mandate, but I have a feeling it will end up as an election issue in 2019, whether the Liberals want it to be or not.