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:

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