The Bern
Coffey debacle is
mind-boggling. But it leaves two important facts exposed.

First, Ball
approved the untenable arrangement with Coffey permitting him to continue his
law practice. It is one thing to allow for a winding-up period, quite another
for the Clerk of the Executive Council to be moonlighting – in a court of law where he would be obligated to argue against his employer.  

Second, just
as the Government was taking some initiative to hold Nalcor to account, the
brutally incompetent Crown Corporation has, again, been let off the hook as far as the MF Oversight Committee is concerned.

With Coffey’s
intervention, the Committee had finally gotten two capable members. Likely, the
appearance of three ‘naysayers’ on the Muskrat file was causing some people to
sweat. Likely, Coffey was outed but he and Ball ought never to have afforded Nalcor – or the Opposition – that opportunity.

Now, the former Deputy Minister of Natural Resources under
Dunderdale – who played messenger for Ed Martin, sending Nalcor’s requisitions to Cabinet – is head of the Oversight Committee. Ball confirms, again, he is gutless.

Coffey has
resigned. The truth is Ball should, too. He has demonstrated, time and again,
he is not up to the job of Premier.

Bern Coffey
was supposed to bring some order to the constant chaos which Ball divined. Instead,
he has wound up adding to it.

Coffey can’t
be excused for failing to understand that the Health Care Corporation and Nalcor
are government – not some third party commercial interests. Any legal
distinction afforded under the corporations act or having contrived administrative procedures to give the appearance of a Chinese wall, to which Coffey alluded, is nothing
less than a fiction.

credentials are well-known. The timing of his appointment, following a
disastrous run of decision-making by the Premier, offered hope he might help
bring some sobriety to a government in perpetual political crisis.

A highly
successful Crown Prosecutor, Counsel to the Cameron Inquiry on testing errors
at Eastern Health, and private practitioner, Coffey’s credentials included – as
a member of the 2041 Group – opposition to the Liberal Party’s endorsement of
the Muskrat Falls project.

Coffey loudly advised Nalcor CEO Ed Martin not to pursue the Muskrat Falls
project without first obtaining judicial review of the Water Management

Nalcor’s subsequent loss in the Quebec Superior Court is testimony
to Coffey’s legal and intellectual talents. It is confirmation that
Nalcor intended to proceed with the project come hell or high water – which is
sufficient proof that they need constant and uncompromising oversight – though a mass firing of the senior executive would be more beneficial.

should have known better. 

He should
have known that both the Tories and the Liberals have done their best to
degrade governance processes and administration. His job was to help put a
stop to those practices.

He should
have remembered from whence he came.

politics has a way of causing disqualification for senior public service
roles.  In the tradition of the British
civil service, partisans are mostly disqualified regardless of their personal
achievements. Partisanship has corrosive influences. It affects objectivity and
causes suspicion when the Government changes hands, leading to more firings and
partisan hiring.

Coffey had
run for and lost the Liberal leadership in 2011.

For that
reason, his appointment was received with some disquiet, in part because Ball
had already begun replacing some public service positions – including at the
ADM level – with individuals having strong Liberal Party connections. The Liberals
were behaving much as did the Tories.

some, including this scribe, had concluded that Coffey might be the trusted
confidante the Premier needed to find his backbone.   

That was
wishful thinking. 

Coffey must
have known that, as Clerk, he is a public policy coach charged with the
effective operation of a large bureaucracy. He is also the government’s chief
The job does
not allow spare time. There is no spare time for senior executives when the
government is sane. There is even less time when it is irredeemably mired in dither,
poor judgment, and financial crisis.

Neither can government
afford divided loyalties. The Clerk of the Executive Council has no business
contesting his employer on any level. The perception of conflict is simply

That Coffey
is gone is necessary. But it is still unfortunate. Coffey would have seen first-hand
the difficulty bringing Nalcor to heel – its record of deception, poor
management, and his own inability, thus far, to countermand Nalcor’s unbridled
arrogance and insouciance.

Now, Nalcor
is back in charge. A chronically weak Premier presides. The Liberal Party gives
him a vacant stare.

Public administration is, again, diminished.
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?


  1. What I don't understand is how Ball can be so egregiously wrong-headed in staffing matters. Why a long-time, highly competent senior civil servant (Tim Murphy) for the top political staff position (Chief of Staff) and a long-time highly competent lawyer and political operative (Bern Coffey) for the top civil service position (Clerk of the Executive Council)? Both ultimately resigned (for different reasons), but the underlying reason, I'd wager, is that they were tempementaly and experientialy unsuited for the roles they were appointed to. The same can be said for many other of Ball's appointments – communications staff with little or no political communications experience. Economic policy staff with no economic policy experience and no historical perspective on economic development in NL. The list could go on.

  2. Mr.Ball is symbolically head of "The gang that couldn't shoot straight". In fact we have no one running this province other than companies like Nalcor and the leeches who allowed and continue to allow this province to be on the "Runaway train", is testament to our demise. It seems Ball has no idea whatsoever how to govern a province.He is allowing everything Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale inflicted on the residents of this province to continue. To have appointed Mr. Coffey to that position knowing full well it is a "full time" position and not insist he distance himself from his law practise, and to top it off "I would appoint him again" shows incompetance on the part of Mr.Ball. His lame attempt to deflect blame is astounding. If Mr.Ball ran his business interests the way he is running this province,he wouldn't be in business long. This begs another question–Has he put all his business interests in a Blind Trust and is he anyway connected to any company with ties to Nalcor/MF?
    Everything about Nalcor/MF stinks to the high heavens and nobody with any authority attempting to get to the bottom of the mess.
    We must be a combination of pity and laughing stock of Canada and nowhere to get help.
    We threw away our golden opportunity to become a significant Have Province until Danny Williams saw a personal opportunity and pulled the puppet strings attached to Kathy Dunderdale. It now looks like we were grasping a straws when we elected Dwight Ball.
    Boy-o-boy did we ever go from the "frying pan to the fire"! and we have to endure his incompetance which is putting us deeper and deeper into despair. The only ones who will be able to afford to live here and raise a family will be people with like minded interests who will probably be employed by companies owned by the likes of Williams and Ball.
    Ever since MF was proposed and sanctioned, there has been a rotten smell of imcompetance and corruption and nowhere for the "serfs" to go for help. Williams, Dunderdale and (it appears) Ball should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

  3. It is more than unfortunate that Coffey is gone. Surely his performance and blatant conflicts speaks to his integrity. So too is accepting his role as chair of "oversight" without demanding the scope be expanded to include the spur engineering. How does his compliance with his faux oversight role not indicate that his actions were partisan and disrespectful of the ratepayers in NL?

    Giving Coffey credit for inaction is wrong and accepting a role he could not fulfill-oversight- speaks more to his integrity than a his past as a civil servant. Coffey was part of the problem, not the solution.

    It did not take long for the results I predicted of his stepping into the doo doo accepting his role as faux oversight chair to manifest in this splatter all over himself. To my mind it was well deserved.

    • I agree Bruno. "…accepting his role as chair of "oversight" without demanding the scope be expanded…" would suggest, or at least indicate, an acceptance of the status quo.

      Not good enough (and not what the circumstances/situation needed).

  4. The williams government had a gun barrel that took 10 years for the bullet to exit. Williams gun was also not straight, it was U shaped.

    The mess of this government is the result of 15 years of deplorable managemnet of this province.

  5. The UNCLE broke his usual pattern of Thursday and Monday pieces with this Breaking News on Coffey.
    This took priority over the release of the report on the form work collapse. The Uncle had filed with Access to Information to get at this document……and it is a damming report, of which Gil Bennett wished could be buried….. the report which I suspect UG will summarize.
    Yet he postponed that for the Coffey scandal…..and comes close to a public flogging of Coffey.
    Now obviously it seems there was nothing illegal, just not ethical. Not illegal because our conflict of interest rules are so vague that you could drive a Mack truck through them. Coffey knew that, yet suggested he had a Chinese Wall of separation. Our conflict of interest laws is no Chinese Wall, as we now know. But apparently it is fine with Ball, who would do it all over again!
    Ok, so not serious enough to be illegal, as our law is very cleverly crafted that way. But was Coffey`s actions serious enough to to be reprimanded and fined or disbarred by the Law Society! They have their code of ethics, do they not! Has he broken those ethics…….by his misbehavior………make no wonder he`s not talking! And he wanted to be Premier!

  6. Who do you think will get Bernie's job? Will the new candidate represent the desired "Cold Eyes" on the Oversight Committee? We can only hope for a continuance of Thorough and unbiased internal scrutiny of the project.

  7. Big oversight there with the appointment of this failed former liberal candidate. It should not take long for the independent liberal appointments commission to come up with another suitably unqualified failed former liberal candidate or affiliate to continue with the incompetent governance.

    • Indeed, former Premier Clyde Wells was appointed to head up the "Independent" appointments commission. And Coffey was Prosecutor under Well's government. Did Coffey go through Wells screening for the Clerks job……and if so , was Wells aware of Coffeys moonlighting…….surely the media should interview Wells on this….

  8. Just wondering, was Coffey there as a free lawyer (for Ball) to keep him from straying into illegal activity, all at the taxpayer expense, rather than MF oversight. I mean, when you have Nalcor engineers claiming fraud in false estimates etc, and it is all ignored, it suggests a cover up. Who better to keep the details of this secret than Coffey, is this not a talent he possessed!
    Is there one thing we can point to in the Nalcor file that suggests this was getting due attention as to critical oversight. Someone asked why Vardy or Des himself was not appointed or asked to be on the Oversight Committee, true critics , not half hearted ones, and without the baggage of conflict that Coffey had. Then again, if one calls for a pause on MF, one must change his tune to run with the bulls, who want no pause……just more and more incompetence and continued secrecy.
    Ball…….. pitiful incompetent as our leader!


  9. 500 million to fix MUN infrastructure problems, money they don't have and yet they proceed with 425 million new building that then need fitting out and teachers etc. Crazy…..when the province is broke, almost. great for contractors and suppliers that are single source suppliers in some cases. Maybe get 10 million in profit for Marco. No one knows who the subs are. Not the usual way of doing things.

  10. The PCs had no shortage of faults but this Government is developing some of their own. Although the PCs dabbled in this area, the Liberals are turning the politicization of the public service into something of specialty. They dropped party faithful into ADM positions and with the Director of Pharmaceutical Services appointment are extending that to the next level of bureaucracy. In the last few days David Vardy spoke to the need for integrity at the senior level of the public service and a few years ago, and it may have been in this blog, a former senior civil from Ontario spoke to the same issue and chastised NL's senior civil servants for not speaking out. Folks get real – this Government has sent the message loud and clear to their bureaucracy -"give us the answers we need or want to hear and if not then we will get someone who will".

  11. If only someone in government challenged Nalcor as Bryne seems to with MUN. Late for Nalcor, but MUN is like another runaway Nalcor……..thinks they are not answerable to the taxpayer.

    • Wanna bet we'll not see Byrne as confrontive as he has been? The reason being is that Ball met with MUN and reported it was a good meeting. Given Ball's track record,anything he gets involved with goes off the rails and I'd bet he's given in to MUN and this runaway train will continue until it goes off the rails as well.
      Dwight Ball is not a leader. He has not been and as far as I'm concerned will never be. He'll keep the status quo until the Liberal party replaces him (which can't be too soon).
      Paul Davis is thinking of re-entering the PC leadership race and is the best they have now of defeating our "do-nothing Premier–and on it goes. The media will drop it as well.