When I wrote
“Cathy Bennett’s Days in Finance Are Numbered” little more than ten months ago,
I seriously doubted her tenure would last more than a few weeks.
assessed the province’s financial position and her first Budget. It was easy to
see that the restraint measures she proposed — mostly increased taxation — were
the work of a hapless political amateur delaying the axe-wielding necessitated
by a widening fiscal chasm.
exigencies of politics demanded execution at the start of the government’s
term. Even if one cared not a whit about the province’s finances, delay bore
far more political landmines than decision.
the September piece had poorly assessed the importance of ego, partisanship and
ambition over common sense. Still, in the circumstance, a savvy Minister of
Finance should have presented an ill-equipped Premier the fiscal ultimatum
commanded by a dreadful Tory legacy.
It is impossible
to ignore the timing of Bennett’s departure. She was getting set to bring
matters to a head with the public sector unions. Ball was having none of it. He
would have his way less because he was Premier than due to the fact that the
Minister had squandered the political cachet that accompanied her successive
wins in Virginia Waters and her self-described business acumen.
very early on, Bennett showed her finance officials that she was even more
comfortable ‘in the weeds’ than her Deputy Minister, who was never known,
either, as a ‘big picture’ bureaucrat. Early on, too, she became quite
alienated from the Premier’s Office. Unable to mend the rift, she ought to have
judged the ‘writing on the wall’.
Bennett became part of the government’s dysfunction.
ten-month period since the ‘Bennett’ post, events have only reinforced this
wrote: “Discounted… was an increasingly awakened public, following the
imposition of the levy and Stan Marshall’s single outburst of truth — the
“boondoggle” at Muskrat. Some of the Minister’s initiatives were plainly dumb —
like closing community libraries to save pocket change — and the decision was
reversed only after the political damage to the Liberal brand had been done.
politician, over-confident — relying upon a shrewdness she did not actually
possess — kept no bag of tricks in reserve…”
Bennett lacked a steady hand. It is true that she was absent a First Minister
capable of rescuing her from a financial “Plan” devoid of context let alone
hope. But she willingly chose to go along with Ball’s “Hush Puppy” approach…
accomplishing nothing more than… deference to dither.
Minister would have put her foot down at the start…”
it was a tough ‘no holds barred’ appraisal of a dilettante who had found
herself Finance Minister. The problem was, she had acted no differently than
did former Tory Finance Minister Ross Wiseman (except he didn’t piss off nearly
as many people) to whose “Plan” she became glued.
when an ambitious politician sticks by someone as god-awful as Ball, there is a
price to be paid for such temerity.
after my original ‘Bennett’ post, where are we?
75% of the electorate were known to have wanted a Forensic Audit of Nalcor’s
Muskrat Falls project she, having been both Board Member and Chair at critical
stages, did not have the courage to join in the chorus — even if only to avoid
the quiet McCarthyism now making the rounds.
took the proper step to advance a settlement with the public sector unions by
moving towards conciliation early. But the union leadership did an end run to
the Premier’s Office and outsmarted her.
thing to try and draw a line in the sand for them — a group ever ready to deny
the province’s financial predicament — but she had failed to extract from
Premier Ball, up front, a public record of his expectations from these
watched as a failing Finance Minister went into the fifth month of the
government’s second fiscal year. Only now has she discovered that Premier
Dithers had no intention of taking the lashing which the Unions heads could
Premier hung Bennett out to dry — and she let him. Bennett must have known of
his unwillingness to make a single important decision. More coy than savvy,
Ball knew — unlike during the earliest months of her tenure — that she was a
spent force in his Administration.
given the dream job of Speaker (his own admission) in 2015. Now, suddenly, he
is a “great relationship builder,” according to the Premier.
one recognizes those words as code to the public sector union leadership, they
should try again.
knows he has, at most, one more year before he resigns or is dumped by the
Liberal Caucus. He feels emboldened to put off a Forensic Audit of the Muskrat
Falls project on the same basis.
reality does not include a prescient fiscal cliff. It requires no tough
decisions, no rancor. His reality is about looking premier-ial, smiling and
glad-handing, meetings and ceremony — all the soft stuff of politics.
decisions are those that tackle problems; leadership and hand-wringing are not
not brought in to pick up where Bennett left off.
would have known that the world price of oil is far lower than the benchmark on
which her Budget numbers are predicated. The Canadian dollar has been on the
rise, too. Her 2017 forecast is already in jeopardy.
concessions she had budgeted from the public sector, she might have been
girding for a battle royal in an effort just to break even.
conditions of Osborne’s appointment were set by the Premier. Having no Finance
background, he can be expected to do Ball’s bidding — the deficit, and the
assurance of an even larger one, be damned.
needs to resist the Premier’s dithering ways, else he will join Ross Wiseman,
Cathy Bennett and a few earlier worthies — like Tom Marshall and Jerome Kennedy
— who have earned the ignominious legacy of aiding and abetting the province’s