A YEAR IN RE­VIEW FROM THE PREMIER’S DESK

Premier eyes 2019 elec­tion

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - BY DAVID MA­HER SALTWIRE NET­WORK

If any­one knows a way to have a dull year in mod­ern pol­i­tics, please let Premier Dwight Ball know.

The past year was an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion un­fold­ing in the leg­is­la­ture, as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers grap­pled with ques­tions of con­duct on the largest stage in the prov­ince.

At the same time, there are ques­tions about a po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ment to The Rooms, ques­tions over whether friends of the Lib­er­als are ben­e­fit­ting di­rectly from cannabis le­gal­iza­tion through a land sale, and ques­tions of how much the New­found­land and Labrador pub­lic can trust their own pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment as the Muskrat Falls In­quiry rolls along, and all front and cen­tre.

As 2018 draws to a close and the pres­sure of pro­vin­cial and fed­eral elec­tions loom in 2019, Ball says he will stand by his record when­ever the bal­lots are cast.

“Peo­ple have a ten­dency to go neg­a­tive. No mat­ter how pos­i­tive things are go­ing they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, but …,’ said Ball, in a 45-minute yearend in­ter­view with The Tele­gram.

“For me, these things are not al­ways per­fect. The ques­tion I ask is, ‘Are they bet­ter?’ You don’t stand in the way of progress by look­ing for per­fec­tion.”

Part of the strat­egy for the Lib­eral Gov­ern­ment has been ef­forts to di­ver­sify the econ­omy. Agri­cul­ture projects have been pro­gress­ing in the prov­ince.

A mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing signed in 2017 with Que­bec to de­velop min­ing as­sets has shown early progress in Labrador West.

Gov­ern­ment has shown plenty of in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ing aqua­cul­ture projects — and meet­ing op­po­nents along the way.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Os­borne has pre­vi­ously used the anal­ogy of plant­ing trees that will grow in the fu­ture, if the ben­e­fits aren’t be­ing seen right now. Ball is think­ing is along the same lines.

“When you ask peo­ple for pa­tience, but when you have some­thing you can ac­tu­ally point to, it helps,” he said.

“I get it: peo­ple want things in real time. It’s where so­ci­ety is go­ing right now. I get im­pa­tient my­self some­times as well, that things don’t al­ways move as fast as we want them to move. But, you get good, in­cre­men­tal progress, and get it right, not al­ways per­fect, but get it right.”

But an ask for pa­tience is an ask for trust for any­body, es­pe­cially for a premier.

The Muskrat Falls In­quiry, which wrapped Phase 1 of tes­ti­mony ear­lier this month, is the

epi­cen­tre of the ques­tion of trust for the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. Ball says a lot of what he’s seen so far hasn’t been sur­pris­ing — rather it’s been dis­ap­point­ing.

“Not to be un­kind to peo­ple, but I re­ally thought there was a lot more so­phis­ti­ca­tion that was hap­pen­ing in­side the build­ing. That they were pay­ing at­ten­tion to likely the sin­gle big­gest de­ci­sion that a gov­ern­ment made in this prov­ince in — I couldn’t tell you a big­ger de­ci­sion,” he said.

“Muskrat was very dif­fer­ent (from the Up­per Churchill): this was gov­ern­ment’s in­vest­ment, gov­ern­ment’s risk.”

Ball says it’s be­come ap­par­ent from the ear­lier tes­ti­mony that a lot of what drove the Muskrat Falls project for­ward was an anger and re­sent­ment to­wards Que­bec over the Up­per Churchill deal.

“A les­son that I learned a long time ago is that you can’t be an­gry and smart at the same time,” he said.

“It’s a con­stant re­minder that at­ten­tion to de­tails mat­ter. All of us could learn that les­son. This will have a pro­found im­pact for many, many years.”

Dur­ing the Wind­sor Lake by­elec­tion, Ball an­nounced on day one of the cam­paign that nei­ther rate pay­ers nor tax pay­ers would bear the bur­den of Muskrat Falls.

So far, all that prom­ise has amounted to is a re­fer­ral to the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers of Pub­lic Util­i­ties (PUB), with no fur­ther de­tails an­nounced to date on what gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy will be to keep elec­tric­ity rates down in the prov­ince.

Though there was a prom­ise of fur­ther de­tails in the weeks af­ter the ini­tial an­nounce­ment, Ball can’t say much more about the mit­i­ga­tion is­sue right now.

“There’s not a lot of things we can ac­tu­ally say. There’s quite a lot of work be­ing done right now, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­volved and even other prov­inces — how we can work with Nova Sco­tia,” he said.

“We have ac­cess to some ex­cess green power. We just have to make sure we do it right. Rate mit­i­ga­tion is a se­ri­ous is­sue right now. I stand by that it’s not go­ing to be on the backs of tax and ratepay­ers.”

So once again comes an re­quest for pa­tience of the pub­lic from the premier’s of­fice, as com­pli­cated ques­tions are worked through.

When it comes to pub­lic trust in gov­ern­ment, Ball says it’s not just politi­cians who have a role to play in the face of erod­ing trust lo­cally, but also on a world­wide scale.

“It’s got to start on both ends. There’s a role for the lead­ers and politi­cians … but there’s also an aware­ness within the pub­lic. You need to be in­formed. Peo­ple of­ten re­spond and re­act with­out hav­ing all the in­for­ma­tion avail­able to them,” he said.

“For me, one thing I do is just to make sure I get in the com­mu­ni­ties. If I’m any­where, I want to be out there in the pub­lic, en­gaged. For me, when I get a chance to meet peo­ple face-to­face and have that dis­cus­sion with them in their com­mu­nity, it be­comes a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple are will­ing to get en­gaged.”

The House of As­sem­bly re­cently struck an all-party com­mit­tee on demo­cratic re­form that — through months of de­lays be­fore the com­mit­tee even was passed by the house — is ex­pected to get to work in the new year.

Ball doesn’t want to get ahead of the com­mit­tee’s work, but he did won­der how the com­mit­tee’s find­ing with change democ­racy in the prov­ince.

“The main­stream party pol­i­tics, will that change in the fu­ture? I wouldn’t be sur­prised if it does. I think you’ll see more con­sen­sus-build­ing,” he said.

“It re­ally comes down to rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the peo­ple you put in place, how en­gaged they are with the elec­torate. I think we will see it evolve, but will it get back to what it was 40-50 years ago, prob­a­bly not.”

Be­fore the pro­vin­cial elec­tion will come the 2019-20 pro­vin­cial bud­get. Count­less re­ports — most re­cently by au­di­tor gen­eral Ju­lia Mul­la­ley — have called on gov­ern­ment to find a way to cut spend­ing. Cur­rently, this prov­ince has the high­est net debt on a per capita ba­sis across the coun­try by a wide mar­gin.

Ball seems weary to rock the boat with large-scale spend­ing cuts in the 2019 pro­vin­cial bud­get.

“The kind of spend­ing cuts that peo­ple are talk­ing about would have ma­jor im­pacts on health, ed­u­ca­tion, and in­fra­struc­ture. So, it’s find­ing the bal­ance on how you do this, when you put ser­vices in place,” he said.

De­spite the ques­tions hang­ing in the air about elec­tric­ity rates, high gov­ern­ment spend­ing, and pub­lic trust in the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has a whole, Ball says he re­mains op­ti­mistic, and hopes vot­ers will be, too.

“There’s no ques­tion that this prov­ince is in bet­ter shape. We’ve made progress — not al­ways per­fect — but progress,” he said.

“I’ll ask peo­ple to take a look at what we’ve done. There’s still more work to do. I’ll put my record out there. When I look at Ches Cros­bie, the view is they want peo­ple to vote against some­thing. I’m more op­ti­mistic – I want peo­ple to vote for some­thing.”

“There’s no ques­tion that this prov­ince is in bet­ter shape. We’ve made progress — not al­ways per­fect — but progress.” – Premier Dwight Ball

DAVID MA­HER/THE TELE­GRAM

Premier Dwight Ball stands in his of­fice over­look­ing St. John’s. Ball has had an­other year of ups and downs in his tur­bu­lent ca­reer in pol­i­tics.

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