Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

The fall of Dwight Ball: An embattled premier with waning caucus support

In a pre-recorded video, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball announced Monday he was stepping down, as scandal after scandal plagued his tenure.

Quick leadership race expected, with one well-known name being touted

Dwight Ball announced in a pre-recorded video Monday evening that he was resigning as premier. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Dwight Ball couldn't seem to stop scoring on his own goal.

Throughout last fall he had to defend moving former senior Liberal staffer Carla Foote into a position at The Rooms, the provincial museum and archives, sans competition.

Instead of a fresh start in the new year, he faced a new controversy: a fat contract for a deputy minister-turned-oil and gas consultant.

Behind the scenes, multiple sources say cabinet and caucus members were frustrated with the premier's performance and his inability to handle scandals of his own making.

"Every leader has an expiration date. Dwight Ball just reached his," one cabinet minister told CBC News after Ball announced Monday evening that he was stepping down as premier.

Just last week, when Ball made his big announcement on keeping electricity rates low, there was another sign of waning support: only a few cabinet ministers showed up, with some of the heavy hitters — Transportation Minister Steve Crocker, Health Minister John Haggie, Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Bernard Davis, and Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Derek Bragg — all absent.

Ball is expected to speak with media in one-on-one interviews Tuesday afternoon.

It was a long time coming

Rumours of Ball's resignation aren't new; they started early in his tenure as premier.

He underestimated the backlash from his first budget that hiked taxes and fees and cut libraries. Some in the public would never forgive him.

Every day he had to drive by posters calling for his resignation. He faced large, angry protests.

Multiple sources inside his own caucus say Ball never really regained the public trust. Less than a year ago the public returned him to power, but with his wings clipped atop a minority government. After that, he kept stumbling from scandal to scandal.

Ball has found himself repeatedly at the centre of political whirlwinds. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Ball acknowledged the loss of trust from the public in a subtle way in his video address.

"I have always understood that every MHA serves at your pleasure," he said, before saying his time had come to step back and spend more time with his family — a line as old as politics itself.

Leaving now saves Ball from facing a June leadership review — one he knew would be tough. Caucus and cabinet members were not-so-quietly expressing their desire for him to leave. Liberal executive members loyal to Ball tried to get the party to delay the vote, to give Ball more time, but they failed.

Ball had a choice: fight a battle or leave on his own terms. He chose the latter. 

Who's next?

The Liberal party is expected to lay out the process today, but the unofficial race has already started.

Some inside the cabinet have already ruled it out, with Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady and Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne insisting they won't run.

One name is already seen as a front-runner: Andrew Furey, an orthopedic surgeon better known for his philanthropy. He founded Team Broken Earth, which helps provide medical care to developing countries.

Furey has never held elected office but comes from a political family. His father, George Furey, is currently speaker of the Senate.

Insiders say he also has the backing of former premier Brian Tobin, who was helping him get ready for a run even before Monday's resignation. Furey told CBC news on Tuesday morning he is interested in throwing his hat in the ring, but would not speak further to the matter, adding he needed to discuss the issue with family and colleagues. 

From inside the party, Minister of Justice and Public Safety Andrew Parsons is well-liked, but is dealing with serious family health issues that sidelined him from the House of Assembly last fall and will keep him from running for the top job.

"My family continues to deal with a medical issue and I simply cannot devote my time to a leadership run," Parsons tweeted Tuesday morning.

The now outgoing premier wants his replacement to be chosen soon.

In his address, he said he wants a new leader to put a stamp on a spring budget, due out in only two months.

That will mean a quick race or a delayed budget.

Under a law brought in by the PC government under Danny Williams, an election will have to happen within a year of a new premier taking office.

Even if the budget passes this spring — not a guarantee for a minority government — an election is coming.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story referred to George Furey as a former Liberal MP. George Furey was never an MP.
    Feb 18, 2020 7:28 AM NT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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