Nfld. & Labrador

Stan Marshall hire gives Liberals a big win in a bad week

The hiring of Stan Marshall as the new CEO of Nalcor is a very smart move for the new Liberal government. It is also an extremely lucky one.

Doubt grows in Liberal ranks in wake of budget

Stan Marshall was named Thursday as the new chief executive officer of Nalcor Energy. (CBC)

The hiring of Stan Marshall as the new CEO of Nalcor Energy is a very smart move for the new Liberal government. It is also an extremely lucky one.

Newfoundland and Labrador's most important Crown corporation was unravelling this week with Ed Martin stepping down as president and CEO, and the entire board of directors resigning en masse, citing a lack of confidence from the government.

It seems clear that Premier Dwight Ball was planning big changes at the energy corporation.

But this was hardly a controlled transition. Ball's initial conversations with Marshall were to take over the board of directors, an offer Marshall declined.

But after Martin served notice that he was leaving, the conversation quickly morphed into Marshall taking the reins as CEO.

"It's not really a job I want or need. But in my own mind it's a job I have to do," Marshall said.

Marshall's sense of duty to Newfoundland and Labrador sealed the deal. He told me after the news conference that he was convinced when Ball looked at him and said, "If you don't do it, who will?"

The Liberals fell out of a plane without a parachute.  They landed on their feet when Marshall said yes.

Grumblings, both public and private

It's a home run hire for the Liberals. Marshall is an extremely capable chief executive after more than 30 years at Fortis. He's the CEO Nalcor deserves, and the CEO it needs right now.

Stan Marshall and Premier Dwight Ball were all smiles during a news conference Thursday at Confederation Building. (CBC)

But his hiring is also a win the Liberals badly needed after what has been the worst week of their short time in government. The public outcry from the budget has been intense. And it has led to an increase in the private grumblings in Liberal ranks.

For weeks now, senior Liberals have been venting about communication and issue management problems that stretch back to the election campaign and were magnified by the budget.

The central criticism is that the budget failed to offer even a glimmer of hope to the province as it hammered everyone with giant tax increases and then warned of looming cuts to public services and public employees.

The PCs may have set the stage for the tough choices last week, but Liberals needed to sell their plan for fiscal recovery in such a way that people could have confidence of a quick and certain turnaround.

Liberal insiders concede it fell short. And they are now wondering if they need to hire more experienced political staff who can anticipate problems and more effectively manage them.

Ill-advised promises

Many of the problems with this budget go back to a string of ill-advised promises Ball made in the final week of the election campaign.

Liberal talking points and Twitter feeds were filled with guarantees that "cutting jobs is not part of our plan." Party insiders say this promise was made to help candidates such as Paul Antle and Siobhan Coady, who were running in St. John's districts full of nervous civil servants.

After the election, Ball — who likes to cite his love for evidence-based decision making — promptly reversed an HST increase without having the updated deficit numbers.

It was Ball's first major act as premier. The budget reversed the reversal.

These were promises the Liberals didn't need to make to win government. And these are promises that are now hurting them in government.

NAPE has launched a series of withering ads that hit the Liberals right in their credibility. 

It builds on the union's ads from a few years back that successfully attacked the PC government's cost-cutting measures. 

At this point, the unions seem poised to win the communications battle with the government as contract talks open.

What is protecting the Liberals now is that the opposition is so tainted by its own fiscal record and public frustration with Nalcor that they can't seize the advantage.

But that will pass with time. The Liberals still have the luxury of blaming the former government for many of the problems they face. But with each new decision it makes, this government builds its own track record.

And if the Liberals don't up their game, they will have problems that even Stan Marshall can't fix.

About the Author

David Cochrane is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary bureau. He previously wrote for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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