Nfld. & Labrador

'It's extremely bad': Political scientists weigh in on Dwight Ball's first 6 months

Dwight Ball has been premier of Newfoundland and Labrador six months as of May 30, and in that time has become one of the most controversial leaders in the province's history.
When it comes to public opinion and perception, two political scientists say Premier Dwight Ball has a tough road ahead to win back favour. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Dwight Ball has been premier of Newfoundland and Labrador six months as of May 30, but in that time has become one of the most controversial leaders in the province's history.

Since being elected on Nov. 30, Ball's Liberals have introduced a budget that's caused protests over multiple controversial points, including a deficit reduction levy, a renege on a promise to undo a hike to HST, and a gas tax.

This week, a small group of demonstrators littered light posts in St. John's with posters calling for Ball's resignation.

It's either they don't know what they're doing, or else they're really not telling us.- Amanda Bittner

Amanda Bittner, a political scientist at Memorial University, said it's understandable the public is having a hard time coping with the Liberal budget and traces the problems back to the 2015 election campaign.

Bittner said it was obvious at that point the province's economy was in a tight spot, but Ball and the Liberals didn't address those concerns before the provincial election.

Political scientist Amanda Bittner says the sudden shift from the Liberal campaign messaging to this latest budget has been a shock for many people. (CBC)

"You know that you're going to win massively, why not say, 'OK tough times are coming, we're going to take action, we're going to do some tough stuff, not everybody's going to like it,'" said Bittner.

"Instead we saw no policy discussion, nothing happening, pretending things were rosy until the very end."

By not discussing their plans for the economy and the province, Bittner said when the Liberals actually had to make cuts and add fees in their budget they appeared somewhat out of their depth.

"Coming out of the gate they looked behind, unprepared. I don't want to say naive, but just a little bit confused at times — or dishonest," she said.

"Just as a regular person watching what's happening and the confusion about what's happening, it's either they don't know what they're doing, or else they're really not telling us what's happening."

Bittner added those changes in tone created a perception of dishonesty on Ball's part, which undermines his character — something she said is the hardest to come back from.

Last week, a clearly-agitated Dwight Ball told reporters again that he did not personally approve Ed Martin's severance package. (CBC)

"Honesty, trustworthiness, do they [politicians] care about people like me? That's the most important thing at all times and if you're failing on that, which is clearly what's happening here right now, that's not good and it's hard to rebound from that," she said.

"Unless Ball and his government is going to take the bull by the horns and say, 'OK we screwed things up, we're going to try and fix them.'"

'Really no way of bringing him back'

MUN political scientist Kelly Blidook says he wouldn't be surprised if Dwight Ball resigned, but says he will likely take the summer to see if things simmer down. (CBC)

That's a sentiment fellow MUN political scientist Kelly Blidook echoes, adding a recent media silence from Ball shows his party might be trying to change strategy and think things through more.

When asked in an interview how bad things were on a scale of one to 10, Blidook said the Liberals and Ball are at about a nine.

"It's extremely bad," he said.

Blidook said with the combination of budget fallout, the Nalcor severance controversy and public perception, Ball is in a hard place with public opinion painting him in an ill light.

It's not clear how you can regain trust as a politician.- Kelly Blidook

"Going through and seeing the opportunities he kind of had to come clean and say what was going on, he didn't take them and to find out that what actually transpired differed, unfortunately it's an issue of trust," said Blidook.

"That's a really difficult one to come back from. It's not clear how you can regain trust as a politician. For that reason I'd be more inclined to say he really isn't coming back."

In addition, Blidook said it's a "very real possibility" Ball could cut his time as premier short and resign, but not any time soon.

"I think he's probably going to take some time and see where things go. I think they're probably going to kind of at least feel out the public over the summer and see if things die down," said Blidook.

"I think most people in his party, in his caucus and in his cabinet are going to look and say there's really no way of bringing him back from this."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show and Central Morning Show

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