PCs hammer premier on 'incompetence' during Ed Martin scandal
Premier Dwight Ball was asleep on the job during critical hours of the Newfoundland and Labrador's brewing political scandal over the departure of Nalcor Energy's CEO, Progressive Conservatives have charged.
Tory Leader Paul Davis is accusing the premier and his ministers of gross incompetence in the Ed Martin severance saga, arguing the government failed to act at the very moments Nalcor's board was deciding on Martin's termination and severance.
"I just continue to shake my head at this," Davis told reporters Thursday. "We have a circumstance where information was being fed to the premier, and he did nothing about it."
He claimed the released email trail between government and Nalcor makes it clear that the Nalcor board was looking for approval on a severance deal — but Ball didn't bother to reply.
"In a decision that involves millions of dollars, he didn't do his job," he said.
Emails released on Wednesday reveal that Ken Marshall, the former chair of Nalcor's board of directors, told Ball directly on April 20 about Ed Martin's termination.
That email makes clear that Martin would be paid severance, but Ball said Thursday he never asked for details about the severance package until after it was reported in the media two weeks later.
It was only after they had seen Martin's "settlement agreement" that Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady wrote back to the new Nalcor board, objecting to the wording in the document.
"I did not reach out (on April 20) because the action of the board — they had made their decision," Ball said Thursday.
The two leaders have very different interpretations of the April 20 emails from former Nalcor chair Ken Marshall: Davis says it was a clear opportunity for Ball to intervene.
But the premier said the board had already made their decision, which they had the power to do.
He also added he was busy finding new leadership for the Muskrat Falls project. Nalcor was left without either a CEO or a board of directors following the departures of April 20.
'Severance could be anything'
The premier acknowledged Thursday he had some inkling that Martin would be paid severance, but had no idea of the figure.
"Severance could be anything. Severance could be part of a package of two-weeks notice," he said. "So I never took the severance to be a $6-million package that the CEO would be given."
That's despite that fact that government had requested a copy of Ed Martin's contract in March, weeks before April's budget speech that contained harsh criticism of Nalcor's leadership. Martin has claimed the budget speech and government's lack of support for his leadership amounted to constructive dismissal, or setting the scene for his removal.
As well, Nalcor claimed Martin's large pension payout was a standard option in many similar contracts.
Martin left Nalcor with two pension elements: one in a $4.7-million lump sum, and a severance package worth an additional $1.4 million.
Ball also raised questions about what Martin told the Nalcor board about their agreement.
He repeated on Thursday that severance was never discussed at their April 17 or 19 meetings, and he left understanding Martin was voluntarily resigning.
Martin's explanation of events involving those meetings is very different, and claims that he gave government several options.
Ball's account is quite different than the language contained in Ken Marshall's emails, where the board said they understood that Martin was being dismissed without cause. Ball implied they based that understanding on what Martin told them.
"On the day of April 20 when the decision by the former and outgoing board of Nalcor, there was no direction sought from us – they got their information from the outgoing CEO," Ball said in question period.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Ball stopped short of accusing Martin of lying, but said something didn't match up.
"I'm not here to accuse Mr. Martin of anything, really, but all I know is what the board took from that and put in the settlement agreement — that we were giving them direction to do that — that does not represent what I saw."