'No severance was discussed': Ball fires back on Ed Martin severance claims
Premier Dwight Ball states unequivocally Tuesday he did not discuss severance with Martin
Former Nalcor board member Leo Abbass says a decision to terminate former CEO Ed Martin last month and trigger a hefty severance payout was taken to "fulfil the wishes of government," further supporting a claim by Martin on Monday that Premier Dwight Ball approved the severance — a claim the premier vehemently refutes.
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In the House of Assembly Tuesday, Ball said unequivocally for the first time since the controversy erupted last month that he did not discuss severance with Martin in two meetings leading up to the Nalcor shakeup on April 20.
"No severance was discussed. We did not discuss severance in either of the meetings of the 17th or 19th," an irritated premier said during question period and again to reporters later, as can be seen in the video above.
Ball went on to say that Martin presented three options to the premier and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady during those meetings.
They included resigning immediately, leaving in a year, or staying in the job with the government publicly endorsing the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project and its management team.
Ball said he was not willing to provide such an endorsement because critical questions about the cost and scheduling of the major project remained unanswered.
"We were definitely not prepared to be just blindly cheerleading a project that's having a major impact on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We just weren't prepared to go there."
The premier said he wanted to set the record straight, and speak out at this point.
"Because simply I will tell you, that we have integrity as well. And I am just not going to stand idly by, and watch people put out information and not respond to that."
Ball also told reporters that he did not direct former Nalcor board chair Ken Marshall to approve severance for Martin, which Abbass claimed is the case in an interview with CBC News earlier Tuesday.
Abbass says severance preferred by 'both sides'
Abbass added he's "amazed" at the premier's handling of the controversy and feels the board followed through on a plan that was the "wishes of both sides."
His comment comes as Auditor General Terry Paddon begins a review of the matter, and a day after Martin released a statement saying the premier approved of his severance pay.
"It wasn't just four board members sitting in a room," Abbass told CBC News from his home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Tuesday morning.
"We had legal people, internal and external, plus representatives from the HR [Human Resources] department of Nalcor advising us and working with us on how to proceed to fulfil the wishes of the government."
Former chair Ken Marshall met with premier
Abbass said the board got its marching orders from former chair Ken Marshall, who Abbass said received direction during an earlier meeting with the premier.
"We made a decision based on that legal advice and according to what we were told to do," Abbass said of the April 20 board meeting, which was followed by the mass resignation of the entire board.
Marshall has not responded to an interview request, and Abbass stressed that he wasn't present for any meeting between Marshall and the premier.
If true, Abbass's account is contrary to the message communicated by the premier in recent weeks, and raises even more questions about accusations that the premier has misled the public in his handling of Martin's departure as the head of the province's energy corporation.
Language suggested resignation
The Nalcor shake-up took place on April 20, with Dwight Ball holding a late morning news conference to announce that the embattled CEO was leaving his post, and that it "was a decision that he made."
Martin spoke to the media early in the afternoon, saying he was "stepping down" as CEO and that "it's my decision."
When asked during his news conference about severance for Martin, Ball said that was an issue between the outgoing CEO and the board.
The board met later in the afternoon, however, and voted to fire Martin "without cause," triggering a nearly $1.4 million severance that he would not have been eligible for had he resigned.
The premier has stated he became aware of the firing after the board meeting, and didn't become aware of the specific details of the severance until May 5, a day after the figure was reported by media outlets.
Ball has also dodged questions about whether he discussed severance with Martin during meetings leading up to the April 20 resignation.
The premier said in a prepared statement Monday he will leave matter the with the auditor general.