CBC Investigates

Premier's staffer contacted MUN about removal of signs calling for Dwight Ball's resignation

A senior official in the premier’s office took a direct interest in having anti-Dwight Ball protest signs removed from light poles near Confederation Building, despite repeated government assurances there was no political involvement in the decision.
Posters calling for Dwight Ball's resignation appeared on the road leading up to Confederation Building in St. John's on the evening of June 4. (Laura Howells/CBC)

A senior official in the premier's office took a direct interest in having anti-Dwight Ball protest signs removed from light poles near Confederation Building earlier this month, despite repeated government assurances there was no political involvement in the decision.

The premier's director of communications, Nancy O'Connor, emailed officials at Memorial University about the signs less than 24 hours before many of them were removed from nearby areas.

Premier Dwight Ball told the legislature June 6 "there was no one from the premier's office that was involved in this at all," when asked by the Opposition who in his office directed the removal of the posters.

'There was no action or direction taken'

In a statement to CBC News, O'Connor explained what happened, and stressed there was no link between her inquiry and the action to remove the signs.

She said she noticed the posters on display in front of Memorial while driving down Prince Philip Drive. 

"In my capacity in communications I reached out to my counterpart at Memorial inquiring whether or not the poles belonged to the university and if posters were permitted to be displayed on those poles," she said.

"If the university did not permit the display of posters on those poles, it would be a reasonable expectation that they would be removed."

The premier's office was not involved in the operational decision by Transportation and Works staff to remove posters.- Nancy O'Connor

O'Connor said she did not pursue the matter further, after receiving a phone call advising that the poles belonged to Newfoundland Power and that posters were permitted.

"There was no action or direction taken on this matter from the premier's office and any subsequent activity that took place the following evening was indeed an operational issue that has been addressed by Transportation and Works," O'Connor said.  

"The poles referenced in my inquiry to Memorial were not impacted by that operational decision made."

She added: "The premier's office was not involved in the operational decision by Transportation and Works staff to remove posters."

Timeline of the signs

A group of protesters using the #NLRising hashtag had plastered 240 posters on light poles in St. John's on the evening of Saturday, June 4. The signs had one word — "Resign" — superimposed on a picture of Premier Dwight Ball.

The very next morning — Sunday, June 5  O'Connor wrote that email to MUN, with the subject line "Posters on poles along parkway."

The body of O'Connor's message read: "Telling DB to resign ... Are these poles belonging to MUN or Power? And are ppl allowed to put posters on them? If not can someone take them down?"

CBC News obtained that email through access to information.

Within 24 hours of O'Connor's email, in the early morning hours of Monday, June 6, a private contractor hired by the province removed many of the signs.

Later that day, the government repeatedly stressed that there was no political involvement in the sign removal, and the decision came from officials in the Department of Transportation and Works.

Early on the morning of June 6, people wearing bright vests were out removing posters calling for Premier Dwight Ball's resignation. (CBC/Submitted)

'Operational' decision

Transportation and Works Minister Al Hawkins described it as an "operational" decision 13 times during question period that day.

"It was not a ministerial decision, neither was it a premier's decision," Hawkins told the legislature. "It's a decision that was made on an operational level. That's the way it is."

No one in the government has yet identified the unnamed Transportation and Works officials who made the decision, and O'Connor did not answer a follow-up CBC News question about that Wednesday.

During question period on June 6, Tory MHA Steve Kent asked Ball: "Who in your office directed that the posters come down?"

Ball replied: "Well, as was previously mentioned by the minister, this was an operational issue. And I can assure members opposite and members in all parties in this House of Assembly, there was no one, as the minister just mentioned already, there was no one from the premier's office that was involved in this at all. Simply, it was an operational issue."

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