Nothing funny about this comedy of errors
Its the latest laugh-out-loud moment, in the comedy of errors that is the Williams Governments handling of the Abitibi mill expropriation.
But you know what? Its not funny anymore.
And it is time for heads to roll.
On May 25, Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale revealed that a German company was interested in reopening the idled paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, and that representatives of the company had toured the site a week earlier.
It's a pulp and paper company that sees some opportunity because Abitibi is withdrawing from its markets in Europe, Dunderdale was quoted in the media. It's a very credible company, but its very early days.
At that point, they already had a week to do some research; enough to know the proponent was not a pulp and paper company, and only had 100 employees.
This news raised unrealistic and unfounded hope among the people of the Exploits region, despite Dunderdales cautionary tone.
On June 24, Dunderdale revealed that Lott Paper was the proponent. She told the House that the province had received a formal business plan, but backtracked soon after, saying the province had actually received a letter of intent.
By that point, the government had had more than a month to perform due diligence to find out what finally broke this week: Lott is financially insolvent, and doesnt have the wherewithal to take on the mill. And, strangely, the ground had shifted the proponent was now Motion Invest, the mysterious company that owned Lott.
Soon after that news broke, Motion Invest announced it was withdrawing from talks, accusing the province of breaking a confidentiality agreement. (This, I think, was a ruse intended to divert attention from the companys own inadequacies.)
It must have been a heartbreaker for the people of central Newfoundland, who waited a full month with bated breath before learning it was all just a cruel joke.
This was all so unnecessary. The Williams Government and Dunderdale in particular should never have made this announcement. It was irresponsible to do so, before a formal proposal had been received.
Why did she let this slip? Youre an astute media watcher. What do you think?
Heres my take. See if you dont agree.
This was a spur-of-the-moment tactic, that, like so many government actions, was not connected to any larger strategy. It was designed to turn the channel to divert public and media attention away from the embarrassment of the expropriation itself, which was still making headlines and damaging the Williams Government. At the time May 11 to 31 CRA was in the field, collecting polling data, and we know how much the Williams Government obsesses about polls. The tactic worked in the short term, but it came with a cost. Dunderdale and her government took a major credibility hit, when it was revealed (after polling was concluded) that the possible new owner was a Lott of hot air.
Dunderdale knows she screwed up. And heres the pathetic thing. Yesterday morning, on VOCM Open Line, she tried to blame the Opposition for this debacle. Apparently, Lorraine Michael and Yvonne Jones are at fault, because they asked questions about the status of the mill.
In other words, if the opposition hadnt asked the question, Dunderdale wouldnt have had to answer it.
Does she think we are stupid? Or is she the stupid one?
Frankly, she was not obligated to provide detail on something as preliminary as this. It is, as we have seen, irresponsible to create false hope.
This attempt to shift blame to the opposition is disingenuous and a little slimy. It is their job to ask questions. It is Dunderdales job to answer appropriately. And this would have been an appropriate response:
This government is exploring various options for the mill. If and when we have something of substance to announce, we will certainly bring that information forward.
Any first year political science or public relations student could draft that reply. It is honest, with no lies or evasion, and divulges no sensitive information. That which is confidential remains so.
Its not over yet. In fact, this story just keeps getting stranger. In yesterdays Telegram, Dunderdale claimed Motion Invest was still interested in the mill despite persistent claims from Motion Invest that all talks were off. Then, a CBC investigation revealed that Bob Roche, owner of Motion Invest, is not in the paper making business. Instead, he seeks to restart failed businesses so far without success and, in this case, wanted $52 million from the province to restart the mill. Yeah, this is what Dunderdale called a credible company.
It defies comprehension, and makes a mockery of the Williams Government.
This is not the first time Dunderdale has opened her mouth, to change shoes. But it should be the last.
It is time to remove her from Cabinet.