Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball announces resignation
TORONTO -- The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Dwight Ball, has announced that he is stepping down to spend more time with his family.
In a video statement released Monday, he said he wanted “to say thank you” to his constituents.
“I have always worked in your best interest. Tonight, I am announcing that my time in politics is coming to an end,” he said.
“It’s time for me to spend more time with my family and friends in Deer Lake, to live a more private life.”
Ball announced that he had asked the President of the Liberal Party earlier that day to convene a leadership process to find his replacement as soon as possible.
“After more than a decade of demanding political life, including eight years as Liberal leader and now in my fifth year as premier, I now know that my role is an agent of renewal,” he said, adding that he hopes the leadership race brings out new ideas and viewpoints.
On Tuesday, Ball explained that he was in his sixties now and there were new additions to his family.
“Like most people my age, I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family,” he told CTV News Channel.
CTV News political commentator Scott Reid said that while the resignation is “abrupt,” he doubted it would come as too much a shock to those steeped in Newfoundland and Labrador politics.
“He’d been reduced to a minority,” Reid pointed out. “That puts a lot of political pressure on a sitting leader.”
Ball became the 13th premier of Newfoundland and Labrabor in 2015, when he defeated the incumbent Progressive Conservatives to win a majority for the Liberals. However, in May of 2019, that majority was narrowly reduced to a minority.
The province has also faced significant economic struggles since the price of oil plummeted in 2014. Reid said that Ball had “asked the Liberal Party, the Liberal government, and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to go through some tough economic times.”
While Ball acknowledged there were difficulties during his tenure as premier, he said that it was part of the job and not the reason why he was stepping down.
“From time to time, regardless of who sits in these chairs, you face challenging times,” he said. “When you look at the achievements that we’ve been able to make in the last four or five years as a government, there’s been quite a few, even through those challenging times.”
One project, in particular, that has dogged Ball’s government is the fallout from the Muskrat Falls hydro dam deal. The Nalcor project, which was officially approved in 2012 amid a wave of protests, was already a financial disaster for the province when Ball came into office. The 824-megawatt dam had doubled in cost and was behind schedule.
Several Indigenous groups also feared that the project would cause a rise in methylmercury in the area, potentially contaminating their communities.
Nevertheless, Ball decided not to halt the project when he took office, despite calling it, “the greatest fiscal mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history.”
The project was so controversial that Ball called a public inquiry after intense public pressure.
As the megadam neared completion, it also became clear that there were going to be direct financial ramifications for constituents in Newfoundland and Labrador. A report by the province’s Public Utilities Board predicted that there could be a jump of 75 per cent in domestic electricity rates for the average customer in 2021, due to customers being forced to pay the extra cost of surplus power created by the dam.
A week before Ball announced he would be stepping down, he secured a deal with the federal government to cut those costs. On Feb. 10, Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan confirmed that the federal government would scrap a previously agreed upon financial structure for the dam project, and draft a new one to shield ratepayers from the overrun costs.
In his speech revealing his resignation, Ball said that he would “continue to work with our federal partners to ensure that we have fully mitigated the cost of Muskrat Falls.
“This is my highest priority in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Reid said the timing of his resignation may have had something to do with the timing of the deal.
“If he goes out now, he will go out having secured, just a couple weeks ago, a deal to shield taxpayers and ratepayers and citizens from the most egregious effects of the Muskrat Falls deal,” Reid said.
“Frankly, these are all the sins of former premier Danny Williams,” he added, referring to the Progressive Conservative premier who signed the initial deal in 2010 to get the Nalcor project off the ground, “but they all fall on the present politicians, so Dwight Ball at least can walk out saying ‘I got that deal fixed,’ insofar as people won’t have to pay the highest possible tab.”
In addition to the Muskrat Falls project, Ball pointed to the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t receive provincial equalization payments from the federal government like other provinces and that has resulted in economic hardships. He called for a change to the fiscal stabilization program to reflect the province’s currents needs.
“There needs to be some federal support for provinces that find themselves in a situation that Newfoundland and Labrador currently find themselves in,” he said.
During Ball’s video announcement, he discussed some of the things he was proud of accomplishing during his years as premier, including introducing all-day kindergarten, committing to finishing the paving of the Trans-Labrador Highway, reducing waitlists for those trying to access mental health services, and becoming the first government for the province to hold annual Indigenous roundtables.
He said he would be continuing to represent his district of Humber – Gros Morne as a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly.
Until a new leader is chosen, he will continue on in the role of premier.
With files from The Canadian Press