Sunday, September 24, 2006

Williams Versus Ruelokke

(For the sake of completeness, I include this last column from my stint on the Telegram Community Editorial Board: Williams versus Ruelokke, published Aug 17, 2006)

On July 12th, Premier Williams said he would abide by the decision of the Judge Raymond Halley on the matter of Max Ruelokke’s appointment as Chairman and CEO of the CNLOPB.

Judge Halley then ruled that Ruelokke has already been Chair since December 2005 and this must be acknowledged by the Province.

Now Williams has backtracked: he merely “accepts” the findings of the court while not necessarily committed to abiding by them.

When the premier and his officials are pressed to explain this change, the replies are predictable. The usual buzzwords like prudent review, good governance, doing drilldown and performing a due diligence piece are bandied about to provide cover while government plays for time and figures out which way to jump.

Williams has even resorted to undermining the credibility of the judgment and belittling Judge Halley himself. He calls the conclusions of this senior jurist “over the top” and attributes his reasoning to “getting up on the wrong side of the bed”, thus calling into disrepute the administration of justice.

Government might think it can take its time in thoroughly reviewing the matter at its leisure but time is ticking and other parties are moving forward.

While government dithers, Mr. Ruelokke has already shown a strong disinclination to leave his fate in the hands of others. Thanks to the clarity of the Halley judgment, I can only imagine he's less inclined now.

Mr. Ruelokke has said he hopes to be on the job by Labour Day. No doubt he will take further action if the government continues to stall.

Meanwhile, federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn has repeated federal acceptance of the panel decision and support for putting Ruelokke to work now.

While we can't predict for sure what Premier will eventually do, his choices are limited.

He can immediately heed the judgment and let Mr. Ruelokke take the job he has already held de facto since December 5, 2005. This would put the matter to bed, provide much-needed leadership at the CNLOPB and allow government to get on with other important business.

Unfortunately, it now looks like Williams may choose to appeal, most likely a fruitless exercise that will only delay the inevitable. It would also make the government and the Premier appear spiteful, obstinate and graceless.

Williams’ best choice is clear and is based on his preferred self‑image as an eminent lawyer, successful businessman and honourable politician.

As a lawyer, he is equipped to understand the decision that Ruelokke is already the Chair. As an officer of the court, he is obliged to heed decisions of the court without undue or mischievous delay. If he plans to appeal, he should announce that now instead of playing it to the bitter end.

As a businessman he must know the consequences of continued instability in the province's largest industry - the biggest source of provincial government revenue and the largest industrial contributor to our GDP. He must understand that the longer this drags out, the more the world sees a province whose economic policy and petroleum regulatory regime is based on capricious whim and not rational public policy decisions.

As an honourable politician he is obligated to keep his word: his word on July 12th was that he would abide by the decision of the courts. At that time he placed no caveats, equivocations, conditions or exceptions on his declaration of intent.

This is a watershed moment for this government and for the Premier in particular; unjustified delay under the camouflage of prudence damages credibility and calls into question any statement he makes in the future on any issue.

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