Monday, January 6, 2014

Newfoundland–A Leadership Crisis, Not An Energy One

Where there is no vision, the people perish - Proverbs 29:18

I must follow the people. Am I not their leader? - Benjamin Disraeli

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. - Publilius Syrus

<<Continued from my earlier blog post Newfoundland–Leadership (or Lack of It) in Crisis.>>

I am an optimist and I strive to see the best in every situation and in every person.

However, as my native Province of Newfoundland and Labrador enters its fifth day of rolling power blackouts, with 30,000 customers still without power after two major blackouts in 36 hours, even my eternal optimism is being strained.

Consider these items:

1. As previously noted, the Province is entering its fifth consecutive day of rolling blackouts with no official end in sight

2. On Saturday morning, the Province experienced a near Island-wide outage that put almost 200,000 customers in the dark.  At the time it happened, they had no real idea when the power would be restored.  Many were without power (and in many cases water also) for 24 hours or more.

3. After getting almost everyone back up by Sunday night, the Province suddenly had another outage that put 100,000 customers back in the dark.  The reason has not been officially identified at the time I write this (12:30pm Newfoundland time) and 30,000 customers are still without power.

4. Some towns are reporting food, heating oil and fuel shortages.

5. Schools and universities are closed until at least Wednesday.  Government offices are being closed early today as well.

6. There were emergency evacuations of senior citizen homes.

7. Some businesses, including the second largest shopping mall in the capital city of St. John’s, have closed down as pipes froze and burst without heat to protect them.

8. Some of the energy generating components used by Nalcor Energy have been identified to be years beyond their useable life. Nalcor has admitted that this creates risk for future energy production until Muskrat Falls comes into production 3-5 years down the road.

9. The Premier admitted that with such aging infrastructure, the possibility exists for the current power outage events to occur any time in the future until Muskrat Falls comes online.

10. Heavy rain warnings for some areas without power leave people wondering today if their basements will flood without electricity to power sump pumps.

11. Phone systems (landline and cell) started dying in some areas last weekend as battery backups became depleted, thus cutting off communications for some residents.

12. The Government asked towns and municipalities to implement their emergency contingency plans, including the setting up of warming centers.  Some towns declared a state of emergency.

13. For the first three days of the event, the Premier was nowhere to be found publicly and made no comments at all until her press conference on Sunday when people were crying out for their “leader” to appear.

And finally the Premier appeared

And now that she has surfaced, her focus appears to be on damage control, insisting on local and national media that there is “no crisis” and “no critical situation”.

With all due respect Premier, whenever electricity goes out for most of the Province and you admit that it could happen again at any time without warning for any duration, that has the potential to be a crisis. 

For some people, the events of this weekend were in fact a crisis (having limited or no access to food, water, heat, fuel and communications) and so it is unfair to tell people, without having context for their situation, if they were experiencing a crisis or not. 

A strong leader understands this and doesn’t make generalized statements negating or making light of specific situations without knowledge of those situations.

Adding to the confusion, some of the Premier’s messages have been mixed, indicating on Sunday that the events were not a critical situation while saying on VOCM this morning that they are.

When the Premier cites aging infrastructure being to blame, that is not the fault of the people.  It is the fault of the Government.  And when the Premier says the cold weather “caught people by surprise”, I would assume that people are paid good money for contingency planning. 

And besides, it’s Newfoundland.  Winter has been known to arrive there on occasion.

There are even rumors swirling around that the reason the Premier was publicly absent in the early days of the event is because she was secretly out of province on vacation and doesn’t want to admit it.  If (and I say if) that is true, then she also lied to the people in her press conference on Sunday when she indicated she was home during the crisis. Ahhhhh social media – a blessing and a curse when it comes to ferreting out the truth.

So now the Premier is doing the media circuit in typical CYA mode, even daring to get angry with people who challenge her leadership.

Personally, I would find it difficult to judge her leadership during the event. 

After all, she was invisible.  How can you judge what you can’t see?

However, I will agree with the Premier on one thing

She insists that there is no crisis regarding an energy shortage in the Province.

I somewhat agree with her although the potential for a real energy crisis is significant.

However, there is a more insidious crisis in the Province.

I believe there is a serious leadership crisis within the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

And as in Alcoholics Anonymous where you learn that you can’t begin working on solutions until you admit there is a problem, I believe the leadership crisis has far more dangerous ramifications than the current energy one.

To the Premier, I say (and with all due respect), leadership is not merely a title or how you see yourself.  It is how others perceive you, the actions you take and the results you produce.

To the people of Newfoundland and Labrador I say “Da arse is gone right out of ‘er, bys”.

No, I’m not referring to the Province, your storied history or the great people who live there.  You have always risen to the occasion (often with a great sense of humor) and you will again in the coming days.

I’m referring to the person who believes she is leading you.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – Preparedness – January 6, 2014

Discussion about the impact that someone else’s choices and competencies can have on your Life brings me back to thoughts of preparedness.  Preparedness and contingency plans for personal health and safety in times of emergency can mean the difference between an event being a crisis, an inconvenience or a non-event altogether.

If you have the capability, resources and interest to be more self-reliant, then I recommend that you take steps to protect yourself as best as is reasonable from the impact of future events.

For those who do not have the capability or resources to create a stronger sense of self-reliance (despite their desire to do so), they unfortunately rely on the people who lead them.

Or attempt to.

When (not if) an event occurs, the problems of the unprepared become the problems of those who are self-reliant because as human beings, we care for those who struggle.

And so no matter how self-reliant you think you are, you are never isolated from the impact of decisions by leaders (whether self-described or real).

And that is why we all need to care more about the impact of decisions made by those who govern us.

Or attempt to.

Addendum 2 – Accountability - January 6, 2014

As of 6:00pm Newfoundland time, less than 1,000 customers remain without power, thanks to the tireless efforts of the men and women who are braving difficult conditions to restore service.

It has also been reported that 1 death and 8 injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning have been reported by Eastern Health.  No matter how much information about safety is promoted by officials, some people continue to fall prey to such accidents …. sadly.

As things get back to a sense of normalcy in the Province, it is important to not get complacent nor to allow “leaders” to duck accountability and responsibility under the guise of “we can’t talk to you right now because this is not the right time for you to be asking questions”.

There are too many times when problems never get resolved because of the interaction cycle that looks like this:

1. We’re too busy solving the problem to answer your question.

2. We’re too busy investigating the cause.

3. We’re too busy writing the report.

4. We’re too busy reviewing the report.

5. We’re too busy investigating the impact of the report.

6. I’m confused - what problem are you referring to?  Oh – that issue that we already commissioned an inquiry / investigation on?  I’ll get back to you on that.

8. You will have to follow the request for information process as clearly defined in step 7 <<if you can find it>>.

9. Sorry, I’ve got another problem to deal with right now. I’ve got priorities, you know.

And so the cycle repeats with each prior problem getting pushed down the pile and waiting to resurface at an inconvenient time.

Not keeping the issues front and center while the rawness is still being felt will allow people to get complacent only to relive the pain when the next event occurs.

Addendum 3 – Closing Thoughts – January 6, 2014

As the peak concerns fade and Newfoundland moves forward, it occurs to me why I was disappointed in the performance of the Premier.

I was in NYC during 9/11 and witnessed Mayor Giuliani work tirelessly around the clock.  He coordinated rescue, recovery and security efforts during a horrific disaster and yet was also constantly seen on the cameras and in the streets.  Our leader was involved, he was engaged and we felt the energy and inspiration that came from him.  He inspired us to pull together and move forward.

I was in Calgary during the flood of 2013 and witnessed the tireless, positive energy of Mayor Nenshi and Premier Redford, both working hard to coordinate efforts behind the scenes while simultaneously presenting focused, upbeat, inspiring personas to the people.

And then I witness Premier Dunderdale who makes an appearance several days into a difficult time for the Province and makes comments that could almost be translated as “My goodness, what’s all the noise about people?  Quit your griping and move along.”

When I see such lack of empathy, I cannot help but think of this excerpt from “History of the World – Part 1”:

So in defense of Premier Dunderdale, I was spoiled by better leaders and dared to hold her up to their standards – the standards of a leader of the 21st century.

Please accept my apologies for doing so, Premier.  Moving forward, I will lower my expectations to make your Life easier.

Addendum 4 – Thoughts on the Announced Review – January 9, 2014

After the Premier announced her plans for a transparent review of the events surrounding the power outages, I offered this musing - Everyone Makes Mistakes–Leaders Learn From Them

Addendum 5 – Premier Dunderdale Resigns – January 21, 2014

The press has announced that Premier Dunderdale will be announcing her resignation on January 22, 2014 and that Tom Marshall will be taking over as Interim Premier.  With public opinion significantly against her, this appears to be the only viable option available to her and she is taking it.

I am reminded of this blog post I wrote over three years ago when the previous leader, Premier Danny Williams, stepped down and I warned about the lack of strong leadership candidates to succeed him - Premier Williams and His Legacy.

Whether she was responsible personally for her political demise, she received poor advice or she failed to accept good advice, the world is not kind to leaders who appear to be weak as far as being strategic, tactical, fair, competent or empathetic is concerned.

I wonder whether history will be to Kathy Dunderdale.

As for her departure, it is unknown what is best for the Province – that a leader be burned, learn from the experience and come back better than ever or to go with an untried leader who, as an unknown, could be far better or far worse.  That’s why I think “celebration” regarding her departure is both unfair on a personal level and premature.

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