Telegram Reporter James McLeod conducted an
interview with the Finance Minister, in July, which he titled “Jerome Kennedy in his own words”. The transcript is
posted on the Telegram’s Web Site, on his “Briefing Notes” Blog. Mr. McLeod is a keen reporter and this one,
like others of his lengthy verbatim transcripts, is a valuable record of the
‘thinking’ of his subject.
which became ‘news’ was the Minister’s views about the Tory Blue
Book. Kennedy eschewed any notion that
they constituted promises. “You used the word promise”, Kennedy
said to McLeod. “I’m not sure that the Blue Book can be described as a promise.
It outlines a platform of initiatives…we strive as best we can to ensure that
the commitments made or the components of the platform are complied with.”
some expectations and titillated the public, for a few days, the revelation,
for my money, was quite secondary to what the McLeod’s interview accomplished. I am not referring to the Budget “ceiling”
either, though it was discussion of that subject, that shed light on a more critical
McLeod wanted to know how the annual Budget
of the Province was constructed. He was
interested in whether a proposed “ceiling”, on new government expenditures, really
had any relevance to commitments in the Tory Blue Book or to the public
y’know, ‘establish a ceiling for new spending growth and make our choices
accordingly,’ it makes it sound like a ceiling for new spending would come
first, and then budgetary choices would flow from that and all choices would
remain under the ceiling.”
KENNEDY: “But see, it’s difficult to do
that because we don’t get our projections — our oil projections — from the
CNLOPB until January. By January we’re a couple months into the budget process,
so it depends on the amount of money that we have available. In terms of a
ceiling, it’s simply a target….” (underline added).
question he sought, though he made several attempts, as the Minister bobbed and
weaved around the issue.
being said was far more telling than any explanation of how the Minister
initiates, annually, the most important function of his Department.
particularly relevant. Says the Minister,
we can’t set a ceiling first. We have to wait for projections from the C-NLOPB.
money is available to spend. Of course, we’ll spend it all’. Actually, as the Minister has demonstrated,
he is perfectly prepared to go into deficit and spend even more. Answering one
of McLeod’s later questions, Kennedy shares with us another ‘A-Ha’ moment:
projections based on — our projected
deficit and then returning to surplus — based on a certain price for a barrel
of oil. That’s like looking into a crystal ball. You try to ensure that you
have the most accurate information possible, but in a volatile market such as
the commodities market, those numbers fluctuate……”
page of The Telegram is really one of the oddities of modern journalism.
the Budget ceiling conforms to how much money he can get his hands on, but he
goes so far as to acknowledge, that the forecast contains all the accuracy of a Ouija
Board. It’s “like looking into a crystal ball”, he declares.
Minister insisting that a discount be placed on the Province’s forecast oil revenues, due to
their ‘volatility’. Such a practice might
ensure that the Budget does not always default into deficit when prices or production
volumes drop. Don’t even consider the idea of a ‘rainy day’ fund or any measure to
tackle the public debt. The interview is evidence that that possibility did not even
enter the Minister’s mind.
his management of the public purse contains all the hallmarks of ‘soothsaying’.
revealing item. The comment was made in response to his question about whether
the Government may have to “revise expectations” given “the province’s fiscal
simply what I would describe as the quarterback
for the budgeting process, and not the decision-maker. The decision-maker
is the cabinet in the final result.” (emphasis added)
hands on the books. You’re the one who’s managing the Department of Finance…….”
diminished role the Minister assigns himself, in his official capacity. Kennedy might have acknowledged that, historically,
Ministers of Finance have played, not the role of quarterback, but, that
of coach or better. The quarterback merely receives the play; the
coach is the one who makes the call. That is surely too high an expectation. Kennedy seems not to understand what he is supposed to be about. He essentially says to McLeod:
What’s your point?
being honest. Perhaps, he was simply telling McLeod: “Leadership is for
leaders; I’m not one of those”.
of it page one material.
warning. Just like gold, sometimes they
have to dig a little for the best nuggets.