DISINGENUOUS OR DUMB (OR BOTH): EARLY DAYS OF THE NEW LIBERAL GOVERNMENT

Perhaps, it
is too early to begin any assessment of the new Liberal Administration. While
there have been no obvious faux pas, as in the first moments after Paul Davis’
Swearing-In ceremony, the Liberals’ transition from Official Opposition status
has not been flawless.

It was a sound
idea for the new Minister of Justice, Andrew Parsons, to announce the
Government would proceed with inquiries into the Don Dunphy shooting, the
Burton Winters case, and the Humber Valley Paving affair. 

Yet the
reservations the Minister stated regarding their cost, and the resources
available to conduct them, seemed ill-suited to their gravitas. Indeed, the
cost of all three inquiries likely would not equate with cost overruns at
Muskrat Falls for a single hour.



Had not the Minister weighed the paramountcy
of these long held commitments against the arbitrary and possibly corrupt
decisions of the previous administration?

The Premier, as do many people, must have thought that a politicians’ knowledge is
absorbed through a process known as osmosis. Given the Province’s dire fiscal
situation, I thought he would stay mum until he had fully digested our fiscal
status.


Instead, he was telling VOCM “there are a
number of challenges fiscally, but “it’s not a crisis” and added “… I’ve said
for quite some time we have an extremely strong balance sheets that will guide
us as we actually get to the future…” unintelligible comments which leave me
to wonder if I should be more assured about the now or the hereafter.

At around
the same time, Finance Minister Cathy Bennett was tiptoeing through an
interview with CBC’s Anthony Germain, as the disarming and skilful questioner
exposed a newbie whose incomplete digestion of her brief was all too evident.


If the new
kids on the block have been too busy playing 
politics to learn the boring details
of budgets, debt and deficits, they should at least, initially, ‘close the
front door’, to  use a familiar double entendre.

I would
further suggest that the Finance Minister let the bureaucrats write the Fall
fiscal Update, without political edits: take Christmas to let some of this
stuff simmer. Bring in some former finance officials who have been through “the
deficit wars”, who can talk sensibly about the realities the province faces.


They could benefit from
“un-conflicted” assessments of our financial status, and by discussing options.


Both the
Premier and the Minister would do well to choose people who wouldn’t pay them a
compliment if their lives depended on it.


The
discussions would afford them the opportunity to internalize the fiscal issues and
develop a facility for speaking with the media and the public competently,
coherently, using context, perspective, and detail, in a way that will
demonstrate they have been working hard and that they understand the decisions
to which they are party.


Another irksome
matter was the “Mandate Letters”. Perhaps, there was no great political damage
done, but an opportunity surely was missed.


Anyone familiar
with government styled prose would recognize these letters were hastily drafted
by bureaucrats, likely in Executive Council, who borrowed from legislation,
standards of behaviour expected of every Minister, not just this crew, and
having gleaned the sparse policy commitments contained in the Liberal Red Book.
The Letters did not even offer the pretense of a cogent mission statement.


Worse, they
lacked a specificity that normally matures in consequence of the voters’ feedback
mechanism, the election campaign, and their demands for real change.


Of
particular note is the Mandate Letter of the Department of Natural Resources in
which the government commits that “Newfoundlanders and Labradorians must be the
primary beneficiaries of the Muskrat Falls project” when, given spiralling cost
overruns, they can only be assured of paying the highest cost per KWh in Canada
for electricity.


The nebulous
words “opening the books on Muskrat Falls” are so unspecific that they,
frankly, seem as insincere as the Tory commitment to oversight.   


This is what
has been offered after three years of acrimony over one of the most unwise
megaprojects in the history of the province and, likely, Canada, too.


The Letter does
not even contain the nod that the project is a financial and logistical mess;
one that also threatens the public purse.


Reference to
the sham oversight committee and instructions to the Minister to replace it, had
clearly never entered the mind of the drafter, let alone the politicos who
inspired it.


Even the
more widely understood issue of DARKNL and the litany of incompetence
enumerated by Liberty Consultants, for the PUB, received no address.


Similarly,
the Mandate Letter for the Department of Environment and Conservation offered
no reference to faulty dam break studies or to matters of public safety in
relation to the North Spur. 


And, if other examples are required, the Minister of Transportation and Works was not
asked to review the senior personnel of the Department, or the lax and
deficient mechanisms of project management, which afforded serious breaches of
public safety at two St. John’s Schools and the loss of several million dollars
at a third school, all of which cry out for examination.     


We might also ask why the Mandate Letters omit any plans Ball might have to reverse the degradation of the institutions and the processes of government; something which began under Danny Williams and continued to decline under his successors.

It is fine
for the local Liberals to emulate Justin, but those Mandate Letters did not
warrant the signature of a First Minister; certainly not any Premier who had
thought deeply how he might meet public expectations, or one presumably determined
to establish benchmarks early, for the government’s performance.


That this
grist got a pass by the Premier’s staffers is mind-boggling.


The Mandate
Letters ought to have contained enough new ideas, policies, and direction that
the media and the public would easily know what the new Administration stands
for.


Potentially,
they constituted a useful tool in which to set out the ideas, themes and
context that might become the foundation of the Administration’s first and
future Speeches from the Throne and Budgets, too.


Instead, what
was on offer was so weak that, in this case, form was truly allowed to triumph over
substance.  A full Term’s worth of sound
thinking (possibly) was sacrificed as a weak PR exercise; a single instant of gratification, already forgotten.


The Letters
confirm, nevertheless, that this is a group about whom the public should be
wary. They appear to have brought little to the table; the fear is, that is
exactly what was intended.


These are early days. But, we’ll soon see.

If they are
smart and inexperienced, they will keep their inexperience to themselves.


Walking,
rather than running, will help keep them from tripping up.


But if they have
been disingenuous about their mandate they will stumble early; likely, even
before the voters get a chance to pass judgement.



Before then,
the financial crisis, the one that Ball denies, will knock them over.
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

NALCOR (Masquerading as ‘Hydro’)LIVES IN AN UPSIDE DOWN WORLD

If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!

REMEMBERING BILL MARSHALL

Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.