JOHN ABBOTT: OUTLIER IN A PARTISAN TENT?

In contrast to his Liberal leadership rival, John Abbott may
be a heavyweight in the public policy arena but policy-wonk, alone, will not
count with the Liberal Party or in the high office of political leadership. T
hen, too, what constitutes timely, affordable, and
sensible policy alternatives is moot.

Leaders need to be capable of “selling” their ideas to an
electorate and of “winning” their support.
Individuals afraid of change — because it may
hurt — will look for leadership which offers glib solutions. Others, who see
change as inevitable and necessary, will prefer someone who has the courage to follow
through, provided any such plan is not dysfunctional.

Many will recall the very first Ball/Bennett Budget. Their ham-fisted
approach to fiscal repair exhibited terrible judgment. A groundswell of public
opposition caused them to wilt from making any later decisions, enlarging our
fiscal problems in the process.

The ability to make skillful political “judgment” is an
important reference. It may well be the greatest “gift” a leader can bring to
the Office — apart from fundamental decency and ethical principles. Strength of
character, experience and “grounded-ness” will allow a Premier to their keep
their head when, to quote Rudyard Kipling “all about them are losing theirs”.   
 
No one questions either the ethics or the good intentions of
the two leadership hopefuls. As to those other characteristics — who knows? Both
Furey and Abbott are new to the public glare of the hustings; neither has
experienced the cut and thrust of a ‘lively’ House of Assembly or the political
world of insatiable interest groups, public scrutiny, and personal criticism.

The roles of long-time Deputy Minister and of surgeon/NGO lead,
confirm that they are people of intelligence, administrative skill and initiative.
Those attributes are important, but they still do not confirm suitability for
the job up for grabs. Abbott and Furey have lived politics only vicariously. However
close in proximity Deputy Ministers may be to the political process, they might
as well be miles away.

In short, voters are largely assessing two unknowns.  


Furey brings the advantage of at least the perception of deep roots in
the Liberal Party, his Senator-father a long-time backroom player. Even
more important is being thought of as a “winner”. Neither candidate needs to make
that claim; partisans have a nose for such things. But to the earlier point: where
are John Abbott’s roots in the Liberal Party? Is he a partisan or an outlier?

A politically neutral senior public servant for much of his
career, Abbott is not a known quantity within the Party, any more than he is
among the general population. Missing from his contact list are even Liberal MHAs;
only one thought it was worthwhile to attend his leadership launch and even he (Haggie) has declared for Furey. 

How can we not ask: on what basis does a newbie to politics become
a pretender to the Liberal throne? Furey could be asked the same
question except that possibly unanimous Caucus support is not a bad start for any Candidate. More modest people, however, might have first tested their electability.

Related:

The issue begs a second question: how does Abbott think he can
bring unity to a Liberal Party Caucus in denial of the province’s fiscal woes?
This is a group that, for five years, has adamantly opposed the need for the fiscal
sanity that permeates his campaign themes.

Worryingly, Abbott exhibits a certain naivete, possibly
because he says more than his competitor and is, therefore, more exposed.
Right-sizing government, doing away with Nalcor, re-thinking how we deliver
healthcare, all make good sense. He promises to engage the Opposition on major
issues.  A June 20 Tweet reads: “If
giving you a Cabinet seat is what it takes I’m open to it.” Coalition
Government just months, at most a year, in advance of a General Election? That
is when they will be motivated only to undermine him; the job of Premier is what
they want most.

It may be a small point, but shouldn’t his decision to follow
Furey’s $25-per-day Child Care Program have been followed by some notion of how
it would be paid for? The coffers cannot be empty and have spare change — at
the same time.

More critically, Abbott proposes that he will deal with the
Muskrat Falls debacle by extracting a commitment of 13.5 cent per kWh from the
Feds under the threat of not turning on the generators; presumably a threat of default
of the Bonds secured by the Federal Loan Guarantee.

The suggestion has all the hallmarks of a clumsy, even
half-baked, political strategy. It is an attempt, on the one hand, to appeal to
voters’ narrow self-interests and, on the other, a rekindling of an oft-used
“anti-Ottawa” sentiment — notwithstanding the fundamental fact that whether
13.5 cents or 23 cents isn’t Ottawa’s decision to make anyway.

NL has valid reasons to oppose Ottawa’s historical disregard
for small jurisdictions unwilling to “kowtow” to national and central Canadian
aspirations, including with respect to essential control over natural resource
development. However, when it is doubtful that NL can operate for very long —
unless the Government of Canada, or the BoC, buys our Bonds — how can the Muskrat
Falls Project be singled out when fiscal insanity is found in everything we
have done for a decade?

Default is not an appropriate first threat; it is the final
desperate move of a desperate province — after the Feds have refused
“reasonable” financial assistance.

Perhaps because political campaigns tend to be exercises in
triumphalism, discussion of painful realities do not fit well as a winning
strategy. Undoubtedly, this is what accounts for Abbott’s disjointed policy
proclamations as much as for Furey’s promise to get on the learning curve after
he is Premier. It is the reason neither leadership candidate is challenging the
other with questions of how each will deal with the elephant in the room: an
unmanageable public debt.           

Perhaps John Abbott’s ties to the Liberal Party are deeper
than they appear. If they are not, he risks losing not just a $25,000 admission
fee but also the greatest opportunity he will ever have to include the public
in an understanding of our fiscal condition and the options available to
resolve it.

Unfortunately, whether Abbott or Furey wins, neither candidate
will earn the moral authority that accompanies a winner who has laid all his
cards on the table.

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.

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As much as anything else, it is also a simple love song to a people and to their place. It is deficient in the language of inclusion, yes, sexist by the standards of today, too, but only those who misunderstanding the language of respect ascribe to it offense whether to aboriginal, to gender, or to religious belief.